Volume 22, Number 6
Choosing a Videotape Preservation Format: Some
Rules to Live By
by Sarah Stauderman
The author posted the following text December 29 on
AMIA-L@LSV.UKY.EDU, the Association of Moving Image Archivists'
listserv, as a contribution to a general discussion of preservation
formats for videotape. She is a conservator for VidiPax, and can be
reached by telephone in Washington, DC at 202/546-2453 or by e-mail:
To continue, reiterate, or add to this discussion a bit, some
rules to live by:
- The format should be of the same or better quality than your
original. For instance, you would copy a 3/4" U-matic tape to
Betacam SP. You would not copy a 1" SMPTE Type C to VHS (in fact,
VHS is the lowest quality format, so it would never be a
preservation copy). Become familiar with the formats currently
available, including the specifications. Also, you may wish to
consider making TWO preservation copies: one in an analog (like
Beta SP) and one in a digital (like D2) format.
- Choose a format which has a proven record of use and a large
population of users. This may ensure that there will be equipment
to play back your tapes for a while after that technology is
unsupported by manufacturers.
- Do not use formats which employ compression (as many digital
formats do) for preservation masters. There might be a reason that
you would choose to use compression for user copies or other
applications (e.g., for materials that might go onto the
- Once you have chosen the format, choose a tape by a reputable,
well-known manufacturer. The hope is that the quality control and
the recipe making up the polyurethane binder will be better.
- Use the shortest running tape (sixty minutes versus ninety
minutes), as the tape base will be thicker, and more durable. In
general, seek tapes that are thick.
- Use metal particle (MP) tape. It has shown excellent results in
aging. (Caveat: according to the National Media Lab's "Magnetic
Tape Storage and Handling," MP will lose some signal output;
nevertheless, the output signal will always be better than iron
oxide-based tape no matter what the loss.) Don't forget, however,
that the bad actor in videotape deterioration is the polyurethane
binder. To help with that problem, remember that the overall
preservation solution is environmental control. Cool temps and low
RH will go a long way to keep your collection until you can transfer
- When you have your materials transferred, make sure they are
cleaned beforehand. We recommend a chemically-neutral cleaning
technique which uses buffering tissues.
My thanks (or apologies) to Jim Wheeler, Jim Lindner, the
AMIA Preservation Committee, the AMIA-Listserv, and others for
helping me produce this summary. For an excellent article
that basically says the same thing as this and much more,
see Jim Wheeler's article in Conservation OnLine (CoOL): http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byauth/wheeler/wheeler2.html.
all CoOL documents]
Timestamp: Sunday, 03-Mar-2013 21:39:28 PST
Retrieved: Tuesday, 17-Sep-2019 02:59:44 GMT