Media Doesn’t Last Forever – Update Your Archives

Posted on by Larry

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This is really important, so let me get right to the point: Digital media archives must be managed.

Apple is completing the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit hardware and software that it began 15 years ago. This means that at some point in the near future, older 32-bit applications and media files won’t open on current systems. To prevent losing access to our history, we need to convert older legacy media files into a current 64-bit codecs.

Most legacy files are SD (standard-definition), so, when converting files shot with a camera, ProRes 422 is an excellent archive choice. If you are converting files created on a computer, either with or without an alpha channel, ProRes 4444 is the codec I recommend.

NOTE: One of the benefits of ProRes is that it is resolution-agnostic. It easily supports any original source resolution of our media files.

A key reason I recommend ProRes 422 for camera media is that standard-definition video was shot in a 4:2:2 color space or smaller. Digital Betacam shot 4:2:2, Betacam SP and DV shot, essentially, 4:1:1, while DVDs were 4:2:0.

Because older 32-bit applications and older codecs will not be supported forever, it is essential to convert older files into newer codecs in order to retain access to our historical media. It is always better to proactively convert older files than discover, after you’ve already upgraded, that the files no longer open.

Before you upgrade your editing system to a new version of the macOS, such as Mojave, take time to make sure that your legacy files and applications will still run properly. Waiting a few weeks before upgrading to allow yourself time to research any potential problems will be time well-spent.

NOTE: Another option is to create a dual-boot system disk. This allows you to run both an older version of the macOS alongside the current version. Here’s an article that explains how to do this.

WHY IS 64-BIT BETTER?

In a word: performance.

64-bit systems can access vastly larger amounts of memory. The 64-bit Intel architecture is significantly faster than 32-bit. It supports better system security. And, when it comes to media files, 64-bit system support is necessary for larger media frame sizes and larger project frame sizes, such as 4K and beyond.

THE BACK STORY

Apple began converting from 32-bit to 64-bit hardware in 2003. By 2008, both Apple hardware and operating systems fully-supported 64-bit applications, while at the same time, also running older, 32-bit applications. For the next ten years, both 32-bit and 64-bit applications ran happily together.

However, the legacy QuickTime stack (upon which both Final Cut Pro 7 and QuickTime Player 7 were built) was not designed for 64-bit operation. QuickTime Player 7 was replaced by QuickTime Player X in 2007 and, over time, Apple has added new features into QuickTime Player X (which is now called: QuickTime Player).

NOTE: Here’s an article that showcases many of the newer features in QuickTime Player.

While many new features have been added to QuickTime Player, it still doesn’t have the same functionality as the Pro version of QuickTime Player 7; which is why many of us still use the older version. However, very soon, after another macOS upgrade or two, that older version of QuickTime Player 7 will stop working.

NOTE: It is important to note the Final Cut Pro 7 stopped working with the release of macOS High Sierra (v.10.13). DVD Studio Pro stopped working with the release of Sierra (v. 10.12).

At WWDC 2017, Apple announced to its developers that High Sierra would be the last OS to support 32-bit applications without compromise. Starting with Mojave (v. 10.14), the operating system will display a warning whenever you launch a 32-bit application.

NOTE: However, I’ve been told that while this warning is new, Mojave will support 32-bit applications the same way that High Sierra does today.

As media creators, we face two challenges: To make sure we can run the applications we need AND make sure we can access legacy media files.

While the concept of 32-bit or 64-bit doesn’t really apply to media, codecs fall out of favor and are not supported in newer players. Two months ago, Adobe announced that effective with the April 2018 release of their media apps, the following three codecs would no longer be supported:

NOTE: Read the complete statement from Adobe here.

In my conversations with the Premiere team at Adobe, I learned that converting older files into Apple ProRes 422 (on the Mac) or GoPro Cineform (on Windows) would be excellent codecs that protect your assets into the future. While no codec lasts forever, ProRes and Cineform are already 64-bit and are actively supported by Apple, GoPro and other developers.

Currently, if you try to open an older file with an outdated codec, Apple automatically transcodes it into AVC (H.264). While AVC is a compressed codec, Final Cut Pro X (unlike Final Cut Pro 7) can edit those H.264 files natively without the need to transcode.

NOTE: If you want to avoid the extra compression that AVC performs on your files, you can use Compressor, or other compression software, to convert the files into the codec of your choice. As well, virtually all compression apps support transcoding files in batches.

There is no list of 32-bit codecs that I’ve been able to find. However, if your media is more than ten years old, you need to start thinking about how to convert it into a current codec to preserve it. While there are many options, ProRes 422 is a great choice for almost all legacy media because it easily supports so many different frame sizes and frame rates.

KEY ACTION ITEMS

We must actively manage our older media. Convert legacy digital media into ProRes 422 to preserve it for the future. Convert computer-generated media into ProRes 4444, either with or without an alpha channel.

NOTE: You can convert legacy files into other versions of ProRes, such as ProRes 422 HQ or 4444, but you won’t see any improvement in image quality.

If you are on a Windows system, while you can play back any ProRes file, it is not as easy to transcode into ProRes. Good codecs for Windows would include high-data rate versions of DNxHD or GoPro Cineform.

NOTE: As a handy tip, because codecs change often, it is a good idea to track which media files use which codec. This simplifies your work when you need to find older files who’s codecs are no longer supported. Many media asset managers can track this automatically.

As media creators, we are responsible for making sure our older files are accessible into the future. This means that we must actively manage our archives and convert older media into newer formats so that we don’t lose access to our past. Because of all these changes, it’s a good idea to review our archives annually to keep them safe and up-to-date.


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16 Responses to Media Doesn’t Last Forever – Update Your Archives

  1. Jorge Azevedo says:

    Hello Larry
    How about preserving HD media tapes? What are your suggestions regarding the ability to read them in the future?
    Thank you

    • Craig Seeman says:

      While I’m not Larry I do have something to say as a former facility engineer.
      Video Tapes themselves decay/deteriorate. The metal particles flake and the magnetic recordings may weaken over time.

      Additionally you have to maintain a compatible player. Players break. Tape heads wear. The compatible players become scarce. People who know how to maintain them become scarce. Replacement heads on other parts become scarce.

      IMHO Video Tape is NOT a good archival format. It’s better to convert them to a file format (Larry mentions those) and multiple backups can be made and updates over time during major codec transitions (such as the move from 32bit to 64bit).

      Of course if by Tape, you’re referring to LTO, that would be a tape backup strategy but that too is not without its caveats.

    • Larry says:

      Jorge:

      Craig makes excellent comments (Thanks, Craig!)

      Video tape has a shelf life of around 30 years – however, as Craig points out, the chances of finding a tape deck in 30 years is pretty slim. For example, how many of us still have a U-matic cassette deck lying about the office? (Yeah, I sold my about six years ago.)

      Digitize your video tapes into ProRes 422 files. Yes, it will take a while, but at least today you have access to everything you need in hardware to make that happen. In 15 years? It will be a lot harder.

      Larry

  2. Philip Snyder says:

    Larry,

    I understand what you are saying about 32 bit apps, such as FCP 7 and DVDSP4, not being supported in the future. I have taken the step to deal with this by creating separation El Capitan and Sierra partitions on my currently High Sierra hard drive. However, I’m a bit confused about what codecs, other than those in SD, would become unopenable. For example, I am still often shooting with a Panasonic HVX-200a, which shoots in DVCPROHD, and editing in FCP X. Two questions: #1) Do I have to be concerned with that codec becoming unusable in future 64 bit operating systems? #2) Occasionally, I have edited SD footage (DV/DVCPRO – NTSC, Linear PCM) into my HD timelines. Are you saying that this footage should be converted to ProRes422 if I should want to be able to continue editing or revising this footage as part of an FCP X project?

    Thanks.

    • Larry says:

      Philip:

      The basic problem is that we don’t know the roadmap for the future. That being said, I would expect DVCPROHD and DV to be supported well into the future. They are very popular and supported by multiple vendors. For now, you should be safe.

      As a safe practice, however, it would be wise to start tracking which codecs you are using so that IF one day in the future one of these will no longer be supported, you can locate and update affected files more easily.

      Larry

  3. Marty Vermillion says:

    Larry,

    I’ve been told there are no stupid questions just stupid people, so here I go. Is there a way to tell if a video file is 32 or 64bit? I don’t see any mention in the Get Info selection and my on line searches only reference how to determine if an app or programs is 32 or 64bit.

    Thanks!

    • Larry says:

      Marty:

      This is NOT a stupid question – I’ve been asking it myself.

      The answer is that 32-bit vs. 64-bit applies to applications and, perhaps, codecs, but not media. The problem, as Adobe announced, is that not all codecs will be supported going forward; as you read in my article.

      This means that it would be wise to convert media using older codecs into something newer – I used ProRes 422 as a good example – to make sure that they can be accessed in the future.

      This issue is complex and I’ll continue writing about it as I learn more.

      Larry

  4. David says:

    Hi Larry,
    after updating to FCPX 10.4.4 I just received a message that a project contains legacy footage and won’t be supported in the future.
    Strangely, the project contains only footage shot on my GH5 in 4k/50fps.
    This kind of footage should be supported in the future, correct? any idea what this might be about?

    • Larry says:

      David:

      Compatibility isn’t based on the camera you use, the frame size or the frame rate. It’s based on the codec (video format). Also, be sure you update the Pro Video formats, which does not appear in the Mac App store. Instead, go to System Preferences > Software Update.

      Larry

  5. Mike Beanland says:

    Is there any software that can search and find all legacy files from my external archive HDD’s and then upgrade them? I see QuickTime Player converts legacy media files before playing them. But that is one file at a time. is there any software that can search my external video HDD and update all legacy files?

  6. Andrea says:

    Hi Larry. You mention the move to 64 bits as the main reason behind Apple decision to relegate several codes to “Legacy”. However at least 2 codec declassed by able, that you mention as good 64 bits alternatives to ProRes (CineForm and DNxHD) are actually listed in https://support.apple.com/kb/HT209000 as being declassed to legacy formats: “… footage from GoPro cameras recorded in the CineForm format, video files in the Avid DNxHD/DNxHR format created with software…”
    There must be something else in this “legacy formats” decision by apple, something that has nothing to do with 32/64 bits…

  7. Richard Llewellyn says:

    How to identify clips encoded with legacy codecs? It is harder than it looks. The names used in FCPX codec field does not seem to match will with Apple’s list.

    A simple example: I have clips with codecs listed in FCPX as ‘avc1″, dji avc encoder, and gopro avc encoder. All of these clips open in the current Quicktime Player and list H.264 as the video codec! Do I need to convert these files or are they OK. If they are OK, I have no clue as to what clips are causing the legacy warning.

    I really would like to have a tool that can scan a Library and flag Legacy codecs.

    With these differences in naming codec, how do I figure out which clips I need to reprocess to get rid of the warning?

    • Larry says:

      Richard:

      These are great questions. I’m in the middle of researching the answers and hope to have something definite by the middle of next week.

      Larry

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