Week 11: Converted

My equipment came in really fast, so I’ve been testing everything out this week. I made a new board in Trello to track my progress, using the colored labels to represent the different pieces of equipment.

testing

Click the image for a bigger view!

The orange label stands for the Honestech VHS to DVD 7.0 Delux A-D converter I purchased in Week 8, and as you can see from the screen shot, it’s had a lot of problems.

Background

I wanted to try using a consumer-level A-D converter for the lab because they’re affordable (I could buy one for every deck and there would be no need to plug or unplug wires) and the software is very user friendly. I figured that a solid professional VHS player and TBC would help mitigate loss of quality in the converter (so wrong!). So, I looked at compatibility, time on the market, and reviews, and it came down to either the Elgato or Honestech. In the end, I chose Honestech because it can also burn video to Blu-ray, and had a simpler interface than the Elgato’s Cyberlink software.

“2015 Best VHS to DVD Converters Review” Top Ten Reviews

Suckage

Honestech

This nascent archivist gives Honestech a thumbs down.

I’m using two different laptops for testing- an Alienware laptop running Windows 8 with a fantastic graphics card, and a regular government-issued Dell running Windows 7- and two Honestech converter kits. Although Honestech is compatible with 7 and 8, the viewing screen for capture dropped out to black after about an hour on the Alienware computer. It’s still capturing video, but a user would have no idea what they were playing. To troubleshoot, I uninstalled the software and reinstalled the second kit, but the problem persisted. Then, I read online that consumers who had similar problems just downloaded a newer driver patch from the Honestech website. I did that, upgrading from 4.0 to 4.1, but it didn’t fix anything. By day 3 of testing, frequent freezing and a disturbing clicking sound have also developed on both computers.

Another problem is the length of time it takes to encode the files. Consistently on both, the ratio is about 10 minutes for every 1 minute of video – a formidable obstacle for a workstation that has reservation time limits.

The biggest clincher is that somehow I failed to notice the highest quality video this thing can capture is MPEG-2, and it can only capture audio as a Windows Media Audio File. Building this lab is a constant negotiation of archival quality and usability for the public, and I don’t expect users will be saving hours of uncompressed video files – but the MPEG-2 is just too lossy to be worth the conversion in the first place. As an example, here’s what a VHS-C played on a Panasonic 1980P looks like when captured and encoded as MPEG-2 with Honestech.

Is this even access-worthy? Even with plenty of light, it’s difficult to make out facial details that I can see clearly when played on a television set.

A Little Help From my Friends

Feeling discouraged and facing a tight deadline to get in orders for the current fiscal year, I sought help from Walter Forsberg, Media Archivist for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. He said I needed to get a converter that at least could encode up to an H.264 file format, and recommended I get the Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Express (and if you remember back to my site visit to the University of Maryland’s lab, Eric also recommended Blackmagic software). It’s an expensive piece of equipment and is only Mac compliant, but when I found out we could afford it and it would allow our Special Collections staff to do one-off in-house digitization, it seemed like a sound investment.

For those of you who can’t afford the price tag, the other consumer-level converter I was looking at, the Elgato, encodes in H.264 and goes for around $80. Live and learn.

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Week 8: What We’re Getting (for now, at least)

After weeks of research, interviews, a site visit, bouncing ideas off of my mentors,  and procurement hiccups, we’re finally buying things for the Memory Lab.

A visualization of lab- but with people, and cords, and walls!

A visualization…. but with people, and cords, and walls!

The Set-Up

A/V Station

 The A/V Workstation will be used to transfer media formats such as VHS, miniDV and audio-cassette to disc, USB, social media or cloud storage.  Although I considered professional grade A-D converters such as Black Magic DeckLink 4K Extreme, I found their costs prohibitive and their software a bit complex for the average library patron. I chose the Honestech VHS to DVD 7.0 Deluxe because it’s been on the market for a while and has a good reputation, it’s easy to use, has robust capture formats (including Blu ray), and accompanying software that supports one-click wizard transfer and publishing options to social media platforms and cloud storage. For more advanced post-capture edits, patrons will be directed to one of the Digital Commons workstations outfitted with Adobe Creative Suite.

Other things: Audacity, Floppy drive

Photo Station

The Photo Workstation will be used for the digitization of photographic materials and documents to disc, USB, or cloud storage. Wanting to give patrons access to professional-level equipment, we chose the Epson 11000XL Photo Scanner. This scanner includes a transparency lid for digitizing slides and negatives, can batch scan files, and includes elements like the AutoFocus Optics system and one-touch color restoration.

For cases where patrons want to convert digital pictures to analog for storage or re-purposing, we’re buying the Canon Pixma iP110.  Both compact (it will fit in the A/V rack) and portable , it creates high quality prints at 9600 x 2400 dpi and can print directly from camera phones or digital cameras.

Other things: Picasa

A Lesson in Procurement

Besides the challenges of dealing with obsolete equipment (see Week 3), there’s also challenges inherent to the way purchasing works through the DC government. As it turns out, they don’t like for you to buy things off of Ebay (which is where the majority of this equipment is sold), and they’d prefer it be from a Certified Business Enterprise Contractor. I’m all for supporting small, minority-owned businesses in our community, and it would help the lab’s sustainability if we could form relationships with local vendors. BUT the directory is…… not very user-friendly. Because there are 1096 contractors, it made sense for me to search based on what I wanted to buy. The system is such that you can’t type in “VHS player” and get a list of contractors that sell them. You’ve got to go to the list of NIGP codes, do your keyword search there, and then use the corresponding codes back on the contractor page. If that wasn’t enough, the codes need some controlling for realz.

nigpcodes

Should I choose Video Players, Video Cassette Players, a Video Recorder/Player, or a Video Cassette Recorder/Player?????

After 4 hours of searching, I found 1 appropriate contractor. Hmph.

What We’re Buying (Round 1)

Product type # Product name Vendor
Audio-Cassette Deck 1 Teac W-890RmkII Double Auto-Reverse Dual Cassette Deck B&H
Protection Plan 1 Square Trade Protection Plan – 3 Years B&H
External Floppy Drive 1 Sabrent 1.44MB External USB 2X Floppy Disk Drive B&H
Rack 1 CFR2136 36U AV Rack B&H
Time-Based Corrector 1 DataVideo TBC-3000 Time Base Corrector TGP Sales
VHS Deck (Professional) 1 Panasonic AG 1980P 4-head VCR TGP Sales
S-Video cable male to male 1 S-Video male to male cable TGPSales
Scanner 1 Epson 11000 XL- Photo Scanner Epson
wipes 1 KIMTECH® Kimwipes® (280-Pack) Gaylord
gloves 1 Microflex® XCEED® 3 mil Nitrile Gloves MEDIUM (250-Pack) Gaylord
swabs 1 Assorted Foam Swabs (36-Pack) Gaylord
compressed air can 1 Pressurized air duster Gaylord
DVD duplicator 1 Reflex7 CD/DVD Duplicator Disc Makers
DUP010-00552 – Reflex7 CD/DVD with USB 2.0
WAR001-00116 – 1 yr Extended Warranty-Reflex7 DVD/CD
Printer 1 Cannon Pixma iP110 Canon
Warranty CarePAK Plus (3 Yr.) Canon
Headphones 2 Maxell HP/NC-II Noise Cancellation Headphone Laser Art
UPS 2 APC Back-UPS 550V Laser Art
A-D Converter 3 Honestech VHS to DVD 7* Amazon
VHS-C Adaptor 1 Gigaware VHS-C Adapter Amazon
MiniDV Player 1 Sony DSR-40 DVCAM / DV / MiniDV VTR Player/Recorder Amazon
Applique 2 Frosted temporary applique Signs by Tomorrow

Building a Vendor Relationship

We’ve going to try out TGP Sales as  our go-to vendor for professional VCRs, TBCs, and any other equipment that might become available. I had heard the company mentioned on digitalfaq a couple of times (yes, I know I bashed the listservs previously but this actually was very helpful! ), and I liked that a biography of the video technician Tom Grant was one of the top links on the site. TGP also provides a lot of free information on how to care for their machines, which made me think that there was some heart involved here, you know? The featured professional decks were the exact models I was interested in getting, too, so I figured they had exquisite taste.

Scarred from my last phone experience (see my comment on Week 3), I dreaded calling, but Tom picked up and we had a nice little chat. Turns out one of his first jobs was as the A/V guy for a University library, and he seemed to be really excited about the project. He described in detail how he refurbishes the circuit boards in the PRO decks, and even offered to give over-the-phone training on how to maintenance the equipment. When I described to him the challenges of sustainability when working with the public, he suggested using a cheap deck to test the tapes for stickiness before I popped them in the Panasonic AG-1980, and I’m definitely going to try that out.

The quality of the machines will be the ultimate test, but I’m hopeful that TGP Sales and the Memory Lab can ride off into the sunset together.

Free Things

You’ll notice there’s a couple of things missing from our equipment list (furniture, computers), and that’s because they were already available at the library. Multiple old VCRs and tape players in our A/V department are also available for the lab, so I’ll be testing these in the coming month and reserving some as back-ups.

“Your first tester”: Toshiba SD-V296 DVD/VCR and a Panasonic Palmcorder Afx8

I’ve even received two donations (Thanks Nick! Thanks Mom!), leading me to think a city-wide donation drive might be a great opportunity to build-out our transfer capabilities and raise awareness about the lab. If you’ve got an old player or camcorder, hit me up!