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Tools and quality control for video ingestion and transcoding

Tate owns approximately 500 video artworks, which have until recently been managed via a migration program to transfer video onto new stock and new formats. In addition to video art held within the art collection, Tate also holds high value audiovisual material within Tate Archive and as part of the gallery’s institutional records. In response to the shift from tape to file based storage and delivery Tate is currently working to establish a digital repository.

As a partner in Presto4U, a European project which brings together nine different user communities engaged in the preservation of audio visual material, Tate leads the community concerned with the preservation of video artworks. Within this context, the Research Department seized the opportunity to organize three events this summer led by Dave Rice that considered new tools and current debates related to the preservation of video. These events were a workshop on FFMPEG and QCTools and a webinar to discuss the normalisation of video for preservation.


FFMPEG Workshop July 28 2014

FFMPEG is an open source command line tool for analysing, transcoding, processing, and playing back audiovisual data. Due to its extensive and actively developed codec library and open license, FFMPEG has been integrated into many tools and workflows related to audio visual preservation and access. The workshop looked at how FFMPEG is relevant to the objectives of digital preservation, and how it can be applied to achieve common tasks.


QCTools Workshop July 29 2014

The Bay Area Video Coalition, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has between January 2013 and January 2015 delivered a project to design, and build an audiovisual quality control tool, QCTools. The participants of the workshop were provided hands on opportunities to familiarise themselves with QCTools by ingesting video files, selecting filters, generating graphs and exploring the different viewing options and layouts.

The workshop considered quality assessment primarily from the perspective of those engaged in preservation workflows. These tools offer the opportunity for those working with video artworks to interrogate video in ways that have not previously been easily accessible for the conservator or archivist, in this way QCTools redefines the way in which we might work with video coming into our collections in the future. 


To Standardise or Not: is normalisation of video a thing of the past?

On July 30 2014 Tate hosted a roundtable discussion to consider the arguments for and against the creation of normalised video files as part of a preservation workflow. This was followed by a webinar with Agathe Jarczyk, Emanuel Lorrain and Dave Rice. The webinar was chaired by Pip Laurenson.

The participants in the discussion and the webinar explored the question of whether it makes sense for video art collections to create and retain a normalised copy of their video as well as the master material supplied by the artist. The shift from tape based storage to file based storage has been far more disruptive and challenging than had been anticipated for many organisations. The lack of standardisation within a file based environment has raised questions regarding our ability to achieve consistent playback of our video artworks (e.g. with regards to contrast, colour, and aspect ratio etc.) once stored within a repository. The discussions begun to explore the dependencies involved in consistent playback for video files and how preservation workflows might be developed to capture the information necessary to ensure consistency in the future, an issue which will be explored further through another European Project of which Tate is a partner, namely PERICLES.

In addition to staff engaged in the preservation of video from across Tate, others engaged in the conservation of video from other organisations also attended the workshops. This provided an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the challenges faced by those working in different contexts with video. Below are some details about the other organisations involved in the workshops and their reasons for participating:

  • Dave Rice is an audiovisual archivist and technologist. His work focuses on independent media, open source technical preservation applications, and quality control analytics. He worked as an archivist or archival consultant at media organizations like CUNY, Democracy Now, the United Nations, WITNESS, Downtown Community Television, and Bay Area Video Coalition. He is a graduate of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and based in New York. Dave has significant experience with these tools and led the training workshops.
  • The LUX collection in London contains over 4000 films and videos by over 1000 international artists, ranging from the 1920s to the present. It is the largest collection of its kind in Europe. Most of the works are available to hire for public screening or exhibition and some for private use. Adam Jones, head of collection at LUX, is considering applying FFMPEG and QCTools to potential new workflows for encoding and distribution of digital video files.
  • LIMA in Amsterdam is an international platform for sustainable access to media art. Its objective is to make sure that video, digital and performance artworks can be presented now and in the future. It offers an online distribution service of its collection. Furthermore, with its storage and digitisation services it supports museums, galleries and individual artists. Wiel Seuskens, technical manager at LIMA, already uses FFMPEG for transcoding of video. In order to ensure the quality of the digitisation process, he wanted to know more about QCTools.
  • VIAA in Ghent seeks to archive the digital heritage of Flanders (Belgium) in a sustainable manner and to make it accessible to everyone. VIAA were founded two years ago and are building its expertise related to archiving digital assets. For the digitisation programme, VIAA receives support from PACKED, centre of expertise in digital heritage. VIAA manages the digitisation and archiving process and provides digital storage space for archives. The FFMPEG and QCTools workshops provided VIAA with a deeper understanding of the digitisation process for video and the application of QCTools are of interest as a means of ensuring quality control in the workflow.
  • The British Library in London has a moving image collection of around 70,000 titles. Traditionally, moving image items have been selected for the sounds that they contain or where they enhance existing sound collections. Strengths of the collection include music, particularly popular music, drama and literature recordings, and ethno-musical recordings. Andrew Pearson, video and audio engineer at the British Library already uses FFMPEG and was interested in understanding how QCTools might support the archiving project.
  • The audiovisual archive of the Austrian Mediathek holds more then 2 million audio and video recordings related to the Austrian cultural and contemporary history. It stores about 530'000 audio and video carriers of different formats (analogue and digital) in its archive. In 2000 it started to digitise the collection for easier access. Peter Bubestinger, technician and software engineer at the Austrian Mediathek, and his colleagues have been developing an ingest workflow to archive video files and the software to manage this. Peter is interested in integrating QCTools into his existing workflow.
  • VET (Video Engineering & Training) in Hoxton, London works with individuals, companies, artists, galleries and museums to support the preservation of artists video. VET provides post-production for artists who work in moving image including archive, editions and distribution /exhibition copies. VET also offer post production and technical support to the wider video, audio, and digital media communities with tailored courses and workshops, online and offline editing suites, sound finishing and dedicated staff. VET is interested in how these tools are being and can be integrated into workflows, and in achieving some common working practices.
  • Atelier für Videokonservierung in Bern, Switzerland is led by Agathe Jarczyk and offers services around the conservation and restoration of video art and other video documents. The team provides support and advice to museums, collectors, archives and artists, with particular focus on condition assessments, archiving systems, cleaning and restoration, production of copies, and installations, as well as historical and technical research on video art works. Agathe is interested in the analysis features of FFMPEG and wishes to use QCTools for videos that she digitizes and for videos that enter a collection as born digital material.
  • PACKED in Brussels, Belgium was created in 2005 to act as an umbrella organization for the development and dissemination of knowledge on the cataloguing, preservation and distribution of audiovisual arts. Since 1 January 2011, PACKED has been acknowledged by the Ministry of the Flemish Community as a National Expertise Center for Digital Heritage in order to assist the broader cultural heritage field in Flanders and has been involved in several Flemish and European digitisation projects. PACKED are interested in FFMPEG and QCTools as a means of ensuring quality control in the workflow.


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