Film May be the Best Way to Archive Film, But Does Digital Storage Have Its Own Advantages?

Judging from the program at the Hollywood Post Alliance’s Tech Retreat this week, archiving is a top-of-mind issue at L.A. post houses. Speakers declaimed on the subjects of digital archives vs. celluloid, interoperability among archive systems from different vendors, and the kinds of high-capacity optical media that could change the whole playing field for long-term storage.
Speaking on behalf of Sun Microsystems, Dave Cavena made the pitch for moving, today, to digital movie archives. “You walk into a film archive, and what you smell is the image coming off the print,” Cavena said, hyping the ability of a digital archive to maintain movies lossleslsy in perpetuity.

Sun’s motion-picture archiving model is based around an enterprise-class tape library with a front-end server and disk drive. A studio would maintain two complete libraries in different locations, and each library would include two complete copies of each movie. The library would comprise components that would be changed out on a regular schedule ‘ every five years for the computers and disks, every 10 years for the actual tapes (with an audit of each tape to be conducted every six months to keep on top of any developing problems), and every 20 years for the library systems. Data would be stored in an open tarball data format; as it’s copied from tape to tape, it can be recorded in whatever file format the current tape system uses. Content would be kept in the clear (unencrypted) and uncompressed for maximum readability in the future. The archive would have no network connectivity.

S. Merrill Weiss of the Merrill Weiss Group offered an update on SMPTE activity around a proposed format for interoperability among media archives. An ad hoc group inside SMPTE is writing a draft standard for an archive media format that would allow material to be moved between different systems. Each archival system will continue to use its native format, but with special routines that will explicitly import or export data in the new, SMPTE-specified format. Eventually, SMPTE’s hope is that archive vendors will migrate their own internal formats to match the new SMPTE-specified format.

And Art Rancis, VP of InPhase Technologies, talked about the various testing metrics being applied to determine the useful lifetime ‘ and other characteristics ‘ of its holographic storage media. (Rancis also mentioned OvalRock, the Vista, CA, company that uses a holographic drive inside a VTR emulator.) The capacity of a single write-once disc is 300 GB, but that’s expected to increase to 800 GB next year, and to 1.6 TB by 2010. The long-range roadmap leads to 17 TB on a single holographic disc – but by then, won't there be a hot new storage technology that leaves holographic discs looking paltry by comparison?

Also read What's the Best Format for Archiving?