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     Video Art / Media Art Preservation:  Studies and Suggestions
                     THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK

Passive preservation

We are still speaking about older tapes e.g. analogue recorded video tapes. I will first discuss what is usually called “passive preservation”. The main goal is to prevent the tape from degrading prematurely with simple precautions

Three aspects of passive preservation could be:
a) exercising/refreshing,
b) remastering and 
c) multiple copies

Ad a) Refreshing

Exercising or refreshing is a periodic winding and rewinding of tapes, especial if the tape is not played very often. It is recommended for several reasons. It should reduce the   print-through “echo” effect that can occur on analogue tapes when stored over a long period. It is at the same time a retensioning of the tape which is recommended because prolonged tape pack stresses could cause damage to the tape. The winding-rewinding should be done at regular intervals. Some manufacturers recommend to do it every three years but it is best to check with the manufacturer of the tapes you use to determine if and how often retensioning is needed.

Ad b) Remastering

By remastering or transcription you transfer (copy) the content of an old tape onto a new tape before the old tape detoriate rather than trying to preserve the old tape. Since tape manufacturers often make improvements from time to time it is a good idea to transfer the content of a tape made early in the life of a format to a new tape of the same format. 

 It is often suggested that this should be done every 10 years. The problem is, though, that even with the best and technically optimized equipment you always get a reduction in quality when you copy from one generation to the next.

 Instead of transferring to the same tape format it is often recommended to transfer to a better quality (but still analogue) tape format. It could be to transfer from VHS to S-VHHS, from Low Band U-matic to High Band U-matic to Betacam, from Betacam to Betacam SX.

 We think the American Magnetic Media Restoration Company Viditex expresses quite preciselyour concern about remastering, when they state that  “The challenge is to remaster a tape so that it integrates contemporary media techniques, but does not excessively compromise the integrity of the original material” (*).

 For safety reasons the old tape should be kept until the transcribed tape is again transcribed to an even newer generation. In this way you will always have two examples of the video work – and this brings us forward to the next aspect.

Ad c) Multiple Tape Copies

This is the best way to minimize risk to valuable information contained on video tape. With at least two copies you are safeguarded if (and that is important) they are safely stored at separate storage locations one in an archival storage and the other in an access storage and only this should be available for playback use.

 Even better would be to have four copies: 1. The Original Master Tape, 2. A Preservation Copy, 3. A Duplication or Working Copy, and 4. The Access Copy (or Copies).

     1)     The original Master should be archived under optimal conditions (see our next VidoeART\e-monitor) and never accessed unless something happens to the Preservation Copy.

2)     The Preservation Copy or Preservation Master is a copy of the original Master Tape. It should be as close to the original Master as possible and made without using any type of enhancements or other techniques. This tape should also be stored under optimal conditions and only accessed if anything happens to the Duplication Tape.

3)     The Duplication Copy saves any risk to the Preservation Master and the Original Master and it should be possible to make faithful Access Copies of this for different types of access, distribution, sales, etc. It can be stored under less optimal conditions than the Master and the Preservation tapes.

4)     The Access Copy or perhaps even Copies is – as the name indicates – for general screening and access. The copies should be made on the most common used and cheaper formats.

 Access policy of a video archive should be: “No access without preservation”. The MultipleTape Copies strategy is probably the best way to secure this.

 More recommandations

Finally a few more recommendations ( … and you might want to add more):

 With the last recommendation we touch upon the broad aspect of how best to store archives of video tapes – and here we are moving on the borderline between passive and active preservation. Let us take a closer look at storage problems