QCTools: Open Source Toolset to Bring Quality Control for Video within Reach

In this interview, part of the Insights Interview series, FADGI talks with Dave Rice and Devon Landes about the QCTools project.

In a previous blog post, I interviewed Hannah Frost and Jenny Brice about the AV Artifact Atlas, one of the components of Quality Control Tools for Video Preservation, an NEH-funded project which seeks to design and make available community oriented products to reduce the time and effort it takes to perform high-quality video preservation. The less “eyes on” time it takes to do QC work, the more time can be redirected towards quality control and assessment of video on the digitized content most deserving of attention.

Devon

QCTools’ Devon Landes

In this blog post, I interview archivists and software developers Dave Rice and Devon Landes about the latest release version of the QCTools, an open source software toolset to facilitate accurate and efficient assessment of media integrity throughout the archival digitization process.

Kate:  How did the QCTools project come about?

Devon:  There was a recognized need for accessible & affordable tools out there to help archivists, curators, preservationists, etc. in this space. As you mention above, manual quality control work is extremely labor and resource intensive but a necessary part of the preservation process. While there are tools out there, they tend to be geared toward (and priced for) the broadcast television industry, making them out of reach for most non-profit organizations. Additionally, quality control work requires a certain skill set and expertise. Our aim was twofold: to build a tool that was free/open source, but also one that could be used by specialists and non-specialists alike.

Dave

QCTools’ Dave Rice

Dave:  Over the last few years a lot of building blocks for this project were coming in place. Bay Area Video Coalition had been researching and gathering samples of digitization issues through the A/V Artifact Atlas project and meanwhile FFmpeg had made substantial developments in their audiovisual filtering library. Additionally, open source technology for archival and preservation applications has been finding more development, application, and funding. Lastly, the urgency related to the obsolescence issues surrounding analog video and lower costs for digital video management meant that more organizations were starting their own preservation projects for analog video and creating a greater need for an open source response to quality control issues. In 2013, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded BAVC with a Preservation and Access Research and Development grant to develop QCTools.

Kate: Tell us what’s new in this release. Are you pretty much sticking to the plan or have you made adjustments based on user feedback that you didn’t foresee? How has the pilot testing influenced the products?

QCToolsPlaybackFilters

QCTools provides many playback filters. Here the left window shows a frame with the two fields presented separately (revealing the lack of chroma data in field 2). The right window here shows the V plane of the video per field to show what data the deck is providing.

Devon:  The users’ perspective is really important to us and being responsive to their feedback is something we’ve tried to prioritize. We’ve had several user-focused training sessions and workshops which have helped guide and inform our development process. Certain processing filters were added or removed in response to user feedback; obviously UI and navigability issues were informed by our testers. We’ve also established a GitHub issue tracker to capture user feedback which has been pretty active since the latest release and has been really illuminating in terms of what people are finding useful or problematic, etc.

The newest release has quite a few optimizations to improve speed and responsiveness, some additional playback & viewing options, better documentation and support for the creation of an xml-format report.

Dave:  The most substantial example of going ‘off plan’ was the incorporation of video playback. Initially the grant application focused on QCTools as a purely analytical tool which would assess and present quantifications of video metrics via graphs and data visualization. Initial work delved deeply into identifying methodology to use to pick out the right metrics to find what could be unnatural to digitized analog video (such as pixels too dissimilar from their temporal neighbors, or the near-exact repetition of pixel rows, or discrepancies in the rate of change over time between the two video fields). When presenting the earliest prototypes of QCTools to users a recurring question was “How can I see the video?” We redesigned the project so that QCTools would present the video alongside the metrics along with various scopes, meters and visual tools so that now it has a visual and an analytic side.

Kate:   I love that the Project Scope for QCTools quotes both the Library of Congress’s Sustainability of Digital Formats and the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative as influential resources which encourage best practices and standards in audiovisual digitization of analog material for users. I might be more than a little biased but I agree completely. Tell me about some of the other resources and communities that you and the rest of the project team are looking at.

QCTools_vectorscope_illegal

Here the QCTools vectorscope shows a burst of illegal color values. With the QCTools display of plotted graphs this corresponds to a spike in the maximum saturation (SATMAX).

Devon: Bay Area Video Coalition connected us with a group of testers from various backgrounds and professional environments so we’ve been able to tap into a pretty varied community in that sense. Also, their A/V Artifact Atlas has also been an important resource for us and was really the starting point from which QCTools was born.

Dave:  This project would not at all be feasible without the existing work of FFmpeg. QCTools utilizes FFmpeg for all decoding, playback, metadata expression and visual analytics. The QCTools data format is an expression of FFmpeg’s ffprobe schema, which appeared to be one of the only audiovisual file format standards that could efficiently store masses of frame-based metadata.

Kate:   What are the plans for training and documentation on how to use the product(s)?

Devon:  We want the documentation to speak to a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, but it is a challenge to do that and as such it is an ongoing process. We had a really helpful session during one of our tester retreats where users directly and collaboratively made comments and suggestions to the documentation; because of the breadth of their experience it really helped to illuminate gaps and areas for improvement on our end. We hope to continue that kind of engagement with users and also offer them a place to interact more directly with each other via a discussion page or wiki. We’ve also talked about the possibility of recording some training videos and hope to better incorporate the A/V Artifact Atlas as a source of reference in the next release.

Kate:   What’s next for QCTools?

Dave:   We’re presenting the next release of QCTools at the Association of Moving Image Archivists Annual Meeting on October 9th for which we anticipate supporting better summarization of digitization issues per file in a comparative manner. After AMIA, we’ll focus on audio and the incorporation of audio metrics via FFmpeg’s EBUr128 filter. QCTools has been integrated into workflows at BAVC, Dance Heritage Coalition, MOMA, Anthology Film Archives and Die Osterreichische Mediathek so the QCTools issue tracker has been filling up with suggestions which we’ll be tackling in the upcoming months.

Emerging Collaborations for Accessing and Preserving Email

The following is a guest post by Chris Prom, Assistant University Archivist and Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I’ll never forget one lesson from my historical methods class at Marquette University.  Ronald Zupko–famous for his lecture about the bubonic plague and a natural showman–was expounding on what it means to interrogate primary sources–to cast […]

Hybrid Born-Digital and Analog Special Collecting: Megan Halsband on the SPX Comics Collection

Every year, The Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Md brings together a community of alternative comic creators and independent publishers. With a significant history of collecting comics, it made sense for the Library of Congress’ Serial and Government Publications Division and the Prints & Photographs Division to partner with SPX to build a collection documenting […]

Studying, Teaching and Publishing on YouTube: An Interview With Alexandra Juhasz

The following is a guest post from Julia Fernandez, this year’s NDIIPP Junior Fellow. Julia has a background in American studies and working with folklife institutions and worked on a range of projects leading up to CurateCamp Digital Culture in July. This is part of a series of interviews Julia conducted to better understand the […]

DPOE Working Group Moves Forward on Curriculum

For many organizations that are just starting to tackle digital preservation, it can be a daunting challenge – and particularly difficult to figure out the first steps to take.  Education and training may be the best starting point, creating and expanding the expertise available to handle this kind of challenge.  The Digital Preservation Outreach and […]

Preliminary Results for the Ranking Stumbling Blocks for Video Preservation Survey

In a previous blog post, the NDSA Standards and Practices Working Group announced the opening of a survey to rank issues in preserving video collections. The survey closed on August 2, 2014 and while there’s work ahead to analyze the results and develop action plans, we can share some preliminary findings. We purposely cast a […]

Stewarding Early Space Data: An Interview with Emily Frieda Shaw

Preserving and managing research data is a significant concern for scientists and staff at research libraries. With that noted, many likely don’t realize the length of time in which valuable scientific data has accrued on a range of media in research settings. That is, data management often needs to be both backward- and forward-looking, considering […]

Upgrading Image Thumbnails… Or How to Fill a Large Display Without Your Content Team Quitting

The following is a guest post by Chris Adams from the Repository Development Center at the Library of Congress, the technical lead for the World Digital Library. Preservation is usually about maintaining as much information as possible for the future but access requires us to balance factors like image quality against file size and design […]

Untangling the Knot of CAD Preservation

At the 2014 Society of American Archivists meeting, the CAD/BIM Taskforce held a session titled “Frameworks for the Discussion of Architectural Digital Data” to consider the daunting matter of archiving computer-aided design and Building Information Modelling files. This was the latest evidence that — despite some progress in standards and file exchange — archivists and the […]

What Do You Do With 100 Million Photos? David A. Shamma and the Flickr Photos Dataset

Every day, people from around the world upload photos to share on a range of social media sites and web applications. The results are astounding; collections of billions of digital photographs are now stored and managed by several companies and organizations. In this context, Yahoo Labs recently announced that they were making a data set […]