Entertainment Asset Management NIST Unit To Set Criteria For 'Archive-Grade' DVDs

Given the unnerving revelation that the projected lifetime of content stored in a current digital format is the same, if not shorter, than that preserved in analog form, the federal government is laying the groundwork to establish an archive-grade storage medium.

The newly formed Council of Government for Preservation, under the auspices of the National Institute for Standards and Technology, held its inaugural meeting July 31 and established as a primary goal the development of a DVD standard for the near-line storage and preservation of content.

"The end result will be hopefully a set of specifications based on what we found to be the important criteria and physical parameters on the media, so a disc within a certain standard would have an insured lifetime of at least 30 to 50 years," said Oliver Slattery, a technical staff member in NIST's Information Storage and Integrated Systems Group.

Council members include NIST, the U.S. Printing Office, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Defense Technology Information Center and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The group is using as its basis results from year-long testing in NIST's Information Technology Lab to determine the life expectancy of a host of optical storage media--from prerecorded DVD to DVD+RW and HD-DVD prototypes--simulating conditions such as exposure to light, heat, and humidity.

"Data stored in a digital medium usually does not last longer than it would in an analog version, say on paper or film," said Xiao Tang, group leader of NIST's Information Storage & Integrated Systems division. "Digital data preservation is a complicated problem right now with technical and management issues."

Storage and preservation issues are heightening due to the rapid migration to digital storage solutions among government agencies. In 1997, 30 percent of data was stored in digital form. In 2003, that number jumped to 80 percent, according to Tang.

"Establishing archive-grade discs is extremely important to the government agencies at this point," said Jerry McFaul, a computer scientist at the USGS--which is in the process of converting the majority of its archival data into a DVD format--and joint chair of the government preservation work group. Among the issues that have surfaced is a broad discrepancy in quality among what would appear to be like-featured discs. For example, some discs are holding their own for more than 1,500 hours under test conditions while others are "obsoleted" within 300 hours, according to Slattery.

"DVD is still not where it should be for reliable storage. People think it's a given that the information will be around for years to come, but as things are right now, it will not," Slattery said.

"It is clear there are manufacturers and brands of DVD out there that are more than sufficient than others," he continued. "The problem is that today you don't know what you're getting when you buy."

An additional tangle arises since recordable media brands frequently switch media manufacturers, and DVDs manufactured under the same brand may not maintain the same quality over time. "You might be buying the same brand and getting a completely different disc than you did a year ago," Slattery said.

Information about how specific manufacturers' discs rank in the Lab have not been released. However, Slattery said NIST also is promoting an industry work group of DVD manufacturers that would provide additional technical guidance to the government body.

"We would like to [consult] the manufacturers when the time is right, and obviously they would like to have this information themselves," he noted.

Harris Outfits Clear Channel Facility

Harris Corp.'s Broadcast Communications Division announced last month it has been chosen as the facility integrator and equipment supplier for Clear Channel Los Angeles' new broadcast complex in the Warner Music Building in Burbank.

The turnkey facility, when completed, will feature 55 studios equipped with Harris' BMXdigital on-air consoles along with the company's new digital networking solution, VistaMax. The new broadcast complex will consolidate the everyday operations for Clear Channel's Los Angeles area talk, music and sports radio stations.

VistaMax is designed to be a cost-effective alternative to networked systems currently available, with an architecture that ensures the shortest physical path between sources such as a BMXdigital on-air console and destinations via simple fiber or CAT-5e connections. The VistaMax platform simplifies network audio management, altogether eliminating or reducing the need for standalone routers, distribution systems, and long multi-pair bundles that have traditionally created additional requirements for facility space, as well as time and costs for configuration, maintenance and installation.