The 20th Century witnessed the evolution of man's ability to document the human experience through recording devices of various formats.
Unfortunately these formats were delicate and extremely vulnerable, and susceptible to the ravages of time and the elements.
Last night, the Free Public Library of Hasbrouck Heights presented a lecture on how to preserve film, video and photo collections in a digital format. The multimedia presentation was conducted by Peter Gallo of Envision Video Services.
Gallo started Envision Video Services in 2005, after going back to school to study digital design.
"Videos had been a hobby of mine back in high school," Gallo explained. "Although I studied engineering -- and I had a career in engineering -- I was still interested in video and digital design, so I swiched careers and started my company."
Based in Hasbrouck Heights, Envision Video Services preserves and digitially converts customers' photos, videos, and film stock, as well as slides and documents.
Gallo began the lecture with a brief history of 20th Century recording formats, from 16 mm film to camcorders. This section of the lecture also covered the VHS versus Betamax battle for homevideo supremacy, which saw VHS emerge as the format victor.
"But alot of people had Betamax," Gallo explained, "because it really did have superior quality; TV networks used Betamax."
The reason for the downfall of Betamax, Gallo said, is that Sony (the creators of Betamax) made the technology proprietary information that they refused to share with other manufacturers. VHS, on the other hand, could be produced by any company.
With VHS as the standard, camcorders moved forward as the main recording device for families and the amateur filmmaker, replacing the film-based movie cameras such as the Super 8.
"The problem with tapes, however, is that they don't have a particularly long life span," Gallo said. "Only seven or eight years."
In 1995, the first digital format camcorder was released: the Mini DV camera.
"Since 2001, no further tape format cameras have been released," Gallo explained. "Everything now is digital."
Film and videotape, which are analog formats, are easily damaged.
"Film wears out, and it breaks easily," Gallo said, as he explained the disadvantages of film stock. "It becomes dry and brittle over time, not to mention it requires a projector to view it, and nobody sells projectors anymore, and it's hard to repair them now if they break down."
Both film and videotapes are negatively affected by heat and moisture. Videotapes are also susceptible to magentic fields, which could completely erase the movies they contain.
Because film and videotape are vulnerable to all kinds of decaying processes-- from improper storage to simply the ravages of time -- it is necessary to preserve the memories contained therein by converting them to digital formats, such as DVDs or computer hard drives.
Gallo went on to explain the routes people could take to transfer and preserve their collections.
"You can do it yourself, or you could get a professional service to do it for you."
For those interested in doing it themselves, there are several ways to convert photos, film, and video to digital formats.
One way is to set up a projector, run the film on a screen, and record the movie with a camcorder.
"Or you could buy a Telecine box, which is a device that helps you record a film with a camcorder," he said.
For old photographs, flatbed scanners are used for converting photos to a digital format.
There are also several devices on the market that record VHS tapes to DVD discs.
"These are consumer-grade machines that you could buy at a deparment store," Gallo explained. "And they work very well. But if you want to have a professional do your converting for you, make sure they don't use these devices. You want them to have professional grade equipment."
When looking for a professional video service, Gallo warned that many businesses do not have labs on premises. "You want to make sure that when you give them your memories, that they aren't shipping them off to far away facilities. You want to know where your items are at all times, and that they are safe."
Gallo also warned about hidden fees that could be charged."Sometimes you may find a really good price for converting to a digital format, but then they charge you for shipping to another lab, or for extra discs, so make sure to read the fine print."
And find out how they handle problems."If they run into an issue, such as if your video is dark or grainy and can't be lightened up, will they let you know and give you a choice if you still wanted it converted or not. Some places won't let you know until you get your video."
Once the films,videos, and photos have been converted and stored on a disc, Gallo advises making backup discs in case of damage to the master disc.
"With this information, you should start converting your memories immediately, because these older formats won't last forever,"Gallo said.