How to Archive AVCHD Video

Ideally home video should be archived in a way that requires little maintenance and preserves the video for about 65 years. Storing anything for that long is pretty difficult, but archiving video is especially difficult because the media degrades, playback devices break and the technology changes. Today people are trying to preserve and play back home video stored on 8mm Ektachrome film in the 1950s. Parents and grandparents would like to show their children what things were like back then. Children are interested in seeing their parents and grandparents when they were young. However, the film is made out of cellulose acetate which has reacted with humidity and turned to vinegar while at the same time most working projectors have broken.

Video recorded to VHS, 8mm, Hi8, miniDV or HDV tape can be archived by placing the tapes on a shelf. For this reason camcorders that record to tape are said to be self archiving. Still, it is unrealistic to imagine an HDV tape placed on a shelf today will be viewable 65 years from now. Some camcorders record to internal flash memory or hard disk. Since this media can not be removed from the camcorder, it is not self archiving. Video recorded to the internal memory of a camcorder requires backup before storage. All archives require maintenance.

In the article Do Burned CDs Have a Short Life Span? Kurt Gerecke, a physicist and storage expert at IBM, tells people to "use magnetic tapes to store all your pictures, videos and songs for a lifetime." Apparently magnetic tapes last for 30 to 100 years, whereas burnable CDs and DVDs may last for only 2 to 5 years. This document describes how to archive home video.

Archiving AVCHD Video

Copy the m2ts files to two external hard disks. Convert the m2ts files to HDV and print to tape. Note that print to tape may have to be done using Windows because there are no print to tape Linux solutions. Then follow the Archiving Tape and Archiving External Hard Disks advice below. Also consider using an Online Archiving Service. Do not try to archive AVCHD video on flash, DVD or Blu-ray recordable media.

Archiving Tape

Video tape should last for at least 30 years provided you keep it away from electromagnetic fields on a shelf at a constant temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 30 percent. Retension tapes every 1 to 3 years by fast forwarding and rewinding them. How long a tape may be stored depends not only on the environment but on the quality of the tape and the recording format used.

The aging characteristics of analog and digital tapes are different. Analog tape remains playable while the picture quality gradually decreases. Digital tape starts to drop frames and then parts of the tape become completely unplayable. Although new technology makes old formats obsolete, it also makes it possible restore video in ways that were impossible before. Keep old tapes even if they appear to be unplayable.

Since no analog tape camcorders have been manufactured for some time, transfer all analog tapes to digital media now. Keep the old analog tapes and the camcorder because the digital copies might get lost. Moreover, new technology may allow for a higher quality digital transfer later. Transfer standard definition analog video tapes directly to archival grade miniDV tapes in SP mode. Label the miniDV tapes to identify the analog source and the date the copy was made. Download the miniDV tape onto two external harddisks for futher backup.

Archiving External Hard Drives

External hard disks are inexpensive and can be used to archive exact digital copies of other digital media. Always keep copies of each video on two separate drives, because one drive may suddenly fail. Store the hard disks under the same environmental conditions as tape. Check that the drives are working and readable twice a year. Hard drives are fast, so perform a complete read test on all the data.

The bearings may dry up and feeze if the drive has been stored for a long time. Such a drive will fail to spin up, but may be rescued using professional help. When a hard disk in a pair fails, immediately buy two new drives and copy the contents of the working drive to each of the new drives. Mark the non-working drive as broken and label what was on it. Then keep it. New technology and professional rescue services may be able to recover the data on a broken drive if needed. At the current pace of technology, hard disks have doubled in size every few years. Buy new drives large enough to store new video and extra copies of the old video.

It should be possible to archive digital video on external hard drives over a period of 65 years. This kind of long term archival requires constant reading and copying of the data to new hard disks. Always keep the old drives whether working or not. Hard drives are fast enough and high enough capacity that the maintenance operations don't take that much time in relation to how much video is being stored.

Online Archiving Services

As an example, Vimeo Plus membership currently allows you to archive 5GB of video per week online. However, who knows which video archiving services will be around 65 years from now. Using such a service may involve maintenance in the form of periodic shopping for a new service and transfer of the archive.

Archiving a RAID Array

It is very reasonable to use RAID for online storage of digital video source. Online storage is not a substitute for archiving because online storage may be accidentally corrupted by a virus or user error. RAID arrays are not well suited for offline archiving because they use specialized hardware and software that will be difficult to repair 5 years from now. For redundancy use individual external drives in pairs as indicated above.

Archiving Flash

Flash memory lasts about 10 years. Immediately transfer the video to hard disks.

Archiving DVD and Blu-ray disks

Writeable DVD and Blu-ray disks may last only 2 to 5 years. Immediately transfer the video to hard disks.
Last Updated: Sun Mar 27 22:09:23 PDT 2011