I’d like take a moment to talk about video files.
Many organizations approach audiovisual preservation programs with a specific mindset: “Let’s make the most pristine, uncompressed, high quality files possible.” I understand that philosophy. In most cases, it represents your one and only chance to get your tapes and films archived. Why jeopardize that opportunity by cutting costs and generating subpar files? I mean, who doesn’t want to create the highest quality finished product? I get it.
However, in my experience (which ranges from production to academia to digitization project management to media management sales), numerous associates and prospective clients chase the dream of 10 bit uncompressed files and 4K DPX scans for all their assets. It’s a noble dream, one with which I wholeheartedly agree – in a vacuum. In the real world, this turns out to be illusion and unrealistic for most (though not all) organizations. The storage costs these massive file types necessitate can lead to paralysis in your digital initiatives and to significant long-term data loss (owing to lack of funds for digitization and archival storage upkeep).
Some projects necessitate the largest, highest quality files – some institutions can even afford it – but don’t make the mistake of assuming there’s only one right way of approaching audiovisual digitization. Innumerable video essences and wrappers exist and it’s important to find the file types that work best for your content, your organization, and your budget.
Why are you migrating? Is the primary goal archival, production/distribution, viewing, or a combination of all three? If you have been tasked with preserving your content for the life of the Republic plus 4,000 years (and your budget is extensive), then by all means generate the highest quality files possible. On the other hand, if you plan to digitize in order to provide access and potentially monetize your content, it makes sense to adopt less demanding files that work in a variety of edit systems and production workflows.
Most authorities on audiovisual preservation tout uncompressed 10 bit as the archival ideal for video and 4K DPX for film, but look at those bitrates and footprints! It adds up quickly, and storage costs are neither cheap nor long term. I’ve said before that you can’t just throw your files on spinning disc and expect them to survive indefinitely; you need redundant, archivally sound storage solutions. Not only that, data needs to be migrated to newer storage every five years. That data lasts forever (if you’re protecting it properly), so you must always allocate some of your budget towards keeping it safe and accessible. It does no one any good to ingest thousands of hours of 4K scans and then have to pull the plug on the storage fifteen years down the line. Sustainability should always be paramount.
More emphasis must be given to balancing file types to the source content. As a former digitization project manager it pains me a little to say this because it creates an extra logistic wrinkle to most projects, but, if a library contains digital betacam, 1”, ¾”, quad, and VHS tapes, I do not see a compelling reason to create the same type of file for every asset. Why create an Uncompressed 10 Bit HD file for a super long play VHS stack reel when a DV25 file provides quality significantly better than the original source? Why fill your storage with unnecessary data?
Now, is it worth it if your organization can afford to store the largest, highest quality files? You’ll have to answer that question yourselves, but Crawford can help with that process! When you’re starting a digitization project, we want to provide you with as many options as possible. We want to provide options to meet your needs. We can make recommendations and create a number of test files for your internal review processes.
Then, maybe you will decide the biggest and best files are necessary – we’re happy to make those for you. But maybe they aren’t necessary. Maybe a smaller file will suffice. Then you can allocate some of the money you’ll save on storage towards digitizing a larger portion of your library. Do it before the analog doomsday clock ticks all the way down to complete obsolescence. But, whatever your organization decides to do, Crawford will work with you. We’ll accommodate our workflows to find whatever solution works best for you. We’ll ensure that you leave as little content behind as possible.