A move to a tapeless-based production is not an easy one but in the end proves to be rather beneficial.
This article looks at the overwhelming positive reasons for a move to tapeless production - however, that would only be half the story. When it comes to tapeless, many people assume there is no downside. No technology is without a downside. This article will talk about both and aims to introduce some of the popular solutions available today. Keep in mind that tapeless is another word for what is known as Digital Asset Management or DAM. If you are on the fence about a move from tapes, this article is the perfect starting point.
Advantages of Tape Based Productions
Tapes have one big advantage that even today still shine through. Tapes are very durable. Some tape collections can be decades old and still work. CD and DVDs were originally believed to last forever. After a period of time, we began to see CD and DVDs degrade and stop working. They also required certain optimal storage conditions that were rarely met. The one crucial drawback with CD and DVD is simply the all or nothing factor. If a CD or DVD is old and is scratched or damaged in some way the data on there is lost, usually for good. A tape on the other hand can be damaged slightly or worse but the undamaged portion can still be played back.
Disadvantages of Tape Based Productions
Degradation - Tape degrades over time sometimes portions of the tape can be so badly degraded that the content is unrecoverable. Depending on how many copies you have this can become a serious issue.
Storage - Tapes take up a lot of space and will fill shelves quickly. Tape retrieval from this storage area can be a hassle. Depending upon how well the tapes were labeled it can take a long time to find something you know you have but do not know where it is. A constant updating of the library is essential.
Advantages of Tapeless Production
Stable recordings - If properly taken care of, digital media will not suffer from the same sometimes-bizarre jittery behavior that can often occur when using tapes. To be fair indeed, tapes can make a great way to record, and have for years. We have all had a tape that may have been brand new and for some reason or another midway through the tape may fail to record something. Of course, this is not brought to your attention until after the shoot when you go back and review the tape.
Reliability - Once recorded you can quickly make copies of what you shot on site. Often times once backed up elsewhere you can reuse the same cards and hard drives over and over again without loss of quality. Digital transfers do not degrade, no mater how many copies of the original are made.
File based recording - Using the file structure is new compared to the old thinking of dumping everything on a few tapes and spending hours going through and logging tapes. Files make indexing and retrieving a file easier. Naming of files is entirely personal and can be quickly changed.
On-site editing - Instead of having to wait till after the shoot to edit, you can easily take the files and begin editing them on a laptop using any number of available editing tools. Since editing is completely digital now anyway, you no longer have to wait to import anything you shot from a tape. Being able to edit on-site during a shoot means you can see if you will need to add something and redo the scene while you are still on-site instead of finding out later that you are missing a good cutaway or a shot does not work.
Cost Reduction - There are two major costs associated with Tapes. First, of course, is the cost of the tapes themselves. Tapes are expensive and you need to buy many of them because you never know how often you will need them. Since you can only really use a tape once for reliable video production that means you need a new tape every time you take your camera out on a shoot. This of course brings on the question of what do you do with all of those tapes that you have only used once. That is the second major cost associated with using tapes. Storage is indeed a cost incurred by anyone that needs to store tapes for future retrieval or use. It is not uncommon for major production facilities to have a large storage area only for the storing of their tape collection. Now you have another cost associated with tapes and that is the cost of logging and retrieving of content. Tape management can become an unruly and difficult job to say the least.
Media Management and Archiving
Three types of copies - When you deal with media management you really need to start thinking about what you shot in terms of three. Simply put there are three types you need to always be thinking about:
First is the Master Copy. The master copy is the one that should never be worked on or edited from. This one is your ultimate copy. I know what you're saying - there is probably a lot of stuff on your master that you do not need. While it is easy to say that now you never know exactly when you may need something from the original shoot that you no longer have because you deleted it. The master copy should be backed up to make the second copy and not touched again except for retrieval.
That brings us to the Backup Copy. The backup copy should be the one you go to when your working copy fails or you over-edited the working copy without backing that copy up. In any case, your backup copy is the one you will keep around during postproduction referring to it as needs arise. The backup copy is basically a copy of your master but that is kept on site to be worked on if the need arises.
The working Copy is the copy of the master or backup that is used for editing purposes. This is the one that can be touched up if need be. This is the last rough copy you have before the finished product. This copy can be worked on immediately after filming or better yet on-site during a shoot. You have little worry about over editing since you have a backup.
So you have all of this content indexed but what is the best way to manage it?
Entering stage left is the Video Server
Think of the video server as one big library filled with all your video. However, this library can be accessed from anywhere in the production facility or anywhere for that matter thanks to the internet. This computer's only purpose is in the serving up of your media upon request. Now you no longer have to worry about going into the storage area. Instead, you have this video server or digital librarian, if you will, handling and serving your content. There are many advantages to using a video server.
Advantages of Using A Video Server
Your files are easily accessed. The video server saves the changes where you want them. Other computers can be connected to it and access and work on the files. It's not unusual to see a video server in its own room without a monitor or keyboard attached. This is done so no one uses the video server directly but can only access it over the company's Intranet.
The video server also handles all of the access and can be set up to automatically save a project to a different location. It saves all current and past projects in files where you specify. You have control over who can access what files and if necessary for how long.
Your files can be located anywhere as long as the video server has access to the files and you have access to those same files.
There are many choices for long term storage of your digital media - here are the most popular:
Hard Drives - Hard drives can be enclosed in a computer or can be daisy chained and used as one big hard drive. They can be easier to work with and easier to access data from as compared to other storage media. Rewriting is a cinch and with no loss of quality. Prices for drives are always dropping. They do have their issues. Some hard drives will fail early and eventually they will all fail. Proper care and maintenance is required. Hard drives are not necessarily portable. You really do not want to be carrying around an external hard drive wherever you go. They do make travel sized drives but not with the same storage capacity. Backing up is crucial.
CD/DVDs - The biggest advantage offered is their size. They are small and portable. Their cost is low and they can be purchased in bulk easily. You have to keep in mind that they are fragile. They can be bent and damaged easily. Scratching is an issue. You will also need to store them in a cool dark place. CD and DVDs are not permanent storage solutions. You will need to back these up occasionally or you will find that your data may be gone without warning.
Solid State - this encompasses all solid state devices such as SD cards and hard drives. There are no moving parts that can fail. They are the most durable of the archiving options. They can be mistreated and retain data. When it comes to SD cards, their small size makes them easy to store and transport. Solid state has some drawbacks. The small size of SD cards means they can be lost easily. The other is cost per megabyte. Solid state is still more expensive per megabyte when compared with other archiving options.
Off-Site or Cloud Solutions - One of the best ways to secure your digital media is by backing it up and storing it off-site. Since the internet and faster modems have become the standard, backups can be done in what is known as the cloud. You can purchase space from any number of retailers that will backup your media on their computers in a server farm. You are paying for the space you use. The benefit is you do not have to worry about maintaining those storage computers, the people operating program do that. Often times off-site will go hand in hand with other archiving solutions.
Think about your shoot and what you have recorded in three sections and you will never have to worry about over editing or having to go back for some extra shots. You can record far more then you think you will ever need without worrying about the extra cost of new tapes. Moving from tape to tapeless can be a challenge but one well worth the time and investment. Archiving is the most important challenge in the digital world. But remember, making a backup does not mean you should not check it every year or so to make sure the media still works - this is, and most likely always will be - quite important to long-term storage.
Sidebar: Size Matters
Size and speed will be your two biggest factors. Regular SDHC cards will have a 32-gigabyte limit. There are newer cards called SDXC cards that can range in size from 32 gigabyte all the way up to 2 terabytes. The cost per megabyte does increase dramatically the bigger the size. You will also want to look at their access speeds. This will tell you how fast the card performs when written to. Choose SDHC cards or if available the newer SDXC cards. When it comes to choosing the manufacturer stick to recognizable companies. The quality will be better making the cards more reliable.
John Devcic is a freelance writer and videographer.