Prioritizing Video Digitization by Format

When faced with the enormous task of migrating media content to digital assets, it’s difficult to know where to begin.  Budgets are restrictive, user requests can be random, and there are so many formats to choose from!

One suggestion I like to offer archivists, media librarians and curators is to start by identifying their most volatile formats – and there are two factors to consider:

1. Date of recording

2. Availability of playback machines

As a general rule of thumb, my experience with magnetic tape formats is that you have about a 30 year shelf life (depending on storage conditions, quality of tape, etc.).  So, it’s not too difficult to assess where the most risk to your colleciton lies by looking at recording dates.

The other factor to consider is availability of playback machines.  Generally, the older  the format, the more difficult (and costly) to keep the machines running.

So, here is a basic refernce chart for video formats that hopefully helps you begin to prioritize your digitization list.

2” Quad 50+ Obsolete No
1” Open Reel, type-A 50+ Obsolete No
1/2” Open Reel, EIAJ 45+ Obsolete Yes, but phasing out
3/4” Umatic 45+ Rare Yes
1” Open Reel, type-C 40+ Rare Yes
Panasonic MII 30+ Rare Yes
BetacamSP 30+ Legacy format Yes
VHS, Hi8 30+ Available Yes
DVCAM, DVCPro, miniDV 20+ Available Yes