Japan’s Crises, and its ramifications on digital preservation
Mar 23rd, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

A Sony HVR-Z1U camera. This device is a digital video workhorse at the SCC, and relies heavily on digital video tape... something which could be rather hard to come by in the near future.

My heart, thoughts, and a donation goes to those affected by the Earthquake, Tsunami, and now radiological crisis that Japan must grapple with.  It’s not exaggeration to say this turn of events is truly unprecedented.  Sitting thousands of miles away, and only observing the events through websites and television screens, I’m aware that I cannot possibly grasp the ordeal that survivors now face.

With that preface, it’s difficult to even think at this point of how the disaster will inconvenience those of us far removed.  However, there will be a rather significant impact for quite some time, given our technological dependencies in a digital world, the number of electronic components and supplies that are produced in Japan, and how we use those components to capture our current history and cultural heritage.

Our first hints of trouble began with an advisory issued to consumers of magnetic tape media. Sony, a major manufacturer of various varieties of tape media as well as semiconductors, optical discs such as DVD and Blu-ray, and electronic components, has been hit hard.  Sony was forced to shut down a number of factories in the region while recovery efforts continue. The earthquake has forced a halt to production in various manufacturing facilities in Japan, including those of magnetic media manufacturers, and suppliers are now warning of an impending shortage and possible price spikes:

“Our industry has already been affected by a halt in media manufacturing operations – professional media supply shortages are evident, namely HDCam SR,” explained a post on the Comtel Pro Media web site. “Worldwide stock shortages present a realistic threat to our industry and the immediate needs of the television and motion picture production.”

Of particular note is a shutdown of the Sony Corporation Sendai Technology Center, currently the only facility in the world producing HDCAM-SR tapes.

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YouTube as a de facto cultural archive for past videos
Nov 30th, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

YouTube is definitely the wild-west for video content, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find a lot of vintage video content.  Quite a few of it is uploaded by people whose rights to publish the stuff is questionable, but while it’s there and before it gets taken down, it’s pretty fascinating to come across old commercials, television station idents, and little vignettes that exemplify past culture.

Here’s a good example:  a 1971 Woolworth TV ad, promoting a sale on LP albums and even some 8-tracks:

An ad from a defunt store depicting a obsolete formats.  Fascinating.

Let them eat static: Nationwide sign-off of Analog TV signals
Jun 12th, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

After several delays, fits and starts, the US has finally left the age of analog TV behind today.   One by one, stations across the nation shut down their analog transmitters and have resumed broadcasting in DTV only.  this was supposed to happen much sooner in the year, but the transtition was stalled several times, upon fears that millions of Americans were (and may still be) unprepared for the switchover.

Whether these households are prepared now or not, newer media has certainly marked the passage of their predecessor.  YouTube is officially spotlighting classic television shows today.  And its users are unofficially marking the death of analog TV by recording and posting the final signoffs of various TV stations’ analog transmitters, including many stations the did the switchover early and spent time in their final analog moments with a retrospective:

Other shutdowns were done with less fanfare.

So long, Analog.  While we move to better broadcast formats, there’s a certain something about test patternssignoff messages and even snow on our TV sets that holds a place in the hearts of those of us who grew up with them.

An impending quad tape dilemna?
May 16th, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

An interesting post and ensuing discussion this weekend occurred on the Association of Moving Image Archivists listserv.  Jim Wheeler reports on what could be an ominous sign for Quadruplex and 1-inch Video tape archives around the world. Video Magnetics, Inc., one of the last vendors that services the Quad and 1-inch tape machines, appears to be hitting hard times.

Write Wheeler in his AMIA-L post (click here for full article):

Video Magnetics is the only company that I am aware of that rebuilds 1 inch and 2 inch video heads. Recently, I chatted with the owner (Tony Korte) and he has laid off most of his people. Tony had 45 employees a few years ago and now has five. He will probably have to shut down next year.

There are currently no vendors producing 2-inch tape machines, with the last widely-produced AMPEX and RCA models being introduced in the late 1970s. Even so, is reign spanned three decades, having been introduced in 1956, and used by broadcasting agencies well into the 1980s. Without a doubt, lots of valuable television history exists on Quad tape. Quad slowly began to be supplanted by 1-inch tape in the mid 1970s, with players being made by NEC as late as 1988.

As Wheeler notes, without a knowledgeable vendor servicing the read/write heads for the existing, aging fleet of Quad and 1-inch players, the ability to retrieve the content off the countless reels of tape out there will be lost at an unpredictable rate.

Video Magnetics has been around since 1976. According to their website, they began at that point selling refurbished Quad video heads for Ampex and RCA video recorders. As late as 2006, the company added the ability to service more recent-vintage Sony Betacam SX gear, in addition to modern DVCPRO format VTRs.

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