Digital Format Information – Technical Tuesday

Thanks for checking out our new Technical Tuesday blog where we hope to share useful tips and techniques related to digital preservation and access.
This week’s topic is the selecting a digital format for your audio/video files.

Choosing the right digital format for your media files can be tricky. You have to take into account a number of factors and use cases as well as limitations that may be imposed by your institution. Some archives accept and preserve the digital files as they are while others may decide to digitize or transcode to another format more suited for preservation.

We’ve found a good resource to learn more about digital file formats is the Sustainability of Digital Formats Planning for the Library of Congress Collection website.

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There, you can search for different codecs and wrappers you may be thinking of using on a project. On each record page there is a good amount of information related to things you may not have been thinking about, like common adoption of a codec or any licensing or patent information. When planning for long term digital preservation it’s good to know if a codec or wrapper you are using may have limited access or support in the future because of those kinds of restrictions. Maybe your format is proprietary and could someday require a license? If you discover a format that’s open source, you may want to also archive a copy of the source code.

Being able to gather your own information and reference a source like this can also support your case if you have to explain your workflows to any other institutional management wondering why you would choose to use format “X”.

One extremely useful bit of information we’ve found on these pages is the “Production phase” information. Here, it describes what the format is more than likely used for in the phase of a production.
“Middle state, used for storage or archiving” or “Production (initial state) and post production (middle state).”

If you don’t have much experience with different digital file formats, this kind of information can help steer you into a solution that will fit your project goals.

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