The Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), a non-profit organisation based in San Francisco, started 40 years ago as a centre for artists and activists in the community to share portable video equipment.
Since then, BAVC has expanded and has become a community hub and resource for media makers in the Bay Area and across the country, acting as a post-production facility while providing media training and services for job-seekers, freelancers, film-makers, activists, as well as after-school programmes for underserved children.
Video preservation became part of BAVC's core offering some two decades ago, and the organisation has since secured various types of funding to support individuals in transferring analogue video tapes to digital files and develop tools and platforms to make the process more efficient.
In the audio-video world archiving world right now, there's a lot of pressure to transfer everything as fast as possibleBen Turkus, BAVC
One of the tools BAVC launched in 2013 is QCTools, a free and open-source software that allows people to run tests on their digital video files after they have been transferred from tapes, to flag problems that might have occurred during the conversion, such as loss of image or a change in the quality of the footage.
BAVC has since been working on the tool in collaboration with developer and archivist Dave Rice, building it off the back of an existing software called FFmpeg, and the project has been supported through two rounds of funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
"The first [analogue video] format was the two-inch quadruplex in 1956 and from then until relatively recently, there were tons of different video formats available, so the goal of archivists is to save the content but not so much to save the tape," explained Ben Turkus, preservation project manager at BAVC.
"That's done by playing back the tape on an old VCR and creating a digital file from it, but there can be a lot of problems in the process: issues with tapes that are degrading, machines that are breaking down and the parts are hard to come by, or even problems caused by the person who is creating the digital file."
This is where QCTools comes into play, allowing the individual to run the resulting digital video files through the tool, see if there are any issues with the footage and take measures to fix them.
Once a digital video file in any format is opened in QCTools, the tool can display a split-screen view of the file on one side and a collection of different graphs, called filters, on the other side. The graphs measure if the video has any issues, pointing out where the footage is too dark, too bright, not colourful enough or if parts of the image have been lost due to the original tape being dirty or damaged in any way, for example.
While any problems that are flagged can't be fixed using the tool itself, the digital file can either be amended in video editing software such as Adobe Premiere, or sent back so that the transfer can be performed again.
"If there's a problem and you have to send it back, it may be time consuming, but we have to make sure nothing gets lost forever and soon enough it will be very hard to play back any tapes, so there are some real dangers to not paying attention to what's happening when getting things transferred," Turkus pointed out.
BAVC was awarded $90,000 (£71,000) by the Knight Foundation earlier this week to supplement the NEH funding and enable the organisation to further expand the tool and launch an updated version in 2017.
The new version of QCTools will make the software faster and add new filters, but it will also develop a database called Signal Server that will allow the same image analysis process to run on large collections of files, as opposed to individual ones, and highlight the ones which have issues.
"In the audio-video world archiving world right now, there's a lot of pressure to transfer everything as fast as possible.
What's most important to us is that the digital file that's in the archive for the longer term, which journalists, scholars and the general public will look to as a representation of that part of history, is authenticBen Turkus, BAVC
"But if you work in a library and you send out a bunch of tapes to get transferred and you receive back a lot of digital video files, it's really hard to know which ones may be problematic, so [Signal Server] will make everyone's lives a lot easier."
The new database will be geared more towards institutions and organisations that aim to digitise a large number of video tapes, to help flag problems that could go unnoticed by archiving services due to quality control struggles employees might face when working with large amounts of video.
BAVC has already partnered with Indiana University Bloomington in the US, which is aiming to transfer over 500,000 media objects over the next four years with the help of a company called Memnon Archiving Services.
Turkus said QCTools has mostly been of interest to media producers and archivists working to transfer old tapes to digital files, but he does see value in journalists and broadcasters using the tool to "ensure the authenticity of the historical and cultural record".
"What's most important to us is that the digital file that's in the archive for the longer term, which journalists, scholars and the general public will look to as a representation of that part of history, is authentic, and that nothing gets lost in this kind of race against time," he added.
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