Interview with the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA)

Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA), Bry-sur-Marne, December 22, 2009


Since its creation in 1975, the INA or National Audiovisual Institute, located a few kilometres East of Paris in Bry-sur-Marne, has been entrusted with the complete archives of French radio and television broadcasting. Its mission is to safeguard, to restore, to preserve and to provide access to thousands of hours of radio and television programmes. The audiovisual archives themselves are many kilometres long, on film or different video formats of various ages and sometimes in poor condition. The SNC workforce of about 25 is organised into two sectors: Safeguarding, responsible for saving the archives by changing them into newer and more stable formats, and Digitization and Communication, responsible for digitising these records and passing them on to customers.

We met Gerard Mathiot who worked as a production technician, then in equipment maintenance for the ORTF and the INA, before becoming the technical manager of safeguarding. With him, we went through the different steps of safeguarding audiovisual material, from the arrival of a tape at the SNC, right up to the moment its contents are made available online at The aim of this interview was to determine how the INA manages the problem of obsolescent playback equipment during the tape safeguarding process. Gérard Mathiot, Alexandre Khuy; a technician for the SNC and Michel Gouley; a technician for the INA’s central video maintenance service, answered our questions about maintenance, spare parts management and the technical know-how associated with the use and repair of their equipment.


I. Transfer and Cleaning of Tapes


PACKED: What types of tape do you deal with at the INA?

Gérard Mathiot: We deal with 2” tapes1, with 1” type B2, 1” type C3, U-matic 3/4"4 and BVU5, with Betacam6 and Betacam SP7, and we also have film and transfers coming from telecine8. We possess no amateur formats such as Betamax9 or VHS10 as the INA’s collections are made up of French television archives and professional formats have always been used. Our shops with all the cassettes are situated in several different places; the main site is about 60 kilometres from here. Videotapes are stored at 18°C, and film at 12°C.


PACKED: What is the first stage of the transfer and safeguarding of these tapes?

Gérard Mathiot: As soon as we receive a tape, the first step is to clean it. We have a room dedicated to cleaning in which we have several RTI11 cleaning machines for 1” types B and C, ¾” (Umatic) and Betacam (1/2”).


 A RTI-cleaningmachine for ¾” U-matic cassettes. (Photo:


In these machines, the tape runs in front of metallic parts we call knives, which remove from the tape particles that have a tendency to be unstable12. Then the tape runs over pieces of paper that wipe away dust so that it does not impede with reading the tape. This is done at least once before each transfer, because if tape doesn’t go through the cleaner it is even less likely to be readable. In this way we know if a tape has to go to the “clinic”, or even straight to the oven.


 The cleaningpaper and the knives of the RTI-cleaningmachine. (Photo:


 The cleaningpaper and the knives of the RTI-cleaningmachine. (Photo:


PACKED: What is “the clinic”?

Gérard Mathiot: "The clinic” is the name we give to the room where we restore the most heavily damaged tapes. It is equipped in the same way as the other transfer rooms but the operator is also a maintenance technician, because at any moment he must be able to adjust the machine. These technicians transfer damaged tapes and they are also responsible for the maintenance of the machines used in the clinic.

Before working for the SNC, I was a maintenance technician myself and I chose two people from the INA’s general maintenance service who repaired this type of equipment to join my service. The advantage of having technicians from the central service is that they are able to react very swiftly as soon as a problem occurs, and what’s more they are working on machines they know very well through using them every day for transfer operations. This proximity is essential, because it allows us to act immediately on any problems with the equipment. Indeed, repairing and maintaining equipment is a day-to-day activity. At “the clinic” we have daily problems with machines becoming clogged, with components and mechanisms needing to be adjusted. This is to be expected because the cassettes we transfer here are damaged, and may in turn damage the equipment. That is why it is essential for us to have at least two people who are capable of cleaning the machines and above all of repairing them and doing the necessary maintenance and adjustments.

When a cassette arrives at “the clinic”, it usually means that its characteristics have evolved over time and no longer correspond to those recommended by the manufacturer when the recording was initially made. The only way we have of playing the cassette is to adapt the characteristics of the machine to those of the tape. The technician can intervene through electronic and mechanical adjustments, that is to say of the guide flanges and the different systems that allow us to adjust the tape’s track. All these adjustments are made almost real-time, and they may differ slightly with each cassette. This is why all the players here are open, and the mechanisms and electronics are laid bare. A transfer might take place normally for a few minutes, before the tape clogs the player once more and we have to intervene before the transfer can continue. Because our vocation is to safeguard material in its entirety, we then edit a montage of all the sequences. The duration of the transfer is much greater than the real duration of the material: for an hour-long programme, an entire day of different types of work and processing may be necessary to transfer the tape.


 A ¾” U-matic-player that is used in 'the clinic'. (Photo:


PACKED: At which moment is the oven used?   Baking:

Gérard Mathiot: The main problem with a tape is running it. If a tape can be run through the player, even if it clogs after a while, it can be saved. It might take a very long time, but it will be possible. However, with certain tapes, it is not even possible to get them to run, and this is when we use the baking technique.

We chose a type of oven that is manufactured by a German company, and also used by the CNRS13. We noticed that it is a very efficient technique for processing tapes that stick and clog. We established a protocol from research accomplished in collaboration with the CNRS with which we heat the tapes for 15 hours to 50° at a humidity of 30%. A water tank that is part of the oven controls this. The temperature rises from 20 degrees to 50 degrees in two hours after which the temperature remains constant for 15 hours. Then the tapes are cooled from 50 degrees to 20 degrees over two hours to avoid any thermal shock. The humidity is maintained at 30% during the whole process. Finally, we clean the tapes with the machine and take them to the clinic very quickly because the benefits produced by the oven never last very long.


 The oven that is used to 'bake' the 'difficult' videotapes.(Photo:


PACKED: Does this procedure damage the tapes?

Gérard Mathiot: No. However, it must be said that no real research has been done to find out if this process has an effect on the tapes in the long term. But as our priority is to save the content of the tapes and the cassettes and not the objects themselves, then this is not of great importance to us. In any case, it is a technique that offers major advantages for the most difficult tapes. It improves RF;14 it reduces the clogging effect and the Sticky Shed Syndrome even more15. It helps us to clean cassettes that stick in the cleaning machine. For a large collection like that of the INA, it is an investment that has paid off, as we have been able to transfer cassettes that otherwise would have been lost. Thanks to this technique, the failure rate with Umatic ¾”, the most difficult tapes we have to process, is less than one per thousand cassettes.


PACKED: Do you sometimes get tapes than cannot be played, even after being processed in the oven?

Gérard Mathiot: Yes. We will have to use particular methods for certain highly damaged tapes. For example, we sometimes process tapes from the French overseas territories16. Because these regions are in the tropics, these tapes have often been stored in very hot and humid climates, which are the worst possible conditions for videotape storage. They can be very mouldy, which not only prevents them from being played but also obliges us to use different cleaning procedures due to the potential dangers of this mould for our technicians. At present, we have stopped safeguarding these cassettes while we prepare a safeguard plan that is specially adapted to them. At present, we think that the cleaning room will probably have to be modified for these tapes by installing a ventilation system and procedures that will avoid our technicians having to breathe the particles and dust that could cause health problems17. What’s more, we are not yet able to estimate the quantity of tapes that we will have to process in this state. A strategy will be chosen taking into account the number of tapes to process. At the moment, tapes and film arrive without us being able to evaluate the total number that is in this state. For the time being they are kept in a quarantine of sorts, where they await their fate. At no point do we throw a tape away, and when we obtain a failure, we keep the tape until future tools or techniques that may allow us to process it and transfer the material appear.


PACKED: How does the transfer then take place?

Gérard Mathiot: When the tapes are in good condition, when the cleaning process is successful and they didn’t need to go through “the clinic", then they can be transferred directly to digital Betacam tape, which is the standard archive format used by the INA. A transfer operator, who is there to watch for any problems real-time by checking the picture levels with an oscilloscope18 and monitoring the sound level, is responsible for the transfer. If a problem occurs the operator reports it by means of a note in the document database. Once the tape has been saved, it is added to the database where the entire INA back-up catalogue is indexed. After the transfer, the operator will verify, by playing some short samples, that the transfer was trouble-free. If the tape is troublesome, then the transfer operator will add a note to the database regarding these problems for the attention of “the clinic’s” technicians.

However, experience usually allows us to spot the tapes that will cause problems even before the transfer stage, simply because we know that certain models, certain brands of cassette or certain types of case are more susceptible to damage than others. Certain types of case that worked properly when they were introduced on the market cause problems today when we have to transfer a cassette.


 A 1”C-tape and a digital Betacam-cassette. (Photo:


PACKED: How is this type of risk managed?

Gérard Mathiot: We have a unit at the SNC where we are currently testing a number of digital Betacam cassettes to try and observe the way they age, and to anticipate as of now when we will have to start their migration. Thanks to this, we know more precisely at what speed a given format deteriorates, and if it is urgent to safeguard it or not. This is what we did two or three years ago for analog Betacam.

This type of test allowed us to determine which brands and cases of Betacam were the most at risk. This is why part of the Betacam tapes were transferred to digital Betacam rather than being digitised directly, as we initially planned.


II. The Equipment


PACKED: In “the clinic”, which modifications are made to the equipment?

Gérard Mathiot: Certain simple procedures are already carried out in standard transfer rooms. For example, on one player we might have to change the CD19 card that allows using the appliance in PAL with another card that will allow playing of material recorded in SECAM. In the same way, we might need to change a YD20 card to switch from a standard Umatic player to a Umatic BVU player.

On the other hand, in “the clinic”, transferring each tape or cassette might need a different set-up to the previous one. The technician cannot get away with just changing a card, but will have to make certain specific adjustments to them. For example, when using an Umatic VCR, we know that 90% of the problems we will have can be resolved by adjusting one potentiometer21 or another, or one of the mechanical settings of the appliance. There are problems that are linked to the type of setting that was used to record the tapes at the time. We sometimes have to adjust the electronics of an appliance to boost the weak signal of a tape or to try and gat as close as possible to the settings of the appliance that was used to record at the time.

What’s more, we only use the Umatic VCRs to play back tapes. If we also had to use them to record, there would be even more adjustments to make, such as switching the MD card, between PAL and SECAM.


PACKED: Does your service have a stock of spare appliances, and/or spare parts?

Gérard Mathiot: Yes, we have a room where we store both new and old equipment, and many spare parts stored in cupboards. You will also find several incomplete appliances that are “belly up” and are salvaged for spare parts for the other appliances that we use. The crucial thing is that this depot is in the same building and on the same floor as the transfer rooms. This proximity is essential for us to be able to work quickly and efficiently. If the power supply of an appliance we are using breaks down – even if this is not the part that breaks down most often -, then we can go and find a spare from an appliance that is no use to us in itself, but only for its parts. It’s very similar to a transplant. Having this storeroom so close to the transfer room allows us to repair quickly by sorting through the old equipment to find a replacement for the faulty part.


PACKED: Are the more or less recent appliances such as Umatic or Betacam VCRs stored in their original packaging?

Gérard Mathiot: If they have never been used, yes. Otherwise, they are in service in the bays, or simply stored in the depot.


PACKED: Do you maintain any specific climatic conditions in this depot?

Gérard Mathiot: The storage conditions for the appliances are not regulated in the same way as for the tapes. However, the depot is protected from dust and has an acceptable level of humidity. It is kept at a temperature that is similar to that of the rooms in which the appliances are in operation, about 20C. This is important, because keeping appliances in a shop where the parts will rust would be completely useless.


PACKED: Can you still find spare parts for all the appliances?

Gérard Mathiot: No. This is why we have equipment that is used to salvage spare parts. For the BOSCH 1” tape players, we can no longer find the heads; only BOSCH could supply these. We therefore draw from the stock of heads we have left, hoping that it will be sufficient to transfer all of the 1” tapes. But this is the case for more recent appliances too. We learnt a few months ago that Sony has stopped making heads and for digital Betacam VCRs. This is the INAs archiving format and consequently, it means we already have to think about building a stock of spare parts.


PACKED: Alexandre Khuy, you are the manager of the clinic and in charge of the tapes that are said to be “difficult”, but you are also responsible for maintenance of the equipment that is used. What type of problems do you come across with the appliances in “the clinic”?

Alexandre Khuy: First of all, there is the ordinary wear of parts. All of the parts, whether these are parts that rotate, such as guide flanges or fixed parts, or even motors; all wear out due to the intensive use of the appliances here in the INA. What’s more, here in “the clinic”, we deal with the particularly difficult tapes and their poor condition causes the parts to wear out more quickly. The teeth of the plastic cogs break and even metal parts that may appear to be strong, such as the drum that houses the heads, wears out due to the playing of the tape. All guide pins, capstans22 and the capstan’s motor will have to be replaced at some point.


PACKED: What are the most fragile elements of a video player?

Alexandre Khuy: The most fragile elements are the smallest ones, in this case the video heads. Each manufacturer gives an estimation of when the heads will have to be changed. This duration is always more or less equal to 1,500 hours, but we try to make them last longer. We made a calculation according to the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the lifecycle of each head and we then came up with a coefficient by evaluating the number of hours of video that we have to transfer. According to this, we have built up a stock of parts.

Gérard Mathiot: Be that as it may, the manufacturers recommendations date back to when the equipment was made and are applicable to use of the equipment with new tapes. Yet our tapes are far from new and wear out the heads much more quickly. However, even if we take this into account we must try to make the heads play for longer than the recommended period of time if we want to transfer our whole collection with the parts we have available. In all cases, for us, this is twice as long. When spare parts are difficult to find, each appliance and part is used to the maximum of its potential.

Appliances often work with elements made both from plastic and from metal, and these do not always go together well. On our machines, it is not rare to see two plastic parts such as cogs that are of a different shade of white, because one of them has been salvaged from another appliance.


PACKED: What are the cleaning operations practiced on your equipment?

Gérard Mathiot: Cleaning operations are done mainly on the tape track and the playback heads using Isonet23 magnetic cleaner and a rag that does not leave residues. We also sometimes use cotton buds.


PACKED: Is your equipment stored under power? Is it important for the appliances to be powered up regularly?

Gérard Mathiot: For the 2” players and 1” appliances this is what we try to do, they are under power most of the time. For more recent appliances, we are less inclined to take this precautionary measure, mainly for energy saving reasons. The aging of the capacitors24 in particular, should bring us switch on the appliances regularly.

Alexandre Khuy: However, there are definitely heat exchanges under way inside the machine and components such as capacitors will not wear out as quickly, perhaps less quickly even, if they are always under power. Generally speaking, when equipment is switched on the flow of current is stronger before becoming stable.


 A device for 1”C-tapes. (Foto:


PACKED: Are capacitors frequently a cause of breakdowns?

Alexandre Khuy: The tendency is for today’s equipment to have capacitors of poorer quality, and after so many hours of use they all need to be changed. This is a new phenomenon, which all technicians have noticed: appliances are no longer built to last. The capacitors have an average life of about 5 years; this is approximately equal to the depreciation time that is calculated for the equipment by the manufacturer. On older appliances however, electronic problems are rare and even potentiometers that were not designed to be adjusted every day as we do here, hold out well.

Today, appliances are much more complex and because everything is miniaturized, the components are much more fragile and electronic problems much more frequent. Certain VCRs read four different formats, and this makes for a much more complicated appliance, because it will do the job of four different appliances. Now, to do this, heads will have been added to the drum, but also a great number of components to process the data. A technician can no longer act upon them because a capacitor in an old appliance that could be as wide as a pen is now as small as a pinhead. In terms of the reliability of electronics, there has clearly been a regression, and above all the components are of poorer quality.

Gérard Mathiot: A big part of Sony’s industry is now video games such as Playstation. Sony’s major sales no longer come from broadcasting equipment. Because this was developed beforehand on a wider scale for the mass market, today they can sell a card that can be found in the multi-format players we have here (Betacam, Betacam SP, digital Betacam, IMX, SX) without increasing the cost of the appliance. Research expenses have long since been paid off when they sell this Betacam player. The logic of today is the opposite of before: we develop things for the general public that are easily profitable because they are aimed at a mass market and this is then used in professional equipment.


PACKED: Is the knowledge and technical experience acquired through the repairing and maintenance of equipment handed down internally?

Gérard Mathiot: No, not really. The INA’s objective is to have ended the transfer and digitisation of all tapes in 2015, and to put an end to old formats and the specific technical know-how that goes with them. What’s more, it’s currently difficult to find young technicians who wish to learn and specialize in the use of old technologies such as 1” or Umatic players. The few technicians who came here for training quickly changed tack towards more modern technologies. This is of course linked to a personal motivation on their behalf to be familiar with leading edge technologies, but also from a more practical point of view, from knowing that it will be much easier for them to find a job with knowledge of modern technologies than obsolete ones such as VCRs and magnetic tapes. The switch to digital has made the handing down of this know-how much more difficult, but this was also the case for the people who worked with film when video appeared.

In the INA, there are no longer any maintenance trainees, and the manufacturers no longer train technicians either. In addition, except for a few “old-hands” that are still able to do the necessary maintenance and repairs on old equipment, the technicians of the INA’s central maintenance service are mostly involved with equipment that is more modern than 1” or Umatic players. It is clear that without a policy for establishing the conditions for the apprenticeship of new technicians, a lot of this knowledge will be lost.


PACKED: Michel Gouley, you work for the INA’s central maintenance service. Do you work on the same type of equipment as the technicians of “the clinic”?

Michel Gouley: More or less, yes. I am mainly involved with regular maintenance, which follows a calendar that is based on the running time of each appliance. Here I do maintenance before issues arise, whereas at “the clinic”, work depends on the problems that arise during a transfer. Most of the appliances are Betacam VCRs, Betacam SP, or digital Betacam and are used intensively for transfer or digitisation in the Flexicarts25. But I sometimes also have to work on Umatic or 1” players.


 A Sony Flexicart-robot. (Photo:


PACKED: What products do you use to maintain the VCRs?

Michel Gouley: I use Isonet cleaner on the components, but not isopropylic alcohol as this dries out the mechanical parts and increases the friction coefficient of the tape on the parts and, depending on the origin of the tape we risk jamming the mechanics. But for parts made of plastic and rubber, I use alcohol and cotton buds.


PACKED: What types of breakdown do you most frequently encounter here in the central maintenance service?

Michel Gouley: We can have faulty video heads or mechanical problems, such as a motor breaking down for example. If this is the case, we simply change the motor. If the failure involves a card, I can sometimes repair them, but on the more recent appliances the circuits are very thin, and most of the time I can do nothing except replace the entire card. Whenever possible, I replace capacitors and intervene on the circuits, but this is less common as the circuits and components are miniaturised.


PACKED: So when it happens, these are failures of the older equipment?

Michel Gouley: Yes, for older appliances. For example, we have second-hand Betacam SP VCRs that I completely refurbish here at maintenance. These are appliances that we bought for €400 from people who wanted to get rid of them but originally, when they were new, they were worth about €30,000. On these, the cards are more easily repairable, as the technology dates from the mid-eighties. A makeover of this type often takes three or four days, and this is something I only do when I have spare time in between my regular maintenance and repair operations.


PACKED: What are the regular maintenance and repair operations?

Michel Gouley: It greatly depends on the age and the running time of the appliance. A regular fix on a Betacam SP VCR for example consists in replacing the video heads, the pinch roller, the capstan motor and the spool motors. Then, the next time that the same VCR comes back for maintenance, I will replace the same components, but also other parts such as the video head motor.

This is particularly true for Digital Betacam and Betacam SX VCRS that are in robots and in use night and day: we don’t wait until the appliance has a problem before we intervene. We know that certain parts will fail at a certain time, either from experience or from the manufacturers recommendations. This is why I change the video heads of the appliances used in the Flexicarts approximately every two years, which corresponds to about 3,000 hours of use.


PACKED: So the maintenance and replacement of parts is based on estimation? It is preventive maintenance?

Michel Gouley: Yes, and for the simple reason that if we wait for the equipment to break down, we take the risk of a faulty appliance damaging a tape and that is not an option. For the INA, the value of the material is much greater than that of a spare part, whatever it is. The INA is not a museum for video equipment: all the appliances here have one and the same function, to save the material in the best possible way, without putting the tape on which it is recorded at risk.

In addition, the digital appliances are also equipped with compensation systems that process data to correct errors. As a consequence, we don’t see the defects and problems coming: from one day to the next we go beyond the limits of the correcting system without any warning clues during playback. On analog machines however, we see the problem appear before getting worse, and we can avoid it more easily.


PACKED: How do you find spare parts and components?

Michel Gouley: SONY has a European centre for spare parts in Belgium26, as stock is not taxed in Belgium. However, we can no longer find video heads for the old appliances such as Umatic VCRs. There are certain companies, mainly in England or the USA, that remould video heads; we just send them the drum and they put on new video heads. But this is not an ideal solution, in that the drum is often worn or scratched and its characteristics are no longer really optimal.


PACKED: Is a metal drum really all that fragile?

Michel Gouley: The diameter of a drum can lose between 10 and 15-20 microns27, and that is enough to modify the settings of the video player. The tape has the same effect as sandpaper wherever it runs through the video player’s mechanics. Even if on a metal part the wear is minute, the permanent friction of the tape is enough to have consequences, as the dimensions are very precise. Also, a worn component will distort the tape.


PACKED: So you have a large stock of spare parts?

Michel Gouley: Most of the time, I have stock left but I also have wrecks from which I take whatever I am missing: to sum it up I “undress Peter to dress Jack”. For obsolete appliances, this is how we proceed; we salvage the wrecks. But this is already a problem for more recent formats such as Digital Betacam. Sony has decided to end production of the spare parts for this equipment, which is an awkward situation as it is the reference format for the INA’s archives. As they stopped selling these video players seven years ago they can legally stop production of the components. We are already giving thought to the stock we will need.

I also have a stock of electronic components that are indexed by the manufacturer’s code. Each component corresponds to a code on the manual, and when a circuit fails we can find the part thanks to this code. Personally, I use a reference book printed by Sony that gives all the equivalents between the different components. Then I order the part on the Internet and sometimes it is available in Belgium, otherwise it comes from Japan.


PACKED: How do you find the older appliances?

Michel Gouley: From brokers, broadcasting equipment retailers, television channels or production agencies. The brokers have contacts worldwide, which avoids us having to search ourselves on eBay or by other means.


PACKED: How do you manage the stock of appliances, and follow-up their maintenance and repair?

Michel Gouley: We have a database that includes all the equipment of the INA. This goes from oscilloscopes to VCRs, through monitors, telecine etc… Each time we intervene on equipment, or equipment comes to central maintenance, it is recorded in the database. Each machine is referenced and has a sort of health record that lists the parts changed, any anomalies that have occurred, and an account of the appliance’s running time.


PACKED: Did the INA develop this database?

Michel Gouley: No, not the one we currently use. In fact, for the past few weeks we have been using a system developed by a software editing company KIMOCE28 based in Mulhouse, that develops CMMS29 applications, and which developed the DAGOBA30 programme according to the INA’s requirements. DAGOBA is a database that contains all equipment found at the INA and not only video players. Prior to this, we had an internally developed database on Access31 with a Visual Basic32 interface.


PACKED: How many video players do you possess in the INA?

Michel Gouley: If I consult our database right now, I see that we have 1129 video players for different types of format from 1” to Digital Betacam.


PACKED: Are the “wrecked” appliances also indexed in the database?

Michel Gouley: Yes they are, however they are considered as rejects.


PACKED: On which documentation do you base the maintenance of your devices, and how is it organised?

Michel Gouley: Our working background for maintenance and repair is the collection of manuals supplied by the manufacturers. We have the printed manuals, and we possess an application on CD-Rom that includes electronic versions of these documents. Each year we subscribe to the Sony Assist33 website that allows us to find manuals. On this site we also find an index of the most common defects of an appliance and the best way to remedy them. It is a maintenance aid, without being a universal “recipe”, because it is not because you encounter a problem that it always will be indexed on the site.


PACKED: Is the documentation procured at the same time as the equipment?

Michel Gouley: The policy of the INA is not in fact to buy the manual at the same time that the equipment is bought. Most of the time, we buy the manual when we need it, that is to say when the equipment breaks down. This is in part due to the change in policy of the manufacturers, who formerly supplied a manual systematically with each sale, whereas today they sell each manual for about €500, which directly increases the cost of the device by €500 as a consequence. Even the users manual is now very rarely on paper but on CD-Rom, which of course allows the manufacturer to cut down on expenses even more.


PACKED: Do you have your own maintenance notes?

Michel Gouley: Yes, I sometimes add notes to existing documents, because the same problem might reoccur at intervals of two or three years. Often, we establish that it is a design problem with the device, and this is why the problems are often recurrent.


PACKED: Are there differences between the different manufacturers and/or models in terms of design?

Michel Gouley: Yes, from experience I would say that Sony appliances have always had very simple and robust mechanics, and it is on these devices that we have the fewest problems of this type. A multi format Betacam video player, such as those we use for digitisation on the Flexicarts for example, are designed with a moulded cast aluminium chassis that is very strong. This is important, as the heat generated by the appliance’s use must not warp this base from which the dimensions are established. Conversely, the first video recorders made in Europe were real Rube Goldberg machines equipped with very complicated mechanics. This superiority is very probably due to the experience Sony had already gained through Umatic video recorders.

It is the same for diagrams; each manufacturer has its own way of organising its diagrams and drawing components. From one brand to another, the logic can sometimes be very different. Here also, the diagrams of Sony or Thomson are often much more easy to use than those of Panasonic for example, which are very complicated to understand and with which the path between different components is not easy to follow during a repair.

Gérard Mathiot: However, and this time to the credit of manufacturers, speaking of more recent appliances, it must be said that the more complex a device is, the more complicated the electronic diagrams have to be. There was a time when each card had a slide because each card had a function. Today, cards are such multi-functional things that the diagrams have to be split between several pages, or the information is so small that it becomes difficult to read. When a diagram covers seven pages, it becomes more like playing paper chase.


PACKED: Do you also have problems with monitors?

Gérard Mathiot: No, not really. The only problem we have is with the evolution of flat screens replacing cathode tubes and the quality is truly different. Otherwise, technical problems are rare. In ten years, monitors have few major problems.


 The different fases in the preservation, digitalisation and disclosure of a program. (Photo: INA)


III. Digitisation, Back-up and Communication.


PACKED: At which date must the backup of the entire video archive be completed?

Gérard Mathiot: The end of safeguarding and digitisation is planned for 2015, so in 5 years time.


PACKED: Does the INA also possess archives of daily television broadcasting?

Gérard Mathiot: Yes, at one period there was a compliance recording system saved to Umatic ¾ that was sent to the INA daily by the television channels. Compliance recording saved to Betacam then replaced this. Today we have a live capture system, which allows us to immediately digitise the broadcast and save it to a file.


PACKED: You spoke of a mirror site34 where a copy of the digitised material will be stored. Will this be done on hard drives or on LTO35 tape?

Gérard Mathiot: There is still a lot of debate in the archiving world around this question. Hard drive technology today certainly allows us to store much more information using a lot less space and at an ever-decreasing cost. However, one counter argument is that we have experience with magnetic tapes that we don’t have with other means of storing data such as hard drives. In addition, saving data on LTO tape only uses energy when the archive has to be consulted, whereas a hard drive uses electricity all the time. The fact that the IT service had their say in the decision was a major influence, as their culture is one of hard drives rather than tapes.


PACKED: How is quality control implemented?

Gérard Mathiot: Quality control is an important part of our process. Digitisation comes after a step we call conservation, this means transferring the material to a more permanent format, in this case Digital Betacam. Quality control therefore takes place after this transfer, to make sure that the Digital Betacam tape is of good quality, but of course also to make sure that the transfer is of good quality. We cannot check everything, so we proceed by “surveying” transfers that have been done internally or outsourced, which is the case for transfers of telecine, for example.


PACKED: Is the material restored if the quality is not up to scratch?

Gérard Mathiot: For now, in terms of safeguarding, we do not seek to restore material, but to transfer them as they are and simply take care not to introduce additional problems to those that already exist. Safeguarding is done as is by adjusting the appliance in the best possible way. Restoration, if it takes place, will take place later and on demand if a customer wishes to show an archive with fewer imperfections. In this case, a financial contribution is often asked for.


PACKED: How does digitisation take place?

Gérard Mathiot: First of all we check the contents of each cassette, not in its entirety, only particular moments such as the first and last useful images. All these cassettes are placed in robots, SONY Fexicarts, which were originally broadcasting robots but here are used as video players for digitisation. Today these are not in production anymore, so we buy them whenever we get the opportunity. We use them for cassettes of the Betacam family, including Betacam, Digital Betacam or Betacam SX. These cassettes, if they haven’t just been made at safeguarding, hold material that was already in a Beta format that is usable for digitisation. The robot contains video players that are compatible with all these formats and it is capable of recognising them. The robot’s arm, after reading the bar code of the cassette, will put it in a video player establishing which one should be used first. Once the cassette is in a video player, playback is real-time, so if the cassette is one hour long then the digitising process also lasts one hour.

The video and audio outputs are sent to an encoder36 that is fitted with two cards. One of the cards will process MPEG-137 and the other card MPEG-238 and the whole is sent to the room where all the data is stored as files, for a total of 430,000 hours of television and 230,000 hours of radio stored on LTO or hard drive. The process is semi-automatic; once the cassettes have been loaded onto the Flexicart, digitisation is autonomous.

And whenever there is an emergency, all we have to do is change the date in the computer management system and tell the system that the tape was needed yesterday, and it will be processed in priority. This is something that happens less often as the most demanded archives are already digitised. During the day, technicians check the quality of playback and encoding during the digitisation process. In the morning, when the appliances have been running all night, the technicians check the files one by one, not in their entirety, but also by sampling. We cannot achieve 100% reliability, but risks are reduced to a minimum.


PACKED: Which formats are used for digitisation and storage?

Gérard Mathiot: During the digitisation process, two types of file are produced; a high-resolution MPEG-2 8MB file and a low-resolution MPEG-1 file. The low-resolution file will be used on the Internet, and the high-resolution file can be made available to the customers who wish to use it.


PACKED: What are the media used to store these files?

Gérard Mathiot: This is all stored on LTO tape and hard drive. We initially made the decision to use SONY DTF39, which is why you can still find robots for this type of tape here today. But a few years after we chose this format, SONY decided to stop producing this type of tape.

Since the demise of DTF, the MPEG-2 files are stored on LTO magnetic tape. We can save 108 hours of material with LTO-3 and with LTO-5, which is the format we will upgrade to; we will be able to save 400 hours of material. The advantage of LTO is that it is an open format, produced by several manufacturers, which avoids us being tied to a single supplier, as was the case with Sony DTF.

If the air conditioning is always on here, it’s because of the mainframes. As for the backup system maintenance; the company that sold it to us does it.


 LTO-tapes. (Photo:


PACKED: Is the building where all this data is stored secured?

Gérard Mathiot: There are power generators for the hard drives and the air conditioning. An emergency system with gas bottles will eliminate the oxygen in the room if a fire breaks out. In addition, a limited number of people have access thanks to a fingerprint reader.


PACKED: Will this data also have to migrate at some point in time?

Gérard Mathiot: Yes, once the LTO tapes are well used, we will decide if we copy them to a newer format. And in opposition to the original videotapes, this would no longer be a real-time process, but a much faster one.


PACKED: How are the archives supplied and passed on to customers?

Gérard Mathiot: After validation by our legal management that the INA possesses the rights of the programme to be released, the commercial management confirms the order, and a copy of the archive can be made and sent to the customer. This copy is made from the MPEG-2 sequence stored on LTO tape and read by the robot. As time goes by we will deliver more and more files, and fewer DVDs or cassettes.


PACKED: Which format is used to send this copy?

Gérard Mathiot: Copies to Digital Betacam, Betacam SP or DVD are produced by the SNC. We can send a file containing the programme, with no physical media, from the urgent communication service. Eventually, when all of our customers are equipped to receive files, then production of cassettes and DVDs will become marginal.


PACKED: When all the Digital Betacam tapes are digitised and tapes are finally replaced by archive files, will a non-compressed40 format be used?

Gérard Mathiot: The MPEG-2 format currently produced from Digital Betacam cassette is a compressed format. When we have restoration work to do, we have to start over from the Digital Betacam tape that contains a maximum amount of information. Good restoration is only possible with a sufficient amount of data, because restoration tools are more and more powerful and need a maximum amount of detail.

We are currently thinking and researching a possible conservation format to replace the Digital Betacam cassette, as it will soon be obsolete.





  • 1. 2-inch quadruplex (also called 2″ quad, or just quad, for short) was the first practical and commercially successful videotape format. It was developed and released for the broadcast television industry in 1956 by the American Company Ampex.
  • 2. 1-inch type B is a videotape format developed by the Bosch Fernseh division of Bosch in Germany in 1976. Its 1”tape was stored on a reel. It was not as successful as its direct competitor, the 1 inch type C.
  • 3. 1 inch Type C is an open-reel professional videotape format co-developed and introduced by Ampex and Sony in 1976. It became the replacement for the then-dominant Quadruplex (2 inch Quad for short) open-reel format, due to the smaller size and slightly higher video quality.
  • 4. U-matic ¾ inch is an analog video format that was developed by Sony in the late 1960s and consisted of a ¾ inch tape inside a cassette. Its successor was the Betacam analog format.
  • 5. U-matic spawned two variants: BVU (Broadcast Video Umatic), introduced in 1978, and BVU SP (Broadcast Video Umatic Superior Performance), introduced in 1988. These two variants were both designed to improve picture quality.
  • 6. Betacam is a professional videotape format developed by Sony from 1982 and launched in 1983. Like with VHS, the cassettes, with a ½ inch tape, come in two sizes: S and L, which are of two different colours. It was the first professional analog format that allowed separate recording of luminance and chrominance signals.
  • 7. Betacam SP (for 'Superior Performance') increases the horizontal resolution to 400 lines or even 700 lines for the most recent versions, bandwidth and sound quality are improved with the number of audio tracks increasing from 2 to 4. Beta SP became the industry standard for most television channels until the end of the 1990s.
  • 8. Telecine is the name given to various optical and electronic techniques for converting motion picture film to video, which allows the broadcasting, recording or editing of video media (videocassette, DVD, Blu-ray, etc…). This consists in transferring the contents of each frame and converting the framerate from film framerate (24 frames/second) to television framerates. The technique used will depend on the television standards that the images are being made for; there are two main techniques: 3:2 pulldown (also called 2:3 pulldown) used in NTSC and 2:2 pulldown (or PAL speed up) used in PAL or in SECAM.
  • 9. Betamax is a type of videocassette with a ½ inch tape. The format was created by Sony in 1975 and was intended for the domestic recording of television.
  • 10. VHS designates a recording standard of video signal onto ½ inch tape developed by JVC in the late 1970s. Its mass distribution was launched in 1976. During the 1980s and 1990s, VHS became the standard format of general public video ahead of its competitors: Sony Betamax and Philips V2000.
  • 11. RTI is an American company that sells, amongst other things, machines that clean and evaluate videotapes of different formats such as 1 inch or Umatic. See:
  • 12. Certain magnetic particles of iron oxide can sometimes peel off the videotape.
  • 13. The CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique or National Scientific Research Centre) is the largest French public research centre.
  • 14. RF is an acronym for Radio Frequency. This corresponds to an oscillation rate of an electric signal of between 30 kHz and 300GHz. Gerard Mathiot is referring here to the electric level output of the video heads.
  • 15. A great number of videotapes are victim of the Sticky Shed Syndrome, which is the result of hydrolysis of the binder that attaches the particles of iron oxide to the plastic carrier.
  • 16. DOM-TOM: an acronym that signifies Departement d'outre-mer - Territoire d'outre-mer, which regroups all of the lands under French sovereignty outside of Metropolitan France, such as Guadeloupe, Reunion or Tahiti.
  • 17. Certain moulds present on the tapes can cause various health problems such as lung or sinus infections or asthma.
  • 18. An oscilloscope is an instrument that allows the visualisation of an electrical signal, most often plotted as a function of time. It is used by many scientists to observe electrical currents, and other physical scales that have been transformed into current by an appropriate converter.
  • 19. The CD card is the colour-decoding card. CD14 for PAL and CD15 for SECAM.
  • 20. The YD card is the Luminance Demodulating card. Luminance (written Y) is the part of the video signal that corresponds to the intensity of the signal that is produced, or the level between black and white.
  • 21. Also called “variable resistor” or “rheostat”, the potentiometer can be considered to be a resistor, the value (in ohms) of which can be adjusted between two points, by simple mechanical action on a rotary or rectilinear axis. Potentiometers have many common uses in electronics: each time we turn a button to raise or lower the volume of a radio, or the luminosity of a lamp, we adjust a potentiometer.
  • 22. In a video recorder, the capstan is a device that reels the tape at a standard regular speed. The pinch roller that tightens the magnetic tape supports this.
  • 23. Isonet is a dry cleaning product for magnetic tapes and optics sold by Jelt. See:
  • 24. A capacitor is an electronic component that acts like a battery capable of storing electric charge. It consists of two conductive plates separated by a thin amount of insulating material (dielectric). It is characterized by its capacitance in Farads (F). There are several types of capacitor (polarized, non polarized, electrolytic etc…).
  • 25. A Sony Flexicart is a type of robot that can be controlled by a computer programme to accomplish automatic tasks with several video recorders or players, such as recording the same signal to several media, or the playback of several tapes according to predefined and programmed criteria.
  • 26. The spares centre is situated in Londerzeel, Belgium. More info: Sony Belgium - Sony Benelux B.V., Customer Info Centre, Techologielaan 7, 1840 Londerzeel, Belgium, tel: +32 70 222127, fax: +32 70 222127, e-mail:
  • 27. A micron is the unofficial name for a micrometre, equivalent to 10-6 metres or 0.000,001 metre or 0.001 millimetres.
  • 28. Founded in 1991, KIMOCE is a French editor of management software. See:
  • 29. A CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) application is a management method designed for the maintenance services of a company to assist with missions of preventive, productive, corrective and prescribed maintenance, stock management, procurement and staff.
  • 30. DAGOBA was the name that the INA chose for its CMMS developed by KIMOCE.
  • 31. Launched in 1992, Microsoft Access, or MS Access (officially Microsoft Office Access) is a pseudo-relational database management system edited by Microsoft. It is part of the MS Office Pro suite.
  • 32. Visual Basic is a programming language that allows the creation of simple graphical applications. The first version of Visual Basic, VB 1.0, was launched in 1991. VBA, Visual Basic for Applications is a version that is directly applicable to software such as Word, Excel, Access or any other programme using VBA.
  • 33. Sony Assist is a programme edited by SONY, which is aimed at technicians, allowing them access to manuals of equipment in the SONY range. See:
  • 34. In information technology, a mirror is an exact copy of a dataset. The mirror site is usually physically separated from the copied data to ensure safer archiving. The mirror of a website, for example, will be an exact copy of the data but on a different server.
  • 35. LTO is an acronym for Linear Tape-Open, an open format developed in the late 1990s for storing data on magnetic tape. It quickly became a standard and the most widely used format for storing data. The latest version is LTO-5; launched in 2008, with a capacity of 1.5 TB and a speed of 140 MB/s. LTO-6 has a planned capacity of 3.2 TB and a speed of 270 MB/s.
  • 36. An audio/video encoder, or codec, transforms data into compressed files.
  • 37. Le MPEG-1 is a video and audio compression format, defined by ISO/IEC-11172 standard and developed by the MPEG group in 1988. The MPEG-1 standard represents each image as a collection of 16 x 16 blocks. It allows a resolution of 352x240 pixels at 30 frames/s in NTSC and 352x288 pixels at 25 frames/s in PAL/SECAM. MPEG-1 allows a speed of about 1.2 MB/s.
  • 38. MPEG-2 is the second-generation standard (1994) from the Moving Pictures Experts Group, following on from MPEG-1. MPEG-2 defines the aspects of video compression through networks for digital television. This video format is used for DVD and SVCD with different resolutions and for satellite digital TV, cable TV, telecom network or terrestrial TV.
  • 39. DTF (for Digital Tape Format) is a tape format for data storage developed by Sony. It consists of a cassette that holds a ½ inch tape. There were two versions of DTF; DTF-1 and DTF-2, as well as two different cassette sizes, S and L. Today, Sony has completely stopped the production of this format.
  • 40. Video compression is a means of data compression, which consists in reducing the amount of data whilst limiting the impact on the visual quality of the video. The advantage is a reduction in the cost of storage and transmission of video files. With a lossless compression, no data is lost, but with a lossy compression, a risk of loss of information exists. A non-compressed video format preserves all of the data from the original signal.
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