The Challenges of Converting to Digital Video: Recent Advancements Have Allowed This Technology to Be More Accessible. (the Systems Librarian)

By Breeding, Marshall | Information Today, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

The Challenges of Converting to Digital Video: Recent Advancements Have Allowed This Technology to Be More Accessible. (the Systems Librarian)


Breeding, Marshall, Information Today


If a picture is worth a thousand words, full-motion video fills volumes. Digital video, while an exciting medium, presents a number of storage, preservation, and access challenges. If it can be harnessed, however, it can deliver content in ways that far exceed the capabilities of text, sound, or still images alone.

Digital video has been a big part of my work in recent months. I've been developing a strategy for converting the library's large analog videotape collection into digital form. It's been a major learning experience that has required me to gain hands-on knowledge of various digital video applications as well as become familiar with the related standards, file formats, and compression schemes. In this column I'll pass on some of the basics that I've learned.

Storage Issues, Options

One of the challenges of digital video that becomes apparent very quickly is the vast amount of storage it demands. From text to still images, sound, and full-motion video, multimedia options form a continuum of increasing needs for storage and bandwidth. Video, by far, is the medium with the largest storage appetite. In its simplest form, digital video consists of a series of bitmapped images that are strung together in rapid succession. Without compression, an hour of raw video might consume as much as 100 GB of disk space. With only 10 hours of content per terabyte, storing raw video quickly proves impractical. Fortunately, compression can make a dramatic difference, squeezing video files down as much as a hundredfold. But even at 1 GB per hour, a large digital video collection still requires a significant amount of storage.

Recent advancements in storage technologies make it much easier to accommodate digital video's requirements. Since 80-GB hard drives are commonplace, it's now possible to work with fairly large amounts of video data on a computer workstation. Storage area networks (SAN) and large-scale network attached storage (NAS) devices are well-suited for managing big collections of video content on an enterprisewide network. Through an NAS or a SAN, you can get storage capacities of dozens or even hundreds of terabytes--though not always inexpensively.

DVD offers another alternative for storing and distributing digital video content. In the same way that CDs revolutionized the packaging of sound, DVD is exploding as the preferred medium for video. Not only have commercially pressed DVDs made tremendous headway toward displacing VHS tapes, they have become much more accessible for distributing locally produced content or archiving digitized video material. DVD-R drives have come down in price from well over $1,000 a year ago to just a few hundred dollars. DVD media prices have also declined, with some types available for a little over $1 per disc.

When creating your own DVDs you need to be aware that they come in both authoring and general formats. Authoring discs permit full access to the media, thus allowing the creation and copying of commercial content with copy protection. The cost of authoring media is quite high, making it impractical as a means of duplicating commercial DVDs. The general format does not allow access to the part of the disc that's needed for copy protection, but it's much less expensive.

Also keep in mind that there are DVD-R drives that can write to the media once, as well as DVD-RW that can write and rewrite thousands of times. DVD-ROM drives and cartridges treat the media almost like a hard drive by allowing hundreds of thousands of write and rewrite cycles. Make sure that you match your media type and drive. For most video-digitizing projects in libraries or archives, DVD-R on general media is likely the best choice. The use of write-once technology ensures that the digital content cannot be easily overwritten or altered once it's burned onto the disc. The most common DVD formats offer about 4.7 GB per disc, which is enough space to accommodate about 2 hours of relatively high-quality compressed video. …

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