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Andrew Setos keynote: an engineer’s take on AV preservation – #StF12 (6)

30 May 2012 Published by Leave your thoughts

Andrew G. Setos, presently CEO at Blackstar Engineering, is an old hand at preserving audiovisual material, and he has been working at the cutting edge of audiovisual innovation for many years. That’s why the organizers of Screening the Future 2012 had entrusted him with the keynote. He provided the perfect introduction to the conference: an overview of the specific issues in the audiovisual domain, many of which were to recur in more detail later in the conference.* – by Inge Angevaare

Keynote speaker Andrew G. Setos: "The job is far from over."

His opening words struck a philosophical note: “Conservation is about immortality. We share the same impulse as the people who painted the cave dwellings in prehistoric times. To preserve and make available our world to future generations. Our tools never stop improving.”

He then quickly switched to a much more practical level:

  • Do not wait!
  • We will inevitably have to make difficult trade-offs between the need to preserve and the available resources.
  • The big change from analog to digital involves separating the contents from the media.
  • Perfection is unachievable. During the Fox Movietone News Preservation Project a colleague said: “If the colors are not exactly the same as the original, that’s OK, as long as the proper emotion is developed.”
  • MPEG-2 is fine as a user copy, but it is not good enough for the important stuff. You lose too much. Uncompressed storage is very, very costly. Inter-frame JPEG2000 is a good alternative. And LTFS has been good for quite some time now.
  • Use open, well-documented standards – it is unfortunate that a lot of proprietary software is used for recording.
  • We need a multi-sourced, robust marketplace.
  • We [the audiovisual domain] have been spoiled. Photo film was an archival format from the start. Magnetic tape is not. We must now plan to migrate the content every few years.
  • Putting off migrations is risky. There will always be money issues and technology issues. It is important to develop a strategy with practical solutions.
  • It is safe to overdo things, but overdoing it ultimately goes against your goal. Think hard: what is the use going to be? If you have some really great special effects, you may perhaps want to preserve the actual captures. But in other cases …
  • The change-over from media-based to file-based content has tremendous advantages. If we do not do this, we will continue to stumble. The challenge is to change our ways as a species, to start thinking differently.
  • All systems have different idiosyncrasies, but they are predictable. The main engineering challenge is to develop error-correcting techniques.
  • What you need is passion and commitment to be able to articulate your particular reasons for preserving your content.
  • “The Job is Far From Over.”
* So why was this not my first post from the conference? Because conference days are full and hectic, and some information needs to sink in before it is relayed …


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