Digital Transition for Imperial War Museum

The process will digitize approximately 15,000 analog videotapes.
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LONDON — Like heritage institutions around the world, London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) is renovating its technology infrastructure to take advantage of the benefits of digital storage. The process is tough and affects many parts of the institution, not only the physical plant but the people who work there, too.

As part of the process, IWM implemented a Front Porch Digital SAMMAsolo system for digitizing its approximately 15,000 analog videotapes, a third of which are rapidly deteriorating U-matic videocassettes from the 1980s and ’90s.

The SAMMAsolo system, which incorporates a SAMMAcleaner, is a compact, single-stream appliance that automatically migrates content from videotape to digital files in multiple formats while also monitoring and quality-controlling the process. The migration preserves source time code and links indexing and technical metadata.

Digitized content is automatically moved to nearline spinning disk storage and can then be exported to external data tape storage. Recently, the IWM has also relied on the SAMMAsolo’s new Metadata Viewer, which allows metadata produced by the analysis engine to be viewed from a remote computer.

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The device is also simple enough that it can be run by non-technical staff. At the War Museum, the system is operated about five hours a day by collection assistants who are doing other jobs at the same time.

The War Museum is using only part of SAMMAsolo’s potential, encoding the digital asset in archive quality JPEG2000 and in MPEG-2 for broadcast. “A great thing is that the way we have our system set up, as soon as the file pops out of the SAMMA, we move it into the DAM system. Provided rights ownership allows it, within 10 minutes, you can see the videotape’s content on our website,” said David Walsh, the IWM Film and Video Archive head of preservation.

In fact, the process is so quick that curators use it to assess the content of potential donations. Rather than playing a tape back and watching it, they run it through the SAMMAsolo and then browse digitized thumbnails of the content.


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