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Source: Warner Bros.

Superman is the first to land on Microsoft’s next-gen film preservation tech

Contributed by
Nov 4, 2019

Clark Kent isn’t a stranger to being first. First issue of Action Comics, first superhero TV show, first superhero video game. Now Kal-El, Superman himself, is on the way to a new frontier thanks to Microsoft’s burgeoning storage technology: glass film preservation.

The 1978 Christopher Reeve-starring Superman is being stored on some high-tech glass in a Justice League-level team-up between Warner Bros. and Microsoft. According to Variety, the seminal superhero film will take up 75.6GB on a piece of glass the size of a square index card, and is the first of its kind on the technology. This storage solution will help protect movies beyond the life of the actual film they’ve been recorded on — or beyond the power demands of live servers.

Instead, this Project Silica looks to store data, like older films from a studio’s library, that simply need to be protected in the long term. Something that could make the Disney Vault into a literal vault filled with silica discs. “Glass has a very, very long lifetime,” said Microsoft Research principal researcher Ant Rowstron. “Thousands of years.”

Film studios have a lot of data they’d like to preserve for a long time. Warner Bros. alone has been around since the first days of film — which means they have a century and change of movies, radio, and TV stored in their archives. That translates to vaults, lots of them, holding “20 million assets, with tens of thousands of new items being added every year.”

But this old-school process won’t hold forever. As technology evolves, so too must technology built to store and preserve that technology. But the inspiration for Superman’s great leap was found in one of the hero’s earliest adventures. Glass-stored audio recordings from the ‘40s lingered in Warner Bros.’ archives. When they were digitized and played, it was the old Superman radio serial. What better way to preserve continuity than allow the glass-bound hero to go into the substance once more?

The glass disc itself now boasts a toughness equal to that of Superman: the storage team roasted it, scratched it, microwaved it, and drowned it in boiling water. It still played. But it’s still breakable. It’s glass, after all. But barring some intentional attack, the glass seems like it can persevere through all cases of natural wear and tear.

Yet this high-tech future is still just that: the future. WB is still maintaining its old-school film process for most of its storage, while the rest of the world needs to wait for Microsoft to figure out a way to read and write data onto its silica in a more accessible way. But for fans with shelves upon shelves of Blu-rays, DVDs, VHS tapes, LaserDiscs, and external hard drives ... Superman may be leading the way toward a new glassy future.

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