Planning a Transfer Station at Señal 3

Now that our digitization equipment has been tested, we began planning the details of our video transfer station, which will become permanent part of Señal 3 la Victoria. The week began with a crash course on video preservation led by Jim Linder. Jim ran the group through the signal flow of a video transfer station, cramming a semester’s worth of coursework in video preservation into just a few hours.


The group participating in the session included Leandro Listorti and Carolina Cappa from the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Taylor Morales and Michael Pazmino from UCLA’s Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS) program, Lucía Secco and Mariel Balás from Archivo General de la Universidad de la República – Uruguay, and Juan Francisco Gonzalez. Everyone took copious notes and had interesting questions and comments. In order to simplify the construction of the transfer station the group made a few important initial decisions:


  1. The station will be an analog-only system. While Señal 3 has tapes in digital video formats like MiniDV or Digital8, this material can be digitized simply by plugging the deck into a computer through Firewire. To simplify the system, we kept digital formats out. In addition, connecting a Firewire cable straight from the deck to the computer is generally considered the purest way to transfer these formats.
  2. We decided not to try to capture timecode as our capture card (the AJA IO LA) does not support it.
  3. The station will only support connecting one video deck at a time. Again, this was for simplicity and to reduce the number of cables necessary to make the system operate. This setup may also reduce the burden on the operator, since very little will change when switching to a different deck.    


(Lucía Secco works out the cabling)



We were all collectively holding our hands on our heads when it came to actually figuring out how many cables were needed. Señal 3’s collection includes a combination of professional (U-matic) and prosumer or consumer video formats (Hi8 and VHS), which means the transfer stations includes a mixture of BNC and RCA cables. We brought an AJA IO LA capture card (purchased off of eBay) to Chile, as it is one of the few cards that captures 10-bit uncompressed video and has a Firewire connection. Firewire was necessary to make sure the card could connect to Señal 3’s older iMac. Unfortunately the card came with its own quirks, one of which is that it only takes XLR audio inputs. This means, in most cases, we have to adapt the audio from RCA to XLR. We are planning to purchase an audio mixer for this purpose.

(Our final drawing of the wiring diagram for the transfer station)

In setting up a station in this context, attention must be paid to voltages. While most computer equipment will adjust to varying voltages, a lot of older video equipment (such as the U-matic deck, the video scopes, and the video monitor) will only operate on 110 volts, which is the standard for the United States. The standard for Chile is 220 volts. We decided to use 2 UPS units, one for each voltage. Luckily Señal 3 has an electrician (Gabriel) who will be able to install separate circuits for each voltage.

Jim suggested purchasing a uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to generate clean power for the digitization system. Power spikes can damage the equipment and also cause problems with the video signal that are hard to diagnose. The UPS will give the system “clean” power. A UPS is essentially a large battery. Power from the wall outlet charges the UPS and then it sends power to other equipment. In order to buy the proper UPS units we needed to determine how much wattage all of the equipment in the system would use.

Hopefully we can acquire most of the equipment and start setting up the station before the weeks end. We also plan to train the staff on how to use the station, how to inspect videotapes, and how to clean video heads.

The cataloging team at Señal 3 continued their work and had a productive day. About fifty more Hi8 tapes were cataloged. Caroline also worked on merging and cleaning up the data from the spreadsheets produced by participants during Saturday’s Community Archiving Workshop. We will be delivering the completed inventory to Pablo Salas.

We still need to speak with Polo and others at Señal 3 about potential codecs as well as file naming and folder conventions. There’s still a lot of work to be done to get the transfer station together, but we are heading in the right direction.


––Jonathan Farbowitz


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