Today was our second day at Señal 3. After meeting with the members of the volunteer-run community television station yesterday, exploring their studio, and strategizing our approach to archiving and preserving their collection, today we got to hit the ground running.
(Planning our work with Señal 3 in the morning over tea)
The team divided into groups to start inventorying the tapes in the collection, and began designing the station’s digitization station.
Señal 3 keeps detailed annotations on all of their tapes, describing the content of the tape and the corresponding timecode of different sequences or segments. This information is essential to understanding the collection, and having it easily accessible in a spreadsheet makes locating a particular tape way easier, so those who were inventorying the tapes went about the difficult task of copying down all of the info on the tapes’ handwritten labels.
The rest of us – Pamela Vizner, Michael Pazmino, Jonathan Farbowitz, and I – were working on the digitization station. Setting up just about any audiovisual system, particularly one that combines analog and digital equipment, is bound to lead to a little confusion, and this was no exception. The first step of the process was to test all of the equipment. This is easier said than done when combining equipment from different countries with different electrical systems and standards. Cabling is another big chore. For example, the station’s VHS deck has the familiar RCA connectors one might have on their TV at home, while the waveform monitor and vectorscope that APEX donated to the station has BNC connectors. Going from one type of connection to the other is not exactly an insurmountable hurdle, adaptors or other solutions are quite common, but simply determining what the signal flow will be and what adaptors are needed is time consuming, and can be a little painful for one, such as myself, who just wants to start plugging stuff in already, instead of hunting down adapters and cables.
(Jonathan Farbowitz plugs in an RCA cable)
Then there’s troubleshooting. We were using a “color bars” test signal generated by our Time Base Corrector (TBC) to send video signal through the various device in our station to make sure they were working. While testing the different equipment, the vectorscope began behaving oddly. Typically color bars on a vectorscope will look like the image below on the left. For whatever reason, while we were testing equipment, the vectorscope started displaying the signal below on the right. The sort of spiralling circular pattern it’s doing is typically used for calibrating the device. While awesome looking, it should not be doing that when it is supposed to be displaying a video signal.
(not working vectorscope) (working vectorscope)
Isolating an issue in a chain of equipment can be difficult. That is to say, if one device sends a signal to another, to another, and then another, when the end result is not correct, determining where the error occurred takes some effort. Through trial and error, we eventually found that the vectorscope was simply not functioning appropriately, and we decided to take it out of the signal flow all together. This is not an ideal solution, but efforts to repair the device are still ongoing, and in the meantime Señal 3 can use a digital vectorscope at the end of the signal chain to measure the chrominance of the video signal.
(The early stages of our digitization station)
The highlight of my day came at the very end, when Jonathan and I led a discussion about digitization of analog video for preservation. I was a little nervous about trying to describe such a complicated process, especially in a relatively short amount of time. But as we talked through the signal flow of the station we’re designing, and the significance of the different components, many of the APEX participants joined the conversation, easing my worries. Lucía Secco and Mariel Balás from Archivo de la Universidad de la República de Uruguay had lots of great questions that moved our dialog forward. I think everyone came away understanding more about analog video, and how to empirically assess an analog signal. This is my first APEX, but that moment crystallized many of the things I had heard former participants and organizers describe in the months leading up to the trip: An exchange of ideas and expertise across cultures around a field we share a passion for, accomplishing goals with real significance for the local community.