AVIs and QuickTimes and FFVIs, oh my! There are so many file formats available when preserving digital video, but which one is the best one to use? If you are anything like me, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possible file formats to use in your digital video preservation endeavors. Because video preservation is a relatively new form of archival work, it is very difficult to dole out “one-size-fits-all” advice for those of you who may want a straight answer when it comes to what file format might be best for video preservation.
While I cannot in good conscience give you specific advice on this front, I can clarify recent discourse on what file formats may be best for archiving video materials and why. This advice is informed by the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archivists (IASA) latest publication, the IASA TC 06. Before this document, there had been no international consensus or guidelines in the field of video preservation. We will be delving deeper into what the IASA TC 06 means for archivists in later blog posts, but today we will just focus on what makes video preservation so tricky.
TERMS TO KNOW
Transcoding: typically thought of as digitization, transcoding just means that you are moving one type of media to another type of media. We cannot always say “digitization” because, well, digital media is already digital. When we migrate file formats from one format (i.e. video tape or DVDs) to another, more sustainable, that is transcoding.
File Wrappers: used by archivists for file types that include metadata and multiple bitstreams (“bitstreams” being sequences of information) e.g. .TIFF or WAVE files. These files may include multiple audio or video channels.
Rewrapping: this one is exactly what it sounds like! Essentially you are taking whatever file type the data was originally encoded in and wrap it up in a new file type.
Target Formats: the digital entity (either a file or a file bundle) where the digitized videos end up. When we discuss what file type is best for videos, we are really discussing the best target format.
The IASA TC 06 acknowledges that because video preservation is such a new field of archival work, it can be difficult to decide what target format might work best for an institution. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the archivist is choosing a target format that has a long life expectancy; that is to say, choose a file format that is universal and easily accessible for a long period of time.
For most video types, the IASA TC 06 recommends choosing a “marketplace” target video format as a first option; these file types include .AVI and QuickTime. Both of these target formats can contain uncompressed data, which will result in a more faithful transcoded final product. If you do not want to use .AVI or QuickTime, other options include Matroska/FFV, MXF that contains lossless JPEG 2000, and MXF that contains uncompressed v210.
There is still much to understand about video preservation, and as technology quickly advances, we need to have more conversations and come to a consensus about what file type might work best for an institution.
Stay tuned for more highlights on the IASA TC 06 findings that we will be discussing!