What is single channel video art?
The term "single-channel" refers to video or media work that involves a single information source (such as a DVD), a single playback device (such as a DVD player), and a single display mode (such as a flat-screen monitor). For example, when you play a DVD and view it on your television at home, you're showing single-channel video.
Information can be recorded on a range of media formats, including digital media (DVD, Digital Beta, DVCAM) or analog video (VHS, Betacam SP). Single-channel works can be presented in any number of contexts and venues, including cinemas or theaters, gallery spaces in museums or other institutions, or classroom settings, to name just a few. Exhibition designs may include freestanding monitors, wall-mounted flat screens, or large-scale projections.
What are the recommended formats for collecting single channel video art?
Institutions or individuals should acquire media art works on accepted archival formats such as Digital Betacam (also known as DigiBeta). Beta SP is an acceptable analog archival format, although DigiBeta is preferable as the primary digital archival standard. These formats, when stored properly, will have an extended life and ensure the longevity and quality of the work. When acquiring single-channel video work it is important to obtain the work in both an archival acquisition format and a reference or exhibition format (or the rights to create such copies on formats such as DVD.) A viewing, reference, or exhibition copy should be made from source material on archival formats or uncompressed video files, and authored by a knowledgeable professional.
What is a "licensing agreement"?
As an electronic medium, video is distinct from traditional art forms such as painting or sculpture in that it is infinitely and easily reproducible. Typically, collectors must enter into specific agreements or licenses that outline the terms, conditions, and rights that are being extended for the acquisition of a media work. Such agreements vary depending on the source of the artwork and whether the work is a limited or unlimited edition.
If an un-editioned video work is acquired from a distributor, the collector is typically asked to sign a "license agreement." This agreement varies depending on the nature of the collection (library, museum, private collection, educational institution), the format acquired, and the specific rights granted.
What is a "certificate of authenticity"?
A "certificate of authenticity" typically accompanies the purchase of a limited-edition single-channel video work from a gallery. The certificate, signed by the artist and gallerist, confirms the number of the edition and outlines the rights being extended to the collector. This document is necessary when considering the resale of media works in the secondary market.
What kind of equipment will I need to play a video work in my collection?
Single-channel video work requires the appropriate playback equipment (for example, a professional DVD player), display device (a presentation monitor, plasma or LCD flat screen, or projector and projection surface), audio equipment (amplifier, speakers, or headphones), and cables and connectors. The specific playback and display equipment you'll need to show the video works in your collection will depend on the media format (for example the DVD) you have been supplied. These decisions will also be based on a range of variables, including the exhibition space or venue, the viewing context, availability of equipment, the desired audience interaction with the work, the artist's specifications, and any agreements that accompanied the purchase.
Equipment decisions may have an impact beyond the purely technical. For example, the decision to project a work in a theatrical setting, or to show it looped on a flat-screen monitor in a gallery, should speak to the artist's intentions, as this will impact the meaning and perception of the work. Certain historical videos may be best exhibited on a monitor contemporary with the making of the tape, while a new digital work might be better suited to a flat screen or a projection. As technology continues to evolve it may become more and more difficult to obtain equipment contemporary to the work being collected. Visit Equipment & Technical Issues in the Single-channel Video Preservation section of this guide for recommendations on this subject.
Proper selection, installation, and maintenance of video and audio equipment are critical, and collectors should consult qualified technicians where possible. Visit Equipment & Technical Issues for a detailed review of equipment options for single-channel video presentation.
What's the difference between digital and analog formats? What about "NTSC" and "PAL"?
It is useful to understand the distinction between analog and digital (including high-definition) media formats and geographic video standards. The critical distinction between analog and digital formats is the way in which the information is stored. When examined closely, analog video appears as a series of lines, while digital video is comprised of pixels, or tiny boxes of colour. High-definition (HD) is most commonly presented in a "wide screen" format. There are two resolution standards, 1080i (interlaced) and 720p (progressive). Digitisation often indicates compression of media, and subsequent loss of quality. Recent research has, however, explored the notion of lossless compression.
NTSC and PAL are the two main video broadcast standards or systems; they are incompatible. NTSC is the video standard used in North America and Japan . PAL is the dominant television standard in most of the world, including Europe.
Should I rewind my tapes after viewing them?
A playback machine's loading mechanism is particularly hard on the path of tape between the two spools. Tape in this area of a cassette is also more exposed to dust. When a tape has been rewound, the tape in this vulnerable area is generally blank, so any damage caused by the mechanism will not affect the recorded material.
It is also recommended that, if a tape is not viewed through completely until its end, that it be fast-forwarded and then rewound to ensure an even wind on the spool. This action is also recommended for tapes that are infrequently used - "exercising" or "re-tensioning" redistributes tension of the wind and prevents loosening or deterioration.
If not used, it is recommended that media be rewound periodically (once a year) using the appropriate tractive power. This will reduce any pressure that has built up in the casing of the tape pack.
What formats are most at risk?
Because of their age and the difficulty in finding functional playback equipment, 1/2" open reel and 2" Quadruplex are the two most at-risk formats. Formats that have become obsolete more recently, including 3/4" U-matic and 1" Type C, have a lower but increasingly significant risk factor. Contemporary small-cassette formats, including Hi-8 and MiniDV, have a relatively high risk factor due to the extremely small size of the tape and cassette mechanisms. In short, all formats require vigilance, care, and regular migration to a contemporary standard.
What should I do if a tape has mold on it?
First, it is important to note that mould can pose very serious health hazards. Tapes with mold should be handled as little as possible, and with extreme care. Moldy tapes should be quarantined from other holdings, and may be placed in plastic bags until they can be cleaned by a professional. Most archival transfer houses can assist you in dealing with this particular hazard. Cool and dry storage conditions are the best defence against mold.
Is there a universal preservation format for videotapes?
No. At present, Betacam SP and Digital Betacam (also known as DigiBeta) are the archival standards. Betacam SP is a high-quality analog format that is still in wide use in the broadcasting industry, indicating that its obsolescence is not imminent. DigiBeta is the contemporary digital standard, and while it does utilise some image compression (mostly undetectable to the naked eye), it can be used to make copies without generational loss.
Tape vs. DVD
In theory, videotape should last at least ten years, and up to thirty under optimal stage conditions. However, in reality, variables such as storage conditions and usage can radically affect a tape's lifespan. There are also differences between tape brands, so even when stored under identical conditions, tapes can deteriorate at different rates.
Some manufacturers claim that a DVD will last longer than a videotape, but because it is such a recent format with unproven stability (in addition to its heavy compression) it is not considered to be archival. It is also important to consider that a format may become obsolete before the video signal it contains actually deteriorates. For this reason, material on DVDs and tapes should be transferred to more stable formats on a regular basis.
Electronic Arts Intermix
Independent Media Arts Preservation
Variable Media Network
Netherlands Media Art Institute