Baseball Hall of Fame Changing Archive Format?

As many as 50,000 fans could to be on hand this weekend to watch baseball greats Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While footage of the induction ceremony will be archived on analog tape, the Hall of Fame's first-ever recording using the high-definition format could soon lead to hard disk storage playing full-time role in the archives of the Cooperstown, N.Y., museum.

With a collection of memorabilia that includes everything from vintage 16mm film to more modern formats, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Inc. is looking to modernize its IT systems to handle a host of storage demands, said Benjamin Harry, the organization's recorded media archivist.

The Hall of Fame's current Maxell metal half-inch Betacam SP and BetaCam SF tape architecture already faces a number of challenges, including the finite capacity of tape, the emergence hi-def video and a constant stream of requests for archived footage on CDs and DVDs and in the Blu-Ray format.

Every new shipment of Betacam tape stock -- used by the Hall of Fame as something of a baseline recording format -- is donated annually by Tokyo, Japan-based Hitachi Maxell Ltd. In terms of durability, metal beta tapes typically have a life span of about 30 years.

But just as the old sports cliche holds that "all records are meant to broken," Harry acknowledged that he has already begun to experiment with hard disk storage, and he said it's inevitable that the Hall of Fame will eventually forgo tape and adopt that format. No timetable for the transition has yet been set.

"In archiving, you have to look before you leap, but eventually you have to take that leap," said Harry. "But there is a game of roulette as you see these [data storage] formats cycling through. You wonder 'when do I jump on this merry-go-round that's always changing?'

"We got lucky with BetaCam, which is why I'm reluctant to jump off that boat. But with the advent of hi-def DVD formats, I don't know how that will work on BetaCam SP. ... I can see us definitely moving toward a hard drive environment in the future."

Harry said a lot of technological change is taking place at the Hall of Fame thanks to a recent decision by the multimedia production department to move toward hi-def video. That will result in a trickle-down effect as the department handles more materials suited for that format, including smaller tapes, hard drives and LTO technology.

The multimedia department's main nonlinear video editing system features an Apple Inc. 2.3-GHz Power Mac G5 running Mac OS X 10.4.10 and using 6.5GB of memory. External hard drive storage is provided by a 3.5TB Apple Xserve RAID setup currently attached to one system, with plans in place to share that storage with other nonlinear systems in the future, said Harry.

However, he cautioned that a move to hard drive storage is not without its share of risk. For example, when older film and videos deteriorate, Harry can easily edit out the damaged parts and save the rest. But if that footage is stored on hard disk, and a disk fails, is rendered unreadable or crashes due to a network problem, recovery can be much more problematic.

In preparing for this weekend's induction ceremony for Ripken, a former Baltimore Oriole, and Gwynn, who played for the San Diego Padres, Harry worked with Major League Baseball to create video packages featuring their career highlights and individual interviews. The footage will be played for fans on hand for the festivities.

From his archivist's perch, Harry said that it's not the grandiose celebrations and record-setting moments that he most enjoys saving and sharing, but rather the personal interviews and simple vignettes captured long ago.

For instance, he is looking forward to the audience reaction to footage of Ripken that doesn't focus on the player's famous streak of 2,632 consecutive games that lasted from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998. "As people get into their seats, we have reels of stock footage of Cal's highlights. I thought I could be real generous because I thought people would want to hear an interview of him from 1985. Even though it's not a landmark game, I thought it would be cool to see him while he was young and in the early stages of the streak," Harry said.

This story, "Baseball Hall of Fame Changing Archive Format?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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