Several months ago, the Marr Sound Archives purchased a shiny new Mac Pro with intentions of preserving the numerous video tapes held in some of our most noteworthy collections. With the assistance of Adobe Production Suite, a Black Magic Studio Pro, and a Panasonic AG-DS850p Video Cassette Recorder, we plan to digitize our degrading VHS and S-VHS collections. Upcoming video preservation and digitization projects include video footage from the Ahmad Alaadeen, Jay McShann, and Ruth Rhoden collections, among others.
Before we proceed, however, there are a number of factors to consider in the realm of video digitization standards as we document our procedures. Some colorfully hypothetical questions arise as a result.
“Frame rates, aspect ratios, bit depth, metadata… Video capture is so much more complicated than audio. Where do I start?”
“What’s the difference between a multimedia container and a codec? I thought they were the same thing!”
“How much digital storage should I procure for my digital video collection? Will it fit on this flash drive?”
“What makes my files lossless? Of course they are! I can see them right here on my desktop!”
“What makes something born-digital? If I was born in the 1960s, does that make me pre-digital?
Of course, the majority of these ridiculous questions may be answered with some simple independent research or even a shallow Google search. Doing so would reveal that best practice for video preservation depends on the quality of the source and the digital needs of the archive.
For example, the uncompressed, non-proprietary audio file format, Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) has become the standard for audio preservation. Video formats, on the other hand, provide evidence of standardizations that are constantly in flux. For instance, while many digital repositories may stick with a Quicktime file format (MOV) for its consumer accessibility in video, others may utilize the Material eXchange Format (MXF) for high definition film preservation. Depending on cost, storage availability, and the quality of analog source tapes, repositories must decide what best fits their needs.
Our video collection, for example, consists mostly of NTSC source tapes recorded from television or personal camcorder. Standard definition, interlaced Quicktime files with 24 bit, 48 kHz WAV audio will suffice as perfectly acceptable digital preservation copies.
Last week, The Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) released a study comparing target formats for reformatting videotapes to digital files. In the study, FADGI’s Audio Visual Working Group considered what formats would produce an authentic and complete copy of the source, which formats maximized picture and sound reproduction, and which formats best supported research and access. They consider it a living document as new preservation technologies will continue to emerge.