How to Store your Projects and Event Footage


Now that iMovie '09 allows you to move projects in addition to events (where before you could only move events), it does raise important question: Where do you keep all of this stuff? Archiving digital footage, especially HD footage is not a trivial thing. Storage options are still catching up with the needs of the home videographer.

There is a lot of debate over tape vs. hard drives. I found a nice, detailed analysis (PDF Link) by Ian Simpson of the Wollongong Camera Club reviewing all the ways to archive your footage. But, exporting to DV tape seems to still be missing in iMovie '09, as it was in v. '08. This makes the debate largely moot for iMovie '09 users. So, are there reasonable ways to store iMovie projects and events on disks?

Recordable DVDs
If you don't care to preserve the editability of projects, DVDs can be a decent option, especially if your source footage is 480p or lower quality. (This is probably the case as long as you aren't shooting in any flavor of HD.) But I am serious when I say you can't care about editability. DVD footage is compressed using the MPEG-2 codec, a format not designed for editing. Ripping the DVD later to edit its footage will lead to a very noticeable reduction in quality.

Also, be warned that DVDs may not last as long as you would like for a whole host of reasons. David Pogue recently found this out the hard way. The National Institute of Standards and Technology produced an extensive review (PDF link) of recordable CDs and DVDs as a reference guide for librarians. However, from all I have been able to discover, the jury is still out on the longevity of recordable DVDs. Even if you do things right, there are enough variables in the standard home that could cause your DVDs an untimely demise.

One other point to make about DVDs is that iMovie now lets you move projects while collecting and making copies of the event footage that goes with it. Theoretically, you could use DVDs to store editable footage, as long as the size of the project and its event footage together doesn't exceed the capacity of the disk.

Hard Drives
So what if you just want to keep your projects and event footage on hard drives? There are actually a lot of advantages to this approach, the most significant being convenience. On a hard drive, the files are always ready to go. iMovie can work off external drives as easily as internal ones, and working from multiple external drives is not generally a problem.

But all of us know someone who had a drive go bad. (This makes Time Machine one of the single best things a home computer can have. Don't have Leopard? Plan on the upgrade if you want to use iMovie '09. The software requires it.) How do we reliably store all of this data on hard disks?

Back up! Failing to back up your drives is the best way to insure you will lose something important. External storage prices are going down rapidly and it is easy to find good deals. Time Machine makes backup incredibly easy, so just plan on having at least two copies of everything precious to you.

But hard drives are almost guaranteed to go bad by 5-7 years. This means that you shouldn't plan on buying one drive for life. Think of your data as a moving target. It may stay in one place for a few years, but anything longer than that should make you nervous. Also, be sure to store your drives in cool, dry places as much as possible.

One More Thing: What If My House Burns Down?
It sounds like a funny question, but it is a real concern. Offsite backup is a great practice for this very reason, but may not be feasible for the typical home user. Online backup services aren't yet a reality if you are copying hundreds of gigabytes of data. Luckily, there are disaster-proof options worth looking into. This one from ioSafe even seems reasonably convenient and inexpensive. The truth is, if you don't have a home safe you should be considering one anyway.

The Moving Target Theory
The sad and ultimate truth is that there are no perfect storage options for a typical iMovie user. But this should come as no surprise to you if you ever thought that Zip drives were amazing. (Hey, at one time they really were!) Technology simply moves too quickly for us to find a reliable, long-term solution. So the optimal strategy really seems to be the Moving Target Theory. Keep your data in multiple places and don't plan on storing it in any one medium for more than four to five years. I know this seems daunting if you are shooting enough footage to make a librarian of Congress nervous, but you may not have any other options.


Zillo said...

This a good post. I have this problem and I steel looking to know what to do. I have footages in VHS, C-VHS and Hi8. I still have a nice VHS player and a hi8 camera from Sony. I also have a kind of tape adaptor to play C-VHS tapes in VHS player
I was thinking to connect the camera to the VHS player, and using new Hi8 capture all VHS and C-VHS tapes. Later I could transfer all Hi8 tapes I have to my Mac. What do you think?

Another problem I have is about what to save. If I have a 10 minutes video capture of my kids playing but I would only use 3 minutes of that. The other 7 minutes are good footage but not for a clip. What should I do? Use the 3 minutes and trow the 7 minutes off or use the 3 minutes and keep all footage for a later project or as documentation for the kids when they get older?

Stephanie said...

Have you heard of Carbonite? My parents use it for their PC and I looked into it today and signed up for a free 15-day trial. I would love to use that for my sole backup and just use external drives as storage space for our media.

Time Machine confuses me. In trying to free space last night, I deleted a bunch of old backups off the external HD and all of a sudden I had almost 450 GB of free space (out of 500GB). I moved a bunch of stuff from the internal HD to the external. Then when I went to initiate a new backup (I realized it somehow got turned off a few weeks ago), it said that the backup was going to take up 330-something GB of space on the external. Does that seem right?

John said...

I am using this at work and running out of space.
What do you keep in order to retain all footage, plus keep it in the editing stage of when last used?

Keeping the Event Library and the project Library info., do you just keep the .dvdproj file or all of it? Usually more than 4.7G for DVD.