Digital Video Preservation and Oral History

Digital Video Preservation and Oral History by Kara Van Malssen discusses digital, file based and video preservation issues. Van Malssen is the Managing Director of Consulting of AVPeep. She helps to design and develop solutions for data and information management challenges for different organizations. She is also the co-founder and organizer of the Association of Moving Image Archivists’/Digital Library Federation’s Hack Day. 

Van Malssen teaches readers the anatomy of a video file. She argues that encoding format is important because it tells you the type of compression that will be used on the file for the video. First, she defines a file wrapper (also known as a container) and its use. She stated that files we interact with on our computer or storage system have extensions such as .mov(QuickTime), .avi (AVI), .mpg (MPEG) and .wmv (WindowsMedia). The importance of the file wrapper is to secure the video and audio together, so it can sync together accurately. She also explains the different encoding formats, or codecs (short for coder/decoder). It is used to create the video files to decode it upon playback. Common codecs that are used today are H.264, DV (Digital Video), Apple ProRes, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4. Van Malssen believes that the main issues that impact a video workflow are the encoding format, bit rate, extension type and file size. Bit rate (or data rate) is the number of bits that are processed over time. The higher the bit rate, for example, the more computer processing power it will require to edit and transcode. Transcoding is the process of converting one encoding format to another, this “introduces a loss of generation due to different compression algorithms employed by different codeces.” She also explains three different file types called preservation master, mezzanine, and proxy, which are commonly used for video production and archiving. Preservation master file types aim to keep the file in its original condition, while the mezzanine format compresses the file for distribution purposes. She also goes on to describe what a proxy file is (it is akin to a reference file) and what it is used for today. 

She also gave readers different software to use to show the process of converting files to different formats. She lists commercial software that you can purchase, like Compressor, and free software tools like MPEG Streamclip and Handbrake. She also advises people that since formats change over time, it would be wise to preserve files in a newer format. She also feels it’s important to keep up to date on technological advancements, in order to know when a format has become obsolete. Van Masleen gives readers a guide on how to preserve video files as well as explains the constant changes in technological software used for video formatting. 

  1. Van Masslen talks about the importance of the file format. What is the role of the file wrapper? How does it relate to preserving the video files?
  2. Briefly describe transcoding. What can be the advantages and disadvantages of using a transcode?
  3. Van Masslen describes three file types (preservation master, mezzanine, and proxy), how does each file type help preserve video quality?
  4. What is the importance of storage and preserving metadata when supporting video collections?
  5. After reading this article, do you think it was effective in helping you understand digital preservation? If not, what could she have done better?
  6. How does one preserve files with the constant changes in technology? Do you think it’s possible to do so?

” Format Theory”

“Format Theory”, from the chapter of MP3: The Meaning of a Format  by Jonathan Sterne, demonstrates the importance of the MP3 format and its accessibility. According to Sterne, the book explores the histories of compression and bandwidth management in telephony and twentieth century sound media connected to the MP3 format. Sterne talks about telephony and how it relates to MP3. He also talks about its importance as it relates to the way we communicate and what we hear in  today’s world. Sterne argues that telephony helped with the technological advancement of sound despite what many people think. He stated that each major technical iteration of sound recordings made use of telephone research. Although MP3’s are inexpensive and accessible, many argue that it has made sound definition decrease. Sterne disagrees and states that a few possible reasons for this common misconception is:

  1. Greater definition is the same thing as greater verisimilitude
  2. It increases and enhances end-users’ experiences
  3. It increases in bandwidth and storage capacity which leads to higher-definition media for end-users

Sterne states that the history of the MP3 is connected to the history of compression. Compressors worry about the inefficiency of the mechanics of transduction storage and the transmissions with the creation, distribution, and reception of the audio. He considers the MP3 an extremely common medium of sound, particularly for hearing, music and speech. He believes that today, MP3 remains the most reliable audio format. Although one day some format will surpass it, MP3 will always hold a significant part in sound and music. 

  1. Sterne argues that telephony played an important role in the advancement of sound. How does telephony help with the development of sound and audio formats?
  2. How do MP3’s connect to the history of compression and audio? How do these histories connect to create the MP3 format?
  3. Do you agree with the author about the misconception that MP3 has lessened the value of sound?
  4. MP3 is usually talked about within consumer products. How has the MP3 developed from the way we move and store  music?
  5. Although the MP3 is accessible and inexpensive, do you think that comes at a cost for quality? Do you think if MP3 was more expensive it would increase the quality of audio?

One Reply to “Digital Video Preservation and Oral History”

  1. Hi Sherrell!
    I think that you have a wonderful post on both of these articles on digital preservation and the MP3. I really liked how you were able to define some of the technical terms from Van Masslen’s article as those can be a bit hard for people like me with limited technological experience to understand. I like how you included the relevant information of what both the book and article mean for today as this is important for us as historians to understand. In addition, you did an excellent job of including questions for discussion on the pieces that you read, and they have pushed me to think further about the readings. One question I would have on both readings is why is understanding compression and digital preservation important when looking at the field of public history? Overall, well done and I look forward to class discussion.

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