QCTools: A Consideration of Free Software for the Quality Control of Video Digitization

Dave Rice and Benjamin Turkus
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Four: 2015-2016 


With the magnetic media crisis—that combination of equipment obsolescence and material degradation that signals the end of audiovisual recordings on physical magnetic tape—looming ever-present on the horizon, there is a growing and persistent need for content caretakers to begin taking action, embarking upon thoughtful and considered reformatting projects. At the same time, there is a complementary need for those with expertise in audiovisual preservation to begin sharing their knowledge, lowering the barriers to entry that have often served as a type of quicksand, hindering our collective efforts to safeguard audiovisual heritage for generations to come. The Bay Area Video Coalition’s Quality Control Tools for Video Preservation (QCTools) has begun serving as a powerful, reshaping force upon this landscape. It functions not only as an all-seeing eye—capable of identifying errors and artifacts that might slip the notice of fatigued or inattentive technicians—but also as a pedagogical resource, providing all manner of archivists, librarians, conservators, and preservationists with a new, diagnostic approach that saves crucial time and resources while simultaneously sparking new and diverse ways of considering the digital media assets under their care.  

During this presentation, the audience will be introduced to the advances and developments of the QCTools project, with particular attention paid to both the practical and philosophical implications of this valuable new resource. More than simply a free and open source means of capturing, filtering, and analyzing analog and born-digital video materials, QCTools illuminates critical aspects of the ongoing restructuring of the archival/conservation endeavor in the digital era. Created by moving image archivists in close consultation with media art conservators, QCTools democratizes access to a full range of data and tools previously only available to (1) users with the capacity to expend resources on expensive proprietary software, or (2) users with a strong knowledge of command-line script writing and the media encoding/decoding framework FFmpeg. With a range of examples culled from various media arts organizations, Rice and Turkus will conclude with a discussion of future areas of development/research/study for the QCTools project, paying particular attention to the newfound addition of capture and restoration possibilities. 

Dave Rice 
Audiovisual Archivist and Technologist 

Benjamin Turkus 
Preservation Project Manager 
Bay Area Video Coalition