Digital Preservation of Video - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Digital Preservation of Video

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A Hi-8 videotape deck. The Hi-8 format is now considered obsolete, and finding professional or consumer grade playback equiment is extremely difficult since they are no longer manufactured. Image © Alan Burdette.

Initially adopted by scholars in the mid-1970s and widely employed by the late 1980s, video offered an inexpensive way for researchers to capture a fuller range of expressive culture—particularly music sound and dance—than still photography or audio recordings allowed. Today many ethnographic scholars use video in their research. However, the archival shelf-life of videotape is extremely short. Although based on formats similar to audiotape in principle, the density of the magnetic information on videotape and the more complex manner with which it must be retrieved results in more rapid deterioration of the signal. There also has been a greater obsolescence of video recording formats compared to audio. Between 1990 and 2008, the formats of VHS, VHS-C, 8mm, Hi-8, and MiniDV all enjoyed popularity as recording formats for scholars. Today, MiniDV is the only one not considered an obsolete recording format, but it soon will be obsolete as the industry moves toward non-tape solutions.

As has happened for audio preservation, the prevailing conclusion is that long-term preservation of video requires high-quality digital transfer to an acceptable file format. Audio archivists have come to broad consensus about digital audio preservation as described and proscribed in IASA TC-04 and in Sound Directions, Best Practices for Audio Preservation, but the equivalent has not yet been achieved for digital video preservation. Digital preservation of video within the EVIA Digital Archive Project has proceeded in the absence of broadly accepted best practices, but the Project has used the model of audio preservation as well as a careful assessment of the best way forward in the absence of guidelines. We have been careful to adhere to basic digital preservation principles in our formulation of a solution to long-term digital video preservation. We also have consulted with other digital video preservation efforts around the world. Unfortunately, the disintegration of video recordings requires that we act now to make preservation transfers rather than wait until broad consensus is reached. To read more about our approach to video preservation, follow the accompanying links.

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