Technology automation is one part of videotape digitisation but do you know what else is needed?

by Adam Hodgkinson

DAMsmart was invited to present at the Joint Technical Symposium (JTS) organised by the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA). The Symposium took place at the beginning of March in Singapore. Andrew and Joe jetted over to Singapore for a to present our paper, “Automation To A Point: DAMsmart” looking at mass videotape digitisation. They also took the opportunity to listen to several papers, which were presented by other industry professionals. JTS is a great opportunity to connect and share experiences with a range of professionals working towards the same goal as DAMsmart; saving audiovisual heritage and making it accessible for the future.

As a bit of background, JTS explores technical issues affecting the long-term survival and accessibility of audiovisual collections. JTS is an international symposium and brings together the world’s foremost research and thinking regarding the preservation and accessibility of moving image and recorded sound collections from 19th century to date.

The theme for this years conference was “Sustainable Audiovisual Collections Through Collaboration”. The papers presented at JTS 2016 covered the ongoing technological viability of audiovisual collections, both as individual items and collectively, as well as many aspects of audiovisual media preservation and access, such as conservation and restoration, harvesting and accessing collection information – including metadata and intellectual property.

Our paper investigated the often underestimated balance required to achieve positive outcomes for audiovisual digitisation and preservation projects – a balance between automated technology and skilled technical operators. No digitisation project presents in the same way, whether it be format, conditional issues or project size, each project is different. Too often it is assumed that technology is the key to high-productivity in the digitisation process, however, that is only one aspect. Having the capabilities to apply knowledge to any project requirement and to adapt expertise to suit circumstances can only be achieved with a quality and experienced team of technicians. 

Automation of videotape digitisation requires people too

To illustrate the case in point, we used a project we recently completed for Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). DAMsmart was employed to process, digitise, quality control and archive programming content that was stored on over 40,000 Digital Betacam cassettes. The objective was to deliver a transmission ready HD archive. 

With content exceeding 21,000 hours, DAMsmart brought together systems and tools into automated workflows to digitise, segment, QC and archive thousands of hours of material. The project created over half a million individual digital assets. The automated processing was achieved by utilising robotic videotape handling and enterprise management software for control of physical cassettes, digital workflow design and processing. Automation was a critical factor in achieving quality outcomes and in realistic project timeframes. 

Automation of the process, however, can only go so far. For RTHK, our digitisation platform handled the repetitive tasks, leaving our team free to take care of the finer details required of the project. For example, dealing with a physical collection that had a large number of cassettes infested with mould. Or the expert knowledge needed to analyse and interrogate the results of our automated Quality Control workflows. 

Automation of technology underpinning videotape digitisation workflows is a big contributor to fast and efficient migration of content from a physical videotape to a digital form. Automation, however, can only go so far before you need to rely on a skilled team to optimise the process, both digital and physical. It is the balance of automation and people that will ensure the delivery of a very high-quality digital video collection. As the title suggests, automation gets you to a point, however, you need the expertise of a knowledgeable team to maximise the efficiencies afforded from the technology. 

Check out our presentation and feel free to get in contact if you would like to know more.