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8 November, 2019 - 21:57 By Tony Quested

Microsoft the super hero as new tech helps Warner Bros. make history

Eye-popping technology from Microsoft Research is helping Hollywood legend Warner Bros. store and retrieve historic movies from Casablanca to Superman. 

The company’s film archives could now be preserved and stored for hundreds of years.

The companies have already collaborated to successfully store and retrieve the entire 1978 iconic 'Superman' movie on a piece of glass roughly the size of a drink coaster, 75 by 75 by 2mm thick.

Now the movie maker is looking to safeguard its vast entire library using the technology following the success of the Superman project. 

It was the first proof of concept test for Project Silica, a Microsoft Research Cambridge project that uses recent discoveries in ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to store data in quartz glass. 

A laser encodes data in glass by creating layers of three-dimensional nanoscale gratings and deformations at various depths and angles. Machine learning algorithms read the data back by decoding images and patterns that are created as polarised light shines through the glass.

The hard silica glass can withstand being boiled in hot water, baked in an oven, microwaved, flooded, scoured, demagnetised and other environmental threats that can destroy priceless historic archives or cultural treasures if things go wrong.

It represents an investment by Microsoft Azure to develop storage technologies built specifically for cloud computing patterns, rather than relying on storage media designed to work in computers or other scenarios. 

It’s just one of many ways Azure relies on Microsoft’s Research expertise to solve both near and long-term challenges — from Project Natick’s underwater data centre tests to Project Brainwave’s FPGA processing power and the emerging Optics for the Cloud research.

Mark Russinovich, Azure’s chief technology officer, said: “Storing the whole Superman movie in glass and being able to read it out successfully is a major milestone. 

“I’m not saying all of the questions have been fully answered but it looks like we’re now in a phase where we’re working on refinement and experimentation, rather than asking the question ‘can we do it?’”

Warner Bros. approached Microsoft after learning of the research. Now it could ‘play it again Sam’ by using the technology to preserve the classic Casablanca movie which hit screens in 1942, as well as 1940s radio shows, animated shorts, digitally shot theatrical films, television sitcoms and dailies from film sets. 

The film moguls say that for years they had searched for a storage technology that could last hundreds of years, withstand floods or solar flares and that didn’t require being kept at a certain temperature or need constant refreshing.

Warner Bros. chief technology officer Vicky Colf said: “That had always been our beacon of hope for what we believed would be possible one day so when we learned that Microsoft had developed this glass-based technology we wanted to prove it out.” 

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