Friday, April 04, 2008

Lesson from FLIP Video: your video is doomed

Petabyte-equivalents of home video have vanished over the past 40 years. Odd sized films, film degraded and glued together, beta tapes, odd VHS variants, digital tapes, digital disks, abandoned digital file formats ... there are many routes to the graveyard.

Things are not about get get better. I don't have any data, but I'm blogging -- I don't need any friggin' data.I'm guessing most video now is coming from cell phones, digital cameras, and new packagings like FLIP Video. So how well will this video do over the next 40 years.

Digital cameras commonly use "Motion JPEG" [1]. Mobile phones use all kinds of formats, but they're converging on a wrapper called "3GP", behind that wrapper are all kinds of semi-standard data formats. The FLIP Video camera the kids and I are using on our Wisconsin Dells holiday uses 3ivx, of which I recently wrote:
Gordon's Tech: FLIP Video Ultra camcorder: iMovie HD works, iMovie '08 doesn't

...Videos are in "AVI" format -- that's a metadata wrapper around a codec. In this case coded is 3ivx MPEG-4... 3ivx Technologies is hoping you'll buy the full version from them...
I ended up writing an extended post with lots of updates; I learned quite a bit about iMovie '08 (disgraceful, Apple shipped at least one year too soon [3]), QuickTime and QuickTime Pro, MPEG Streamclip, video formats, video codecs, editing software, etc.

I haven't quite figured out the optimal strategy for editing and storing FLIP Video 3ivx encoded video, but I think there's a very good chance the 3ivx files will be completely unreadable within 15 years. It's a completely proprietary format, with no particular reason to expect it to become a lasting "standard".

So what will last? Well, I'm betting reasonably compliant still image JPEG will be readable a hundred years from now [2], so I think Motion-JPEG video might persist. Motion-JPEG's simplicity makes it easy to edit too, assuming one doesn't try to convert from the highly JPEG compressed images to any lossy format. I'm not so sure about the sound formats though. DVD-Video without copy-protection might also be expected to last, but that simple name hides a lot of complexity and variation with sound and video compression standards and metadata wrappers.

So called DV-stream is one name given the streamed version of 'digital video' standard (actually is a standard), but a casual glance at Wikipedia reveals lots of room for incompatible variations on digital media. It does lend itself well to editing (no intra-frame compression) but it makes for huge data files. It's dying off as MPEG-4 and HDV "standards" take over.

Hmm. Sounds like a real mess. I've read lots of discussions about archival image formats, so I'm sure this Google archival video search will yield lots of great advice.

Well, as of April 2008, not so much great advice. Basically, no advice at all.

Those petabytes of lost home 8mm home film recording are about to joined by peta-giga-tera bytes of every conceivable unreadable combination of video, audio and metadata formats.

Don't get to attached to those precious video moments ....

-- Footnotes --

[1] I'm still figuring out what this corresponds to in QuickTime Pro's export menu. I think it's the JPEG export option that shows up in the video export list, but I've reason to suspect things are even more confusing than they appear.

[2] Assuming our non-human inheritors are curious about their precursors. JPEG is what I store my photos in, I assume the original RAW files will be absolutely unreadable within 10 years.

[3] Seriously. The more I play with it the worse it gets. For example: even the one or two video formats it can import aren't recognized when the same files are stored in an iPhoto repository. If anyone ever has the delusion that Apple has some special magical interest in their customers, they need to review the iMovie '08 story. I use a lot of Apple products, but they're not marvelous. They're only better than the alternatives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just like there was a thriving niche for providers who would dupe your mouldering old Super8 to tapes, and later for those who would copy your dusty VHS tapes to DVDs, there will be someone who'lll make a handsome living translating your quaint 3ivx/WMV9/etc. to whatever the "standard:" is when we all move to the dominant 2160P "standard" 15 years from now. :)