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Analogue production technology is part of our heritage. With over 8,000 reels of videotape, film and audio in our own archives and regular requests from customers to incorporate analogue archive material in new productions, we have a continuing need to be able to access, view and process analogue material.


The difference between analogue and digital technologies
In analogue video and audio equipment, the signal is generated, processed or recorded with an almost infinite number of discreet levels between zero and maximum - and the maximum level is normally set to allow "headroom" - signals which often for very short time intervals, can overshoot the working maximum, without detriment to the result. In the days of analogue audio and video, the amount of signal headroom was an important indicator of the quality of the technology. Because of the limitations imposed by broadcasters and particularly analogue transmitting equipment, video signals with overshoots were usually clipped within each piece of processing equipment, whilst for audio signals, compressors and limiters would be inserted at critical stages in the production chain. Besides the clipping, limiting and compression circuits themselves, the magnetic tape medium also performed a certain degree of limiting, in that magnetic tape has a somewhat soft saturation curve, by which slightly over-modulated signals are damped in a way that is more discreet and warmer than absolute limiting algorithms. This was not only a limitation of magnetic tape, it was also one of its creative attributes.

With digital audio and video equipment, the signal is generated, processed and recorded in samples - for example 44,100 times a second, and each sample may have an amplitude value of one discreet number between - for example - 0 and 255. The digital circuitry rounds each sample either up to or down to the closest appropriate level - not only as an entire signal, but also its components when these are sampled, processed and recorded separately.

The advantage of digital over analogue technology is its lack of inherent noise and its ability to be processed and replicated many times without any loss or distortion of the signal. The disadvantage of digital over analogue is that digital processing often requires compression or the disposal of signal components that supposedly are indistinguishable to the human ear or eye, to save space (bandwidth) and processing power through the signal chain. Another vital disadvantage is that if the signal input exceeds the nominal maximum input level (for example 255) the digital equipment and its software has no additional data space with which to record and reproduce such signals, instead the signal must be clipped - digitally - often with very discernable results. For this reason, the reference level of digital recordings is set typically between -9db or -20db relative to a maximum signal level of 0db, because above 0db, there is no headroom.

Another challenge with digital signals, particularly video signals, is that the often employ compression algorithms, which implies that the signal, once it has been passed through different parts of the production chain and subjected to several forms of compression, is no longer digitally identical to the original digital recording. (For this reason, we archive our recordings so that in the future, we can always go back to the original before applying whatever compression standard may be most popular in the future).

Therefore it would be an oversimplification to say that digital is always better than analogue per se. Digital technology has evolved rapidly, and continues to to so, not least because it is easier for manufacturers to offer better quality at a lower price - though often at the cost of less functionality.

So, whilst we have embraced digital production technology, we have not completely abandoned the analogue world. Besides access to archive material, for which legacy VTR formats are still essential, there are many situations in which analogue technology still meet the requirements of our production work - and in some cases, may even be superior to digital technology. Though more demanding in terms of calibration, maintenance and operation, analogue technology - particularly in the audio domain - remains a vital aspect of our workflow. The art in the modern world is to be able to combine analogue and digital technology and working methods to achieve the optimal result.

For example, many voiceovers and instrumental recordings benefit from an initial analogue recording process - employing for example a Nagra audio recorder - where the analogue electronics and the magnetic tape medium offer a softer, warmer sound with better handling of sudden transients than can be achieved using digital technology. Such analogue recordings are then ingested and edited digitally.

Similarly, if we need an analogue copy of an analogue master or original recording - especially to deliver it to other professionals who will process it digitally, there can be situations where the best solution is to make a direct dub copy between the appropriate formats, thus avoiding introducing intermediate digital compression into the signal. For this reason, we maintain access to most analogue and early digital video and audio tape formats in our facilities.


 
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2017 Channel 6 Television Denmark
  14/12/2016 18:47

Channel 6 Television Denmark Foerlevvej 6, Mesing, DK-8660 Skanderborg, Denmark
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