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In Search of a Perfect “Forever” Archival Storage Medium for Audio and Video
I’ve been spring cleaning my New York City apartment. Over the years, as a writer, I have accumulated way, way too much “stuff.” As I throw away and sort ancient audio and video media, I realize how much material exists on formats that no longer exist.
I’ve found audio interviews on everything from micro and regular cassettes, MiniDiscs, DAT and mini-DATs, reel to reel analog and digital formats and some odd-ball formats I no longer even remember. It’s the same with video and images, except the media is way larger. It’s got two-inch wide Quad, one-inch, ¾-inch, Betacam, VHS, Betamax. DVDs and CD video. And books of film negatives, prints, film cartridges and 16mm film. You get the idea.
I kept players for some, like audio and digital cassettes, Minidisc and DVDs. But most of the other players bit the dusk. Good luck trying to find a good used (and working) audio DAT machine. If you do, they cost a small fortune.
Other the years, I’ve created a digital archive of most of my valuable stuff. But I always need something I can no longer access. It drives you crazy. Think how huge this problem can be for large companies with huge media archives.
And there is the issue of preservation. Let’s say you own a very valuable artistic work of media — a film like Casablanca, perhaps. How would you go about protecting the digital master file of Casablanca against data corruption, fire, theft or some other unforeseen natural disaster?
The answer is not simple, nor is it permanent. The creation of a very long-term, highly reliable archival storage medium is the subject of a vast amount of fast-paced research these days. What’s state-of-the-art in storage today, may not be a year from now. I’ve learned that the hard way.
At the same time, our need to archive a vast amount of data is exploding. Though specific estimates vary, there’s a consensus that the rate of growth is about 50 percent each year. There’s no recession in the digital data storage business. Storage is now needed in just about every human activity.
Archival storage consists of a dense memory system used to store and rapidly retrieve digital data. It can scale in size — from a small system serving an individual to a large motion picture company. The storage media for archival systems can be all or part magnetic tape, optical media, hard disks, flash media or the cloud.
What comes in the future may include far more exotic technologies like holograms, etched sheets of steel or storage in DNA. Research on new technologies is continuing at a fierce pace. But what about the existing media? How do you convert an old tape to digital if the original recording machines are no longer available?
It’s a problem I’m dealing with now. I don’t have the physical space for a “Jurassic Park” of old gear to play back every format. Even if I did, much of it fails in a short time and maintenance is over-the-top expensive.
Today, I transfer as much as possible to very standard WAV, JPEG or .Mov files. I figure they will work for a few more years. But what works today, may not tomorrow. It is one of the major issues in protecting accumulated media.