Media Obsolescence, VHS style

[updated 2016.7.8 and 22]

The last VCRs are being made in July 2016.

Some technical info on VHS indicates a lot of problems with the format.

And so it continues….

Over the years, I’ve withdrawn 16mm and Super8 film reels, U-matic videocassettes, phonograph records, and audio cassettes.  Oddly enough, good old “obsolete” print books usually stay on the shelves, with only occasional repairs.

Our I.T. department has removed VCR (VHS format VideoCassette Recorders) from the classrooms, and any wiring for them.  So, there is no way to play VHS format in the classrooms, even if a desperate faculty member brings in their own VCR.  No place to hook up to the projector.

The library has a TV with VHS built in, but that’s it.  About 4 or 5 people could huddle around it, plugged in with headphones to a splitter box (it’s in a public area), but that’s not really useful.

We can check them out, but frankly, fewer and fewer people have VCRs at home (not including faculty, who retain such things indefinitely — hey, I can talk, I still have one!).

“Be Kind – Rewind!”  Anybody remember that?  It was most certainly not kind — by high-speed rewinding the tape tightly, it put more strain on the tape and made it more likely to flake off the magnetic oxide, and perhaps bleed data over from part of the tape to another.  Video stores changed tapes often, but libraries would be better off if people just waited until they were ready to actually play to rewind. The slow winding during regular play was easier on the tape, I always heard from experts.  Time will also deteriorate the tapes until they became a hazard to your VCR to play (get the cleaning tape out…).

So, I’m moving to withdraw this format.  It’s a time-consuming process, and I began it several years ago, contacting faculty and getting updates in DVD format if requested.

I realize that DVDs are hardly permanent (unless you record them yourself on those special long-term discs, assuming the copy protection/copyright law permits).  But at least the format is more current and can be used in our classrooms and on individual computers with DVD drives.

That leaves me with several categories for VHS videocassettes:

  1. ON RESERVE – we have 29 titles still on reserve, all sociology/anthropology.  They can be checked out.  I will try to get DVD versions of these if available, but quite often, it’s not possible.
  2. REPLACE – I can/will get DVD versions.  These are/were in heavy use (or somebody just wants a DVD if possible) and are replaceable.
  3. WITHDRAW – sorry, either no DVD or not used enough lately to be worth replacing.
  4. ARCHIVE- these would (if digitized under the law) be in-library-use-only, so only on that TV I mentioned. We may or may not actually try to digitize these to DVD; most of them are not getting much use already as VHS.  There’s a few Arkansas-related ones which are not possible to obtain anymore (done by local agencies of one kind or another).

So, how should we decide how to categorize these?

No DVD available, it’s dead.  Sometimes a DVD has been redone from much the same material, but in that case, was the VHS used that much and recently (within 5 or 6 years), and is there a faculty member who can decide if the new version is what they want?  Category: WITHDRAW or ARCHIVE or RESERVE.

In some cases, it’s been used so little/so long ago that I might not bother to look for a DVD, and there is no advocate for keeping it. Category: WITHDRAW

Big rule: if this is one of those early VHS productions that was actually a remake using an old filmstrip — no way should we be buying it, even if they have a DVD version of the same outdated stuff. Find something new on the subject. Sometimes we have to push faculty to update their acts, frankly. Category: WITHDRAW or REPLACE with new title.

DVD available, but not used much/not within last 5 or 6 years.  Faculty change what they teach and how, and some faculty have left/retired. Perhaps they had to adjust their class when the VCRs left the room and the VHS version couldn’t be used — is it worthwhile to them to adapt to the DVD version now? Category: WITHDRAW

Hardly any of these have had a request for a new DVD format version so they could be used in a classroom.  If that’s the case, and they are not otherwise in use, are they worth replacing? Category: WITHDRAW

Some or a lot of use, fairly recently, and DVD available. Sometimes I can find an alternate that will fulfill the same function. Category: REPLACE

Titles still on RESERVE or ARCHIVE category will remain a while longer.  To some extent, this falls under my “out of sight, out of mind” technique — after everyone forgets we have these, they will work their way out.

There are some exceptions. Sometimes somebody thinks that since we’re the last library to hold something, we should hang on to it.  Why?  We don’t loan VHS. It’s obviously so unpopular that nobody else wants to keep it (if they ever bought it in the first place) so nobody is likely to drive here just to view it. Nobody is using it here.  And usually it is so old that it is or will be deteriorating. But, I pick my battles and this isn’t worth it at this time.




DVD-R formats and how we can play them

We have faculty who, quite reasonably, don’t see why they cannot play DVDs in the DVD drives of their computers.  Easy to explain, not easy for logical people to understand: they have the hardware but they don’t have the software for it.

Oh, sure, we have Windows Media Player included in Windows….

However, Windows Media Player (WMP) does not come with a decoder, so it cannot play DVDs.  Microsoft will tell you this.  They link to vendors who will sell you a decoder program, of course.

Some of the freeware I’ve used in the past require you to dig into the DVD and select a specific file to play.  That may or may not start where you want, and it’s not what most users want.  Or, you can go find a codec for free that will enable WMP to handle DVDs, and use a little program to tell WMP where you put the codec file.  All techy-type stuff most people don’t want to mess with, and who can blame them?

So, I went searching again, since we’re getting a lot of DVD-R format discs from DVD vendors (example: Films for the Humanities), and I wanted something simple for faculty to use, and for our IT staff to install quickly.  And frankly, I’m a little nervous about things like iTunes and Quicktime as malware attack vectors.

I found one called MPlayer which sends you to SourceForge to download it with a GUI front end called SMPlayer, which only requires you to specify the DVD drive to use — and it has a button to let it go test for the proper drive itself.

So far, it’s the simplest freeware answer (I don’t do payware answers because I’m not paid to buy software — and that is not a solicitation).

Any other extremely simple (as in “for people who don’t understand computers”) software that is suggested, I am open to take a look.

SUPER-vising a video online

So, I was asked to get some videos online for everyone, including the public, to be able to access and view, for our campus chapter of the American Democracy Project.  We had an interview and a two-part video of the first Citizenship Awards ceremony.

I had DVDs that had been recorded by our people with permissions, so copyright was not an issue.

What to do next?

I checked my own blog Computer Helpers for video editing freeware.  Ended up with a freeware program called SUPER which stands for Simplified Universal Player Encoder & Renderer (got to love that acronym).

SUPER looks a bit intimidating, but a lot is just finding the information to adjust the settings.  I found that the software that came with my DVD drive just played the audio, not the video, of the recorded DVDs.  Apparently, this is not unusual for a lot of the DVDs that are copied rather than commercially created (including the copies vendors make of them).  So, I switched to my usual DVD software, Media Player Classic.

In Media Player Classic, I selected a VOB format file to open, and then right-clicked on the video and selected Properties.  The Details tab gave me:

Video: MPEG2 Video 720×480 (16:9) 29.97fps 9500Kbps [Video]
Audio: Dolby AC3 48000Hz stereo 384Kbps [Audio]
Subtitle: DVD Subpicture [Subtitle]

So, that covered most of the settings I needed to select the check boxes.  I decided to convert to avi format which should play readily on most PCs.

I set for the best possible conditions, as the interview was in a not-too-bright room, with older people whose voices might require the best possible sound.  The ceremony was in a large public room, with the platform at a distance, so I wanted the best resolution on that.  All this, I knew, would make for larger files and a longer download time.

Then I did a click-and-drag from the VOB format files into SUPER.  I found it went a bit faster if I copied the files from the DVD to my hard drive first, and then dragged from there.

I right-clicked on the file name and set the Output Location.

I clicked on the Encode (Active Files) bar and up popped a box to select a “rendered file optimizer”.  I left it with the default (DX50).

And away it went:

After I finished, I had avi versions of the files, which I then renamed appropriately but kept the avi extension.

Now — where to host them?

Turns out that most free hosts restrict you to 100MB or 10 minutes maximum.  One allowed up to 5GB but only in 100MB files.

The smallest file was just over 10 minutes, the ceremony files were longer and larger.  Free hosting for that didn’t seem available (at least on any site I could find that looked stable enough to stay up for a while, although I might have been over-cautious).

BTW: it would save a lot of time if hosting sites would post their maximums out front, instead of requiring you to register before letting you down with their list of limitations — but then, they wouldn’t get your email address, would they?  They would have fewer inactive members, as well.

Fortunately, our III catalog allows avi format video attachments to records, so I created records and attached them.

They play on campus, but the download from off-campus may be too slow for many people to use, especially for these large files.

Links are here at our American Democracy Project blog.