Forward Thinking To Preserve The Past…

14 February 2020

A look at the pioneering work we have done in ITV Content Delivery to create a solution to archive content in bulk to the FFV1 codec…

Early television history is littered with examples of Broadcasters and programme-makers wiping and reusing or simply trashing the physical tape stock carrying some iconic, culturally important and at the very least historically significant programming. The BBC were famously guilty of doing this with the original run of worldwide phenomenon Doctor Who and ITV have also been guilty of this practice in the past – reportedly taping over our own coverage of the moon landings! Happily ITV has long since had a robust archiving policy. In fact as Archive Manager Andrew Gavaghan told us when we caught up with him for a previous post – we share our building with more than one million assets.

However, just holding on to our tapes doesn’t guarantee our content will be there for future audiences to enjoy forever. The critical issue that is faced by broadcasters and home movie makers alike is obsolescence. What good is a tape if there isn’t a machine to play it on? What if nobody makes them anymore? What if there are no spare parts or nobody who knows how to fix them? Countless hours lost.

But what can ITV Content Delivery offer to help atone for those sins of the past and assist in keeping our clients content available into the future? We can offer tape transfer with this very aim in mind, preserving your content in the FFV1 codec.

Why FFV1? (FastForward Video Codec 1)

  • It’s lossless so there isn’t a quality trade-off in obtaining the significant file-size reduction in the compression.
  • FFV1 comes from the FFmpeg project (developed by Michael Niedermayer) and therefore is free and open-source – non-proprietary. This means no issues around potentially hefty licensing costs and that there is much less danger that the format will be lost to obsolescence.
  • It’s being standardised with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), through the archive-focussed European PREFORMA Project and is fast becoming the standard for long term digital preservation in audiovisual archives.
  • It has a growing set of open source tools – such as file conformance checker MediaConch and is a major focus of the No Time To Wait annual archivist community symposium.
  • It can easily be coupled with supplementary tools like framemd – which provides a more granular check of a video file’s integrity than a whole-file md5 checksum, by generating an md5 checksum for every frame of a captured video.

We reached out to experts from the No Time To Wait open source community because we wanted to ensure we were offering the right formats for the preservation needs of our archive customers, and they gave us the benefit of their experience of using FFV1 in a Matroska (.mkv) wrapper and pointed us in the direction of some excellent resources.

One challenge implementing FFV1 posed was that FFV1 Matroskas are typically generated using FFmpeg in the command line. This would present a steep learning curve for our operational team and so it was necessary to try and integrate the format into a familiar user interface. We were able to do this successfully with the help of Boxer Systems who provide support our core file processing system – Telestream Vantage Transcode Pro. Boxer helped us to combine FFV1 and framemd5 in an automated way that allows ITV Content Delivery to simply drag and drop files of differing source formats and utilise the extensive processing power at the disposal of our Telestream Lightspeed servers to generate the desired FFV1 .mkv files (and sidecar framemd5 document) quickly and without the need for additional configuration by the operator.

If you would like to discuss having your content digitised to FFV1 .mkv or would like our help in finding the right transfer format for you then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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