The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Digital Video

If you use digital video as an integral part of your lectures, distance instruction, or research it will be important to preserve them for long-term use. Digital video preservation can be challenging, in that diligent updating is required for the files, hardware and software.  

Video generally comes in two flavors: file-based and media-based.  

  • Media-based is video that originates on a physical medium of some kind such as DV, VHS, Betacam, Hi-8, 3/4", or DVD.
  • File-based is video that originates on a chip, drive or card.  Today, most consumer video cameras, video phones, and still digital cameras utilize this technology.

Depending on the camera you are using, the quality of your footage can vary wildly.  The source of your video will determine how you archive it.

Archiving tips

Select your important files and determine the source:

  • Evaluate your videos and decide which ones you really want to keep for the long term.
  • If the video is media-based and on an aging format such as DVD, VHS, Hi-8 or 3/4", you should "capture" the footage onto your computer.*  A guide on how to do that can be found here: 

    *Never discard your original media in case your digital files are lost.

Choose a master file format that is optimal for long-term preservation:

 When capturing footage, choose a high quality format such as:

  • Motion JPEG 2000: a "lossless" video format.
  • MPEG-2: a "lossy" video format commonly used as a format for DVD-Video.

If your footage is already a digital file you should simply transfer the footage from the camera/phone of origin to your computer.
From your computer you can make copies and back them up on external drives.  The format of the footage will vary depending on the manufacturer (MPEG-4 is a common format found on phones and small video cameras).  

If you want the higest quality footage, consult the owners manual for your video camera to make sure you are capturing footage at the highest resolution.

Subtitle Files:

Some of your videos may be in a foreign language with accompanying subtitle files. These files should be bound to the video. Two accepted formats for binding these text files to their videos are:

  • W3C’s Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language
  • Microsoft’s Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange

Choose an access file format that is optimal for everyday use:

  • To be as safe as possible create 2 copies of your video recordings.  Save one as your uncompressed master and save another as a small compressed access copy for emailing, streaming etc. When you need another copy to use, make a copy from the master file.
  • The access copy can be one of many file formats, such as Quicktime (.mov), Windows Media (.wmv), Real Video (.rm) and Open DIVX (.divx).  These formats are useful for access but not suitable for preservation.

Organize your files:

  • Once your files are in their appropriate formats you will want to create a proper naming scheme.
  • When choosing a naming scheme for your videos be consistent and try to reflect the context or content of the video.

Make copies and manage them in different places:

  • Keep multiple copies of your selected video recordings in different locations and on different media forms to ensure the best chance of long-term preservation.
  • One copy may remain on your computer, but putting several other copies on separate media such as DVDs, CDs, portable hard drives, thumb drives or Internet storage will be the best protection against loss. 
  • Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, your video recordings in the other place should be safe.

Long-term storage is a key element in preserving digital videos. It is important to realize that no storage medium is permanent in the digital environment. Any storage medium used will require some maintenance to keep its contents viable for the longest period possible.

  • Storage media options:
    • CD/DVD – common form of storage and cheap.  (Optical media will face longevity issues, so this should be a considered a short-term solution)
    • USB drive – very common storage method and relatively inexpensive
    • External hard drive – Holds large volumes of material and is a bit more expensive.
    • Cloud storage is not yet a viable option for video preservation due to security issues and download times for large video files.

Check files and refresh storage media on a regular basis:

  • Check your saved files at least once a year to make sure you can read them and that they are still relevant and worth continued archiving.
  • Create new media copies every five years or when necessary to avoid data loss.
  • Also check your videos after each conversion to make sure there has not been a significant decline in quality.

Migrate files to newer formats if needed:

  • Attempt to stay current with major shifts in standards, software, hardware, platforms, and formats to ensure that your files are in a common, readable format.