Monday, August 13, 2018

Converting old media, and how to "future-proof" (as of today)

When I started my company, everything was analog in my world.  I shot on 3/4" video tape for the broadcast houses, and mini-DV tape for my own projects.  I delivered video on VHS tapes for my clients.  I used tape decks and an editing controller to make cuts, and needed another machine to handle any effects other than dissolves or cuts.

Delivery expanded to CD (limited), and then DVD.  And then all of those analog machines went away, and everything moved to computers.  I still create DVDs for one of my clients, but I'm trying to move that client to the digital world, to a "pay-per-view" model.

In the meantime, I have friends and family with VHS tapes and DVDs sometimes, who want these things off their shelves, into an electronic format that they can upload to YouTube, share with others, and have in, what they believe, is a future-proof format.  Their ability to understand how time will degenerate media is limited to the information I've provided them, particularly in the VHS transfer process, that the older their tape, or less physically-protected it was (a cardboard sleeve vs a plastic box), the more brittle the tape becomes, and thus, the media starts to have issues playing back, even in the transfer process. 

Truthfully, they have solved that physical playback problem by transferring the media to an electronic format.  And re-gained some space on their shelves in the den!

BUT!  What are they doing with these electronic files I deliver to them?  Are these files safe for the future?  I usually deliver the electronic files on a TEMPORARY, but safe method.  If it's just a few tapes, I may deliver them on DVD, if they wish.  If there are multiple files, I'll deliver them on a small, portable hard drive, but I tell them that this hard drive can break down the road, so they shouldn't just replace the spot on the shelf where the tapes were with this small hard drive, and forget about it.  They should store them, ideally, in the cloud, on a date storage service like Dropbox,, etc.

Now, there's a new concern: will the files that are on either the DVD or the hard drive play back in the future?  And even those files in the cloud- will they play back later, as computers and codecs evolve?  DVD drives have already started being phased out of computers.  Are you going to hold on to your DVD player in the hopes that it will be able to play back your home movies 20 years from now at the family reunion?

For the editing geeks out there reading, earlier this summer, Adobe formally announced that it “will no longer support legacy QuickTime 7 era formats and codecs starting from the following product versions":

  • April 2018 release of Premiere Pro CC (version 12.1)
  • April 2018 release of After Effects CC (version 15.1)
  • April 2018 release of Adobe Media Encoder (version 12.1)
  • April 2018 release of Adobe Audition (version 11.1.0)
Affected codecs include:

  • Cinepak
  • Graphics
  • Sorenson Video
So, 32-bit files are being phased out of being able to be played (Quicktime 7-era formats).  As an editor, I need to ensure that I'm using 64-bit applications to export files for my clients.  The experts advise that Pro Res files are a good way to go, and they deliver a .mp4 file.

The H.264 compression method, frequently used in tandem with the MPEG-4 file format, is by far the leading compression and format combination in the industry today. Occasionally, you will see these formats offered as independent formats (MPEG-4 or H.264), but whichever name they adopt, you can be sure that they're using the same format.

As a consumer, you need to ensure that whomever is transferring your old tapes and DVDs is delivering your file to you using a 64-bit application, and h.264 compression.  You want to receive .mp4 files.  So those are the questions you need to ask!

In my next blog post, I'll talk about digital legacy do you ensure that your home movies, where ever they are stored, are not lost forever, just because you are gone?

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