NFSA acts to preserve video

The National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) has begun a major project to archive more than 40,000 hours of video stored in superannuated analogue formats, with the purchase of two SAMMA Solo systems from media migration specialist DAMsmart.

Much of the NFSA’s video archive is stored on ageing formats such as U-Matic or analogue betacam which are deteriorating and in need of digital preservation. Archive material from the earlier years of television in Australia is stored on 1” and 2” analogue tape formats that are now outdated.

The choice of SAMMA and DAMsmart followed extensive research and testing by the NFSA.

Greg Moss, Manager of the Digital Media Preservation Project for the NFSA, says ‘We’re digitising these works to preserve their usable lives, not just to keep a record of them, so preserving their original quality is paramount. SAMMA Solo gives us fine control over the quality of the content before and during digitisation.’

With a wide variety of tape quality and formats in the collection including 2 inch video, NFSA’s own expertise is vital in the process. Fully automated digitisation isn’t an option but SAMMA Solo analyses every frame of video tape and flags quality issues, so operators can fine-tune the process as they go.

‘SAMMA Solo ensures a high quality outcome while increasing our productivity,’ Moss explains.

The digital conversion creates multiple copies at full and reduced resolution, with copies of the programs simultaneously stored on network storage and a nearline LTO-4 tape-based digital archive.

Solo is able to support the simultaneous generation of a multitude of high and low resolution video/audio formats ranging from lossless JPEG2000 (J2K) and MXF wrapped MPEG2 though to frame accurate Windows Media low resolution proxies.

A key benefit of the new system is SAMMA’s use of ISO standard JPEG 2000 encoding which yields digital files in open formats. For the NFSA, this enables long term access and adjustment without the risk of proprietary restrictions and expense. For this reason, some of the world’s largest audiovisual archives, including the US Library of Congress, use SAMMA to digitise their audiovisual collections.

A key challenge for archivists is to preserve original unaltered content in the smallest, most manageable package. This is effectively addressed through JPEG 2000’s ‘mathematically lossless’ compression which reduces video files to one third of their original size, dramatically reducing transmission speeds and storage space.

‘We’ve been strong advocates of JPEG 2000 for some time,’ says Joe Kelly, DAMsmart’s Media Migration Manager. ‘With the premier archive in Australia choosing JPEG 2000, we’re confident that others will soon follow.’

The meticulous migration of NFSA’s video archives is likely to take many years, but digitisation will enhance the storage, monitoring and accessibility of this irreplaceable Australian audiovisual collection.