Tuesday
Mar232010

Flash of light 

During the past few weeks we began to check and compare the samples that we received from various vendors. Since we discovered many problems with the quality of the files during the first time around, the suppliers reproduced their samples one more time in an attempt to improve the end product.

You can see the flash on the first transferAs part of the process I made a comparison between the first round of samples and the second -- and in so doing, found in one of the files an interesting phenomenon; you could see in the video that a photographer was taking pictures withof a flash. Strangely, this was only visible in one of the transfers, while in another the flash wasn't visible. What makes this even more puzzling was the fact that as the recording went on, one would see the presence of the flash in different files, however, there was no uniformity in which file or which conversion this would be!

The flash on the second transferThe two conversions that you see in the picture are samples recorded by the same vendor. For the moment, we are examining this phenomenon, and are trying to understand whether this has any effect on the quality of the sample, and whether we want to keep the effect of the original, in other words, keep the visibility of the flash, or go for a better quality output whose content would be a little different from the original.

If you know the answer, please share it in the comment box!

Thursday
Mar042010

"Lubavitch's Nerve Center" From the Washington Times

"...I stepped into one room claimed by Jewish Educational Media, where Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin showed me an array of multimedia archives of talks by the Rebbe, plus video of almost every encounter he had had with the thousands of fans who had dropped by to see him on Sundays. He would give each a dollar bill, which they in turn were to contribute to charity..."

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a dollar from the Rebbe to give to charity, 1 Kislev 5751-1990

Full article

 

Tuesday
Feb162010

Burbank Firm Restores Video

From COLLive.com

DC Video of Burbank, California, restored two Farbrengens of the Rebbe for Vaad Hatmimim and JEM.

At the request of the Vaad Talmidei Hatmimim, JEM has restored two new Farbrengens of the Rebbe. The new recordings will be released for the first time on two separate occasions this year in the Farbrengen with Rebbe series.

The videos were recently flown to DC Video, a company in Burbank, California, which specializes in the restoration of old videotapes.
According to Dekel Hamatian, JEM’s Preservation Manager, their strategy is to revisit every moment of the old Farbrengens "to assure nothing is lost, both in quantity – we don’t want to miss a minute; and in quality – we want to assure we’re getting the best possible signal off of these decomposing tapes."

A part of the Farbrengen of Yud Alef Nissan, 5732 – 1972, commemorating the Rebbe’s 70th birthday, will be released in connection with this Yud Alef Nissan.

It will be accompanied by subtitles in four languages and will include ninety minutes of the Farbrengen. In the first three Sichos, the Rebbe speaks at length about the importance of a person toiling in their service of Hashem.

The Rebbe establishes that through his own labor, a person can reach a much higher level, becoming a partner with Hashem in creation by overcoming hardships. In the fourth Sicha, the Rebbe requests that 71 new Mosdos be established in honor of his 70th birthday.

The DVD of the Farbrengen will be accompanied by a booklet that will contain a transcript of the Sichos in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. In addition, a special diary of the 1972 occasion will be published in the Kovetz.

The restoration and release of the new DVD is part of a massive restoration project that is currently preserving countless recordings of the Rebbe, and aims to provide 100% access to the materials.

The videos, part of JEM’s Federman Video Archive, are funded by Benyamin Federman. The preservation project was established with a grant from the Rohr Family Foundation.

Go to the full article - http://www.collive.com/show_news.rtx?id=7755

Wednesday
Jan062010

‘Stick a marker in the ground’ – The MLB visit.

Following our visit to Atlanta we start looking into the Front Porch MAM (Media Asset Management) system. Front Porch is the company that sells the SAMMA. Several months later I contacted the company and asked them if it would be possible to view an existing installation of the system.

They were indeed able to arrange for us a visit to  MLB Networks (Major League Baseball, for us non-Americans...) in Secaucus, New Jersey. As you can well imagine, that visiting the place in itself was an experience even for someone like me, an Israeli, who is not that acquainted with this particular sport. 

We began with a short tour of the compound, and as you can imagine, given that there is no shortage of funds, their system was installed in a very intelligent manner. Tab Butler, Director of Media Management, who showing us around, had vast knowledge on the whole subject, and we were able to learn a lot from this experience.

On our way to the room holding the system we passed by a ‘small’ studio that looked like a baseball diamond. They film news flashes and baseball specials there. There were editing rooms and many other points of such great interest to both Elkanah and myself  that at that moment we actually forgot about the prime purpose of our visit!

The size of the system with all the equipment is hard to believe. What was really interesting to notice how attention was given to every detail. Obviously, their ‘$’ budget supported this. We were also able to see their LTO system which was able to cater for thousands of tapes, whilst we are debating whether to build a system for our archive that would cater for less than one thousand LTO 4 or LTO 5 tapes! One of the more interesting things we saw (possibly even more interesting than actual purpose of our whole trip) was the logging system for inputting their metadata. It was designed and programmed especially to their requirements (with help from someone named Michael Jackson! This being the second time we've heard of him. Another facility we visited also utilized his work).

There are then a team of people who view recordings of games and input every detail into the system... and believe me we are talking about each detail, and it's all synchronized with the time code of the video. You may wonder why this detail is necessary, but recognize that this enables them search and retrieve data on each game with the option to jump to any particular frame in which an incident were to take place. (Ball impact, pitch count and speed, and a million other details concerning a baseball game that I myself don’t know too much about. If it were soccer, I could better explain the stats to you)

We completed our tour in the office of Tab, continuing our questioning trying to make the most of our meeting with him.

While standing by the door, Tab challenged us: "stick a marker in the ground, and decide when you will launch your media system. And hit that date no matter what!" I believe that almost each one of us recognizes the decision we are required to make. A simple example would be someone wishing to purchase a new laptop computer and the salemsman says "wait another month or two for a new model."

You might be chasing technology, while you have a a laptop of the nineties, because there's always a new one about to come out! Similarly, with this project the size of ours which is based on many new technologies, we will constantly be confronted with this same dilemma -- only we can’t allow ourselves to push off the decision because "the next thing" is on the doorstep. Besides, this would entail ever increasing costs in the future. The LTO5 is around the corner but we may still consider purchasing an LTO4 system...

Regarding the Diva, we completed our day in the offices of Front Porch where they did a presentation focused on their system. This was the first occasion that we were seeing their MAM (Media Asset Management) system, without having anything else to compare it to. I'll write more about my professional opinion regarding this product on another occasion.

Tuesday
Dec222009

Media Preserve - Pittsburgh

After our visit to Atlanta where we checked out the Samma, the robotic system, we decided to also check out a manual system, the 'old fashioned' method.

I was able to contact Media Preserve, a company that deals with video conversions, audio and the preservation of books. I traveled to Pittsburgh, PA to check out their studio, taking with me those five tapes of different formats that we checked out in Atlanta. The main purpose of the visit was to be present whilst the transfer of the five tapes was taking place in order to understand the technical nuances of the process, to begin understanding the differences between this process and that of the automated one.

At the Pittsburgh airport a ride was waiting to take me to the city where the company was located, approximately an hour away from the airport. There I met Bob who gave me a tour of the premises after which he took me to the studio where the conversions were to take place.

 Th"...one of them was known as the 'doctor'..."ere I met the two men who worked there; one of them was known as 'the doctor'. It occurred to me that each studio in this field that we had checked out, had its own 'doctor'! Generally speaking, he was a person with loads of experience (an understatement!) dressed in a white coat who would travel between the leading companies in this field. He would be well acquainted with all the old and rare formats, and would have his own theories regarding common technical questions that would arise. What was a little worrying was the fact that so much depended on this one man.

In any event, the differences between the systems were, from the onset, crystal clear. Understandably, each tape received its undivided attention -- in my opinion, the greatest advantage of the manual system. Very quickly I understood the difference between an automated system, which would hold steady to a particular quality level -- and a manual system, which could actually improve the quality. On the other hand, it could be very dependent on the person doing the conversion. This can also affect the process and produce a result that is below standard. So the big question that occurred to me here was the uniform quality of the material when using this method.

My day ended being stuck in Pittsburgh Airport as a result of a heavy snow storm that began that afternoon. And so after a delay of six hours I returned to New York, hard drive in hand containing all the new files.

 

Monday
Nov162009

Partners!

Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin with our main benefactors; Mr. Benyamin Federman (L), and Mr. George Rohr (R)

Last night, at the banquet of the Shluchim Conference, our two principal sponsors for the Preservation Project finally met in person!

Mr. George Rohr, the world-renowned philanthropist, initiated The Living Archive Preservation Project in 2007. His generous offer of matching funding started the ball rolling on this whole thing. People responded warmly, the Rohrs matched their donations, and the vision began to turn into reality.

At the Banquet, many films showing preserved archival video, audio and photographic materials were shown. (Here's one of them) At dinner, Rabbi Shmotkin introduced Mr. Ben Federman, who has funded the preservation of the video archive to Mr. Rohr.

The Rohr family is known for their support of Jewish communal projects around the world. In 2007, Mr. Rohr took grasped the urgency and the opportunity to preserve and provide access to the archives. Thus The Living Archive Preservation Project was launched!

George and Pamela Rohr meet with the Rebbe on 7 Tishrei, 5751 - 1990 at a special meeting of the Machne Israel Development Fund. The Living Archive Photo Collection

Since the first round of funding by the Rohrs, we've come along way. The Living Archive has been at the cutting edge of the preservation world -- making huge strides; both technical and in the way our preserved treasures are brought immediately to light in Living Torah and our other media releases.

The generous commitment by Ben Federman several months ago -- dedicating the video collection -- will fund the preservation of the complete video archive to the finish line in the next eighteen months, G-d willing.

Mr. Rohr couldn't have been more gracious as he thanked the younger donor for his partnership and support of this vital project.

Here's to many more years of partnership!

Sunday
Nov012009

Choosing a suitable file format

An important consideration before beginning the project is the choice of a suitable format to which we will convert all our video files. It is difficult to explain why, but this part, however small, will play a huge part in the successful outcome of the project.

The guidelines are that the format should be of a high quality, and still be of a reasonable physical size. All told we are talking about thousands of files containing almost 10,000 hours of video. The format has to be sufficiently widespread to ensure that in ten or twenty years time it will still be in use. New formats are released daily, but one has to consider the enormous investment of both time and money that could easily go to waste. And finally it should be easy to work with but at the same time be protected from unnecessary changes.

A popular format in use by many archives is Motion JPEG 2000, and one could say that today this format is almost exclusively in use by archives, and is already in use by several big institutions. One would naturally believe that this being the case, it should be a suitable choice, however, I personally am not that enthusiastic about it.

My reasons for so feeling are that given that this format is of a high quality and reasonable physical size, it is not widespread or accessible. There is one company that deals with the development of software products that support it, but it is not supported by any of the common editing or conversion programs. If I stop to think about the day we complete the project, that very possibly we would only be able to convert to another format if we purchase a special card from the supporting company, I feel this is both impractical and unsuitable to our requirements. In any case no one could guarantee that this company would not go out of business within a few years, and then we would be left with a quality format but unusable.

Other options that have come up are Quick Time Uncompressed, DV-50, DV-100 but at the moment we are still searching for the ideal format for our purposes.

Thursday
Oct152009

Businessman’s Largesse Helps Fund Historic Video Preservation

From www.chabad.org

 Dekel Hamatian, preservation manager for the Living Archive project at Jewish Educational Media, shows Ben Federman, left, a one-inch open reel of video recordings as JEM director Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin looks on.

Ben Federman has yet to find the recording, buried amidst miles and miles of videotape, of his five-year-old self meeting the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Years after the encounter, the 26-year-old N.Y.-based entrepreneur has no recollection of that day, but spurred by the knowledge that he might one day be able to relive it anew, Federman has decided to share some of his self-made fortune to make his search – and those of countless others in similar circumstances – a bit easier.

Federman’s generous gift will dedicate the Federman Video Collection – the entire motion picture component of the Living Archive project, Jewish Educational Media’s effort to preserve and restore the hundreds of thousands of hours of video and audio recordings of the Rebbe. The new Federman Video Collection will open up vaults of historic material recorded at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters to an increasingly interested public.

“You can’t compare the impression of seeing the Rebbe’s love of people, and his passion for education and Torah to reading about them,” said Federman, whose grant is helping to cover part of the effort’s $4 million cost. “In Jewish history, even recent history, people gave their lives to preserve manuscripts and items of value to the Jewish people. Relative to that, this is easy.

“In my business,” he continued, “solid investmMrs. Chedva Federman receives a blessing from Rebbe for her sons, along with a dollar-bill to be given to charity at the “Sunday dollars receiving line”. 5750 - 1990ents give a return down the road and better ones return right away. This one does both. This is by far the best deal I’ve ever made, and also the best thing I’ve ever done.”

The donation follows several government grants, including one from the National Endowment for the Humanities, benefitting the Living Archive. JEM archivists and producers’ efforts dovetail with increased interest being shown by media companies, professionals and organizations around the world, such as the American Society for Moving Image Archivists and federal and state councils of the arts – to the importance of film and video preservation and the ability of technology to expand access to archival material.

All told, JEM’s archive comprises recordings of the Rebbe’s public addresses, community events, and footage of hundreds of thousands of people meeting the Rebbe during the Sunday sessions he held in his later years. It also includes one-of-a-kind primary documentation of the development of Chabad-Lubavitch activities following the move of the Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, to the United States.

Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, JEM’s director, said that the Federman Video Collection will help ensure that the life and teachings of the Rebbe as recorded on video will continue to inspire and educate generations to come. The original material, explained the rabbi, was recorded on magnetic tape that, over the years, has gradually degraded in quality and usability.

“The preservation and reformatting of the media will also provide greater access to the materials,” said Shmotkin, who hired a preservation manager specifically for the project, which is slated to be completed in 18 months. “The materials, which comprise all of the video recordings of the Rebbe that exist, will be transferred to much more durable formats, and therefore have a longer lifetime.”

It was just two years ago that Federman launched a Web site, 1saleaday.com, selling everything from wireless devices to jewelry to toys at a deeply discounted rate. In that time, the venture has experienced rapid growth, expanding into four other sub-sites.

In backing the Living Archive, the businessman is honoring the memory of his father, Yitzchak Leib Federman, who passed away when he was just a young boy, and the merit of his mother, Chedva.Mr. Yitzchak Leib Federman receives Kos Shel Bracha ‘cup of blessing’ from the Rebbe during Tishrei, 5748 1987. Rabbi Mordechai Mentlik, Rosh Yechiva of 770, stands in the foreground.

“My mother imbued me with an appreciation for the Rebbe’s deep humanity. I owe the world to her, and this project is a gift to the entire world,” said Federman. “When I was in combat in the US Army, my mom would send a package of the Rebbe’s inspirational lessons every week. I’d share them with my buddies, and I saw how everyone’s spirits were raised.

“And for my father,” he continued, “there is no greater [merit] to do something in his memory than something that is eternal, like how these videos will now become. This is my Kaddish for him.”

George Rohr, the philanthropist whose gift established the Living Archive preservation effort, saw great hope in Federman’s generosity.

“When I see a young businessman just starting out step forward so generously,” said Rohr, “it gives me optimism that our People’s work will be carried forward by the next generation. In his personal desire to perpetuate his father’s memory, he chose to benefit” the entirety of the Jewish people.”

Although Federman doesn’t remember his own encounter with the Rebbe, JEM’s existing stock of preserved video footage has been a powerful way to nurture his respect for the Rebbe’s teachings. The archive research team found one clip of his father receiving a cup of wine from the Rebbe, and another of his mother requesting a blessing for her children.

“If I find one video of myself with the Rebbe in the entire collection and it triggered my memory, it would be amazing,” said Federman. “Hundreds of thousands of people’s moments with the Rebbe are in the collection, so if I can give that ability to others too, it will be a worthwhile project.

“These videos can benefit people on a very personal level,” he added. “We’re really saving precious gems here.”

 

From - http://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/1010265/jewish/Businessman-Funds-Video-Preservation.htm

Tuesday
Sep012009

Crawford Communications, Atlanta.

As a result of our Washington visit we came to the realization that much research was required into the whole area of the robotic automated system. The prime consideration on whether to use this system would be its efficiency, time and the low cost per tape would also be factors. However, against this would be the question of quality and whether the human touch is really necessary.

That's me in the middle, getting a lesson in the SAMMA System

I personally traveled to Atlanta because I was convinced that due to the absolute importance of the process and our desire to obtain a high quality, I began to doubt whether an automated system could deal with our collection that unlike others, is composed of different quality and uniformity.

The idea behind the journey was to take with us a selection of tapes from the original collection,The taperoom at Crawford, with the master tapes we brought as samples lined up on the tablecomprising of various formats (3/4" UMATIC, S-VHS and VHS), and to transfer them through the automated process and compare them to the quality of transfers we had already completed on our own.

Our journey began with a security check at La Guardia airport where we had to convince security personnel not to pass our tapes through their x-ray machine for fear of damage it might cause. After a brief explanation of their importance, they agreed to hand check them.

In Atlanta we visited the Crawford studios, which surprised us by its size and scope. The studios were engaged in many other areas -- dealing with archives being just one of them. I think this gave them a special uniqueness, if only by their appearance. The place looked like a giant studio built on an immense budget, making other places that we had seen, by comparison, very small studios of a completely different nature. What was also interesting was the SAMMA System that was built like some futuristic product, which really seemed to fit in with the general look of the place.

We then began our long day by familiarizing ourselves with the process. The staff that worked there impressed us with their expertise and professionalism, which enabled us to feel comfortable to entrust them with our collection. I'm uncertain what impressed as more, the SAMMA or the staff!

Slowly, we went over each tape and transferred them. We used the SAMMA Solo, which is the same process, just without the robotic arm that carries the tapes automatically. During the process we discussed various subjects such as the Database and Media Asset Management and they showed us a few old formats, like the 2" ones, which was really amazing to see, if only to someone like myself who comes from the digital world. The size of the mechanism that drives the clips is simply not to be believed, and to imagine that the end product transfers it to a tiny file which can be simply played on any computer!

We completed our visit with a hard drive in hand full of files that we would take with us in order to compare the quality of the transfer. At least from my stand point, even though the files were yet to be checked, I became more positive about the whole process, I felt that was a reasonable chance that we could use this system. Looking back, I think that one of great points of the system is its simplicity and efficiency. After the realizing the size of the project and its complexity, and then arriving at this point where the solution seems so simple, this encouraged us to believe that we could be one signature away from moving it forward. The big question, is the result and the quality good enough?   

Thursday
Jul302009

Washington

One of the more wonderful aspects of working in this field is the experienced people working in it, who are prepared to open their doors and share with us the immense knowledge they have built up over the years. It was therefore a wonderful opportunity to be able to travel to Washington and pay a visit to the archives of the Holocaust and Smithsonian museums.

Our first visit was to the United States Holocaust Museum where they presented to us their archive that comprises of thousands of hours of rare moments that document this painful chapter. We immediately realized the value of this trip which helped me personally understand that all the concerns that I had were extremely relevant, and we were fortunately able to bring to the fore these concerns before beginning the project.

The central issue that they brought to our attention was the importance of managing an intelligently organized database. They themselves, much to their dismay, were not fortunate to realize this at the onset of their project, so that as they find themselves today at later stages, this all becomes progressively more apparent. Actually, on the very day before we traveled, Elkanah and I came to the conclusion that one of the foremost concerns for our project should be the upgrading and organization of our database, and our dialogue with them only strengthened our belief that we were on the right track.

At a certain point during our conversation with them an interesting thought occurred to me. We had in one room to one side Elkanah, the director of our archive that contains thousands of hours rare moments that played an important role in the setting up of the Chabad organization. Opposite him sat the director of the huge archive of video and sound recordings that are part of the rare documentation of the holocaust. Both were explaining to each other the importance and sensitivity of the material that was in their possession. In fact both were holding in their possession material of such immense importance, and that any wrong move of theirs might disrupt the flow of historical information to future generations, that could even lead to the disappearance of these events from history books. Already today we have such an example with many people denying that a holocaust ever took place.

The Smithsonian Institution ArchivesOur next destination was the Smithsonian Institution where we met Ms. Sarah Stauderman who was responsible for a huge department that coordinates the archival material of the whole museum. It was amazing to see how much knowledge and experience this woman had, and how she so kindly gave up of her precious time to show and explain it all to us. We began our tour in their storage area where we were able to view a small section of their archive, since a huge portion was stored deep in the Iron Mountains. Naturally, it was all stored in an extremely organized fashion and in controlled climatic conditions. From there we passed through their conservation and conversion departments, some specializing in picture archives, others in sound, till we reached the area that we had been waiting to see, where they transferred all their video material from analog to digital format.

In addition to their impressive array of devices, in this department there was also a SAMMA Solo (we will discuss this later) which held a significant part of our whole interest.

Preservation Assistant; Ms. Sarah Stauderman - Director Smithsonian Institution Archives; Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, Director, JEM; Dekel Hamatian, The Living Archive Preservation Manager

Sarah explained to us how the sampling process went and how the Sama solo integrated within it. Honestly, at first I was not that excited with what I saw, I had been looking forward to something far more automated; however, much to our surprise we began to realize that this was all far more complex.

She also explained that the format which they chose to transfer to was Motion JPEG 2000 (we shall discuss this too later), an area I realized would require much research.

We completed a long day with many question marks, but in fact you could still call this the grand beginning of our project.

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