Automation is the method we use to entrust elements of your library migration project to machines and computer-driven tasks. Using these automation techniques, we are able to streamline our processes. That means we can digitise your archive quicker, more efficiently and – most importantly – more cost-effectively.
Using manual processes to digitise your tape library makes little sense if you can possibly avoid it. Imagine that an archive covers several years of content output: that’s a vast number of tapes. Loading these one by one into VTR decks, without even being sure what is on each tape would be a daunting task. Likewise cataloguing the contents. It’s definitely neither an efficient or cheap way of tackling your library migration.
Our solution here at LMH is to add automation to the migration process using a combination of robotic tape machines, computer-driven orchestration systems and other automated workflows to take as much of the strain as possible.
The most common robotic tape machine is the Sony Flexicart, which holds 40 small or 20 large tapes with a two-VTR configuration. At LMH, we own eight of these Flexicart machines, giving us huge capacity for library migration projects.
These robotic processes require an orchestration system to control everything in the chain. This includes the robot, the VTR machine in the robot and the digital encoder that receives the base band video signal and ultimately makes the resultant file.
To quantify the advantages of using robotic automation, we are able to have our Flexicarts running and ingesting content for up to 20 hours every day. It’s easy to visualise the significant economies of time and budget that delivers.
We can handle other formats such as Sony DVCAM, and the Panasonic equivalent, DVCPRO. For these, we employ multiple PC systems that use Firewire cards with up to six channels. We control all the decks simultaneously via the operational GUI to streamline the ingest process. This also allows us to digitally capture contents in the native DV codec at the same time as recording any accompanying metadata. From these files, we can use FFMPEG utilities to rewrap the content as needed.
We can even offer robotics for U-Matic High and Low band as well as VHS provide the volume of assets is significant enough to make it cost-effective.
Inevitably some tape libraries – or at least certain assets – will be in a format that we can’t use automation to process. In fact, as much as 50% of the libraries we come across require at least some manual processing.
Some prime examples are open-reel formats such as 2″ quadruplex and 1″ A/B/C/IVC and Panasonic M11. Pioneering cassette formats like Betamax , Philips V2000 and Sony ½” Helical EIAJ all need to be handled manually. Even some “modern era” tapes, including D1/2/3/5/9 formats, require human intervention.
All is not lost. Even with formats that can’t be processed in an automated way, we can still deliver many of the benefits of automation.
Here at LMH we have built dedicated manual migration systems to handle precisely this challenge. We maintain large reserves of tape decks: using multiple decks for a project helps us to increase our capacity and pass on that economy of scale – as well as ensuring we keep big projects rolling, and minimise timescales.
Monitoring the content we are ingesting is a key component of our manual migration process. We use waveform monitors and vectorscopes to tease out the best possible image from a tape. The care taken at the ingest stage means that we can deliver automation benefits later in the migration process, such as assisted QC and workflow tracking and monitoring. This allows us to achieve a better quality end result, as well as helping keep costs under control.