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RE: [AV Media Matters] The esoteric edge
Jim L. made excellent points with his discussion of unique archival format.
My own musings in this area lead me to observe that although VHS perhaps was
not as good as Beta format, it won the marketplace in spades. Even audio can
be archived upon VHS tapes, and I imagine millenia from now there will be a
VHS machine or many of them around, to play those archived tapes! Any second
hand shop is well supplied with the portable VHS machines that were replaced
by the handheld camcorder.
If a true digital format is desired for archiving, there are "digital Beta"
implementations of Video drives that are robust.
But, the recent emergence of surface mount components assembled into all types
of drives leads one to observe that the most maintainable drives might be the
earlier discrete component or first portable VHS drives, from the early to mid
80's before surface mount components became the norm.
The use of automated surface mount boards also has arisen along with use of
custom chip technologies, and then those IC's become obsolete and repairs
cannot be made to drives heavily dependent upon them. The wide availability
of stores of obsolete military discrete parts makes repairable archival
machines insured of a supply of parts for a century, if one gatheres spares
now. Any archival project should use such a format that spare drives can be
set aside for future replacement of worn out mechanical assemblies.
Other issues to consider are use of wear components like rubber belts, drive
wheels, etc. However, as older belted turntables fell into disuse, belt
makers adapted their line to video drives, thus a source of belt manufacturing
per se did not vanish with the demise of the turntable driven by belts. Thus,
one can sometimes find a modern belt to substitute for a long oboslete part of
older transcription turntables.
Didn't some archival organization develop a laser pickup to preserve vinyl
records and older shellac ones from wear? That seems one solution to reading
old audio disk media.
Someone well put that the jury is still out on the survivability of CDs and
DVDs. Anything made of a plastic suffers the risks of evaporation of the
volatile chemicals, eventual crazing or cracking, and deterioration. We just
see it accelerated in our automobile dash tops, because they are in the sun
all year, subject to varying humidity, etc.
I think with proper storage, tape is likely to last well beyond 50 years, but
we need to see what the earliest "stable" audio tapes are doing. I have heard
of an intact audio archive in Chicago which has 40 year old tapes in good
condition without extraordinary means of storage. If Cuddihy's ideal storage
profile is followed, much longer lifetime for tape seems possible than any
As my friend Glen Schulze said, (but on another issue), "recording the signal
is not the problem, playing it back is". How carefully you play back the
archive is key to its surviving as well.
Perhaps the best Archives can do is to preserve media in various but most
common forms, and replicate the valuable resources upon several formats to
help insure survivability.
Another plus for 1/2 inch media, is that intrinsically, the plastic is
sturdier with the extra width, and you typically find it less likely to
stretch than earlier 1/4 inch audio types. But, again, one inch would
therefore be even stronger. However, one inch drives were specialized to
instrumentation markets and less available in audio fields.
A similar argument could be made for 8mm over DAT 4mm forms, but there are
other issues there, in that 8mm was primarily a digital and video form, and
4mm an audio form.
The one truism, seems to be that computer media formats change faster than
audio or video formats. And there are more of the computer media formats.
The archival solution may lie in something not yet introduced, but likely will
not come from the quickly obsolete computer vendors--- unless museums and
archives get together and seek a "standard" that could gather wide support
Stuart M. Rohre
Applied Research Labs, UTx, Analog /Digital Lab