Picking the Right Video Format for Storage

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the November, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Jim Mitchell sent the following email with another great first line:

I just purchased yet another copy of your FCP 6 Editing Essentials DVD — this time for a FCP prison program at a women’s correctional facility in Las Vegas, NV. See, you’re popular just about every where! Between FCP 5 and 6, that’s about 9 of your books total for employees and such.


Question: We are ready to commence digitizing thousands of hours of broadcast video. First step is to take the composite analog portion up to SDI. Is FCP 5 and 6 truly loss-less going in and coming out? I know it is touted as being 10-bit uncompressed but then Sony says their digibeta is also 10-bit uncompressed but it is in fact compressed and surely not loss-less.


Meanwhile, the old Scotch 1″ tape is fading fast. In preliminary tests, the 379 stock is holding up surprisingly well and is very quiet with not too much noise and artifacting but the 480 XST stock that Scotch last manufactured and touted as their “hot – fine particle oxide” stock is shedding like a mangy dog in Summer. Remember when the tape reps said that you had to turn the reels every six months to eliminate creep and print-through? Seems I should have listened closer to that sound advice.

Larry replies: Jim, thanks for writing.

“Loss-less” is SUCH a squiggly term. Loss is caused by the codec, not FCP. FCP does not alter your footage. So in that sense, its loss-less. Bid-depth and other artifacts are NOT FCP related, but codec-related.

On the other hand, ALL video formats use some form of compression – either in compression, color sub-sampling, color space conversion or other weirdness.

On the other, other hand, you could capture everything to Animation – which IS loss-less (mostly), but can’t be played in real-time and creates enormous file sizes.

On the other, other, other hand – most of today’s video formats, even those that are compressed, look better than your source footage from 1″ or 2″.

On the other, other, other, other hand — if you want something that can be archived for a while, supports 10-bit video, and is used by video archivists around the world, here’s what I would recommend.

Use Photo-JPEG to store your images. When set at 100%, Photo-JPEG is compressed from a data point of view (think ZIP files) but UNcompressed from a video image point of view.

My son, Paul, is a digital archivist and in conversations with Philip Hodgetts, my son, and other experts I am convinced that the best long-term storage solution is Photo-JPEG.

So the workflow is capture your video as 10-bit uncompressed and don’t sweat the 4:2:2 chroma sub-sampling. Then, after capture, transcode into Photo-JPEG using Compressor – or other compression tool – and archive the resulting file.

Smaller file size, great quality, no image loss.

UPDATE – Dec. 28, 2009

Marcus Pun writes:

Jim, you may try storing your 1-inch reels as well as all the other reels in a low humidity environment, no more than 25%, and about 60 degrees F or so for a long period of time before playing.


A client of mine involved in archiving thousands of30+ yr-old 3/4 u-matics and a small number of 1-inch reels has had some success with reels that were stored for more than 6 months in their new and much tape-friendlier environment. A number of tapes that would have shed oxide prior to storage were less prone to shed and were more playable after about 1 year in the above storage conditions.


There is also a “baking” method to tape restoration that should only be done by experts.


Additionally, your equipment should be in a low humidity environment. Moisture in the air causes stiction and other problems with tape transport.


Finally, if there is a difference between storage and playback environments the tapes need to acclimate for at least a few hours to the different temp and humidity conditions of the playback environment.


Good background info can be obtained from here:



…and from Jim Wheeler:



Jim is a past engineer at Ampex, probably the go-to guy in the world.


Afterthought, beware of the 3M 459 stock with the padded reels. The glue for those reels leeks onto the tape. There are services available that will clean the glue off. I spent a good amount of time in the 80’s pulling off the old padded flanges and putting on new ones.

Larry replies: Marcus, this is GREAT information. Thanks for sharing!

UPDATE – JAN. 3. 2010

C. Park Stewart, of VideoPark, adds:

Here are some comments on digitizing old video and picking the right format. I have restored several quad and 1″ VTRs and offer archiving as a service.


Analog formats do not use compression. Bandwidth limits, yes but no compression. D-1, D-2 and D-3 do not use compression. D-6 was an uncompressed HD recorder made by Philips/Toshiba (with 34 heads on the scanner!).


Sony never said Digital Betacam was uncompressed. It is around 2.2:1 compression very well done.


The Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, VA is using JPEG2000 as their compression format and recording to LTO tape.


I suggest migrating the video into files and put them to LTO tape. That is 15 times cheaper than recording the video to Digital Betacam, for example, due to the cost of tape.


30 year old video doesn’t need to be captured uncompressed. Cameras then had low resolution and poor chroma response. Poor image quality isn’t the fault of the tape system but of the imaging device. ProRes may be a contender or the JPEG2000 codec. Try compressing old video with DV25. You may find that acceptable.


If tape is sticky or shedding, bake it for 130 degrees for 12 hours.

Larry replies: Thanks, Park.


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