VDB Technical FAQ


I would like to use still images of the work; what sorts of images are available?

Stills in the Video Data Bank image archive are taken from our collection at the resolution of the original format. For standard definition this is often 640 x 480 at 72dpi. We often get requests for images at higher resolution. Since these stills are taken directly from video (we do not provide production stills), the images are inherently low resolution because video does not offer the same image quality as film, print, etc. It is also possible for you to convert these stills to any size and resolution that you may need with an image program such as Photoshop. However, the pixilation inherent in video will be more noticeable as the image is enlarged. It is possible to use our stills as print quality (300 dpi) when printing them at 2.13 inches wide or smaller (640 pixels wide at 300dpi = 640/300 wide or 2.13 inches wide). 

Why does early video art have glitches at the top and bottom of the screen?

The work is a piece of early video art with all of the flaws inherent to the early medium. It will never be high resolution or high definition (HD). A certain amount of blurriness and graininess is inherent to the master itself. Early video art was recorded on the first experimental equipment and these particles and lines are part of the work and part of how the video aged before it was digitized. The video will appear much better on an older video monitor—preferably a cathode-ray tube (CRT). The noise at the top and bottom that you see will be masked on an older monitor. This is an inherent part of the archival tape and we have left it as such. If you prefer you can author a new DVD from your archival version masking the top and the bottom of the frame—this will help if you are planning to use a digital display. Some video equipment may have an “overscan” setting that simulates the cropping that was inherent to many CRT screens. 

Are there requirements as to how the video work must be displayed?

Unless specifically stated by the Video Data Bank, installation specifications are largely left to curatorial discretion. The work can be projected or shown on a monitor as you see fit. Sound must be made available for those works with audio. We ask you to keep in mind whether the work is in high definition or not. High definition works should be played from Blu-ray discs or digital files. DVDs are not high definition. Please remember that early video art itself is not high definition and image quality may also include some errors and video glitches inherent to the master tape. In addition we ask that you carefully attend to the intended aspect ratio of the work. VDB distributes work that is both 4:3 and 16:9. If displayed incorrectly on contemporary flat screen monitors 4:3 work can appear stretched.   

Is it possible to screen early video art or standard definition video art on a high definition monitor or projector?

While almost all consumer video equipment is backward compatible with standard definition signals, often the quality of standard definition works can suffer when played on low quality high definition equipment. The standard definition signal encodes fewer pixels than a high definition signal; when playing standard definition work on high definition equipment, the player must scale the image to the larger pixel dimensions. This scaling process, if it is done badly, is responsible for much of the perceived degradation in quality. Often, although not always, the best image quality for high definition monitors or projectors is obtained by playing standard definition works from a computer.


Digital Files

Does VDB provide digital files of works in the collection?

Versions of the works in the collection are available as digital files for use in screenings and exhibitions or for streaming online under the terms and conditions of the Educational Streaming License. 

What kinds of digital files does VDB distribute?

VDB can provide two kinds of widely supported digital versions for use in screenings or exhibitions: H.264 or Apple ProRes 422 video in an MOV container. The H.264 video codec is widely used on the web and consumer video devices including Blu-ray players. Our H.264 files are less compressed, therefore higher quality, than DVD video. The Apple ProRes 422 codec is a high-quality codec designed for editing and mastering high-definition video. Although ProRes offers the highest quality, the files are much larger than H.264 files of the same work and may be impractical to transfer over the Internet. 

What type of file should I get?

For almost all purposes the H.264 file is the most convenient, highest quality digital file we can provide. In a few instances, depending on the details of the video image, it is sometimes preferable to screen an Apple ProRes file; however, ProRes files are much larger than H.264 files of the same work and may be impractical to transfer over the Internet. 

How does VDB deliver digital files?

We use several methods, depending on technical feasibility and our customer’s preferences. Internet delivery options include WeTransfer, for files under 2GB; Dropbox, which is our preferred service; as well as our File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server, which is the most reliable, although the most technically involved method. Finally, some files may be too large to transfer via the Internet, in which case arrangements may be made to ship physical media, e.g. a thumb drive or hard drive. 

What's the best way to play a digital file form the VDB?

Video Data Bank recommends Video LAN Client (VLC) as the best player for viewing the digital files that we provide. The VLC player works on Mac, Windows, and Linux. This open source software can be freely downloaded online.

What's an FTP server?

The File Transfer Protocol, usually simply called “FTP”, is a way to move large files over the Internet. FTP is best for files larger than 2GB when Dropbox is not available. For files under 2GB we sometimes use WeTransfer. VDB maintains an FTP server in order to transfer digital video files to and from customers and artists. We may provide you with our server’s address, login, and password if you need to transfer a large file. Common FTP clients include Fetch (Mac), Cyberduck (Windows and Mac), and FileZilla (Windows and Mac). This software can be freely downloaded online. 

What's the difference between a "compressed" digital file and one that is "uncompressed"?

Video compression reduces the size of files making them easier to store and transfer between computers and enables smooth playback. In trade for practical file sizes, some visual quality may be lost. Files provided for screenings and exhibitions are always compressed to some degree. Uncompressed versions of works are available for Institutional Collection License by museums and collecting institutions. 



Can we upload works we purchase to video streaming sites?

In general, no. VDB is contracted by the artists in its collection to license certain usage rights to customers, which are tied to the physical media formats (e.g. DVD or BluRay). Duplication is prohibited and the artists themselves retain their original copyrights. The notable exception is the Educational Streaming License, which allows educational libraries to provide a secure streaming version of the work to their patrons. Separate streaming licenses must be purchased for each title, with the provison that the educational library must already own or purchase a physical copy of the same work. 

How can our educational institution stream VDB titles to our patrons?

Unfortunately video streaming technologies are extremely diverse and still immature. There are two basic approaches: either purchase services from a third party or set up the infrastructure internally. Third party video hosting vendors include Kaltura, Brightcove, Ooyala and JW Player. Internal infrastructure might include a server running RTSP software (or something similar, like HTTP Live Streaming) that, per the terms of the Educational Streaming License, only serves the campus network or is accessed via a secure library proxy. 

 We are required by federal and state law to provide all instructional content in formats accessible to students with disabilities. May we have your permission to modify content for accessibility purposes? 

Yes, the VDB permits subtitling for accessibility purposes. VDB may have transcripts or closed captioning available for select titles, which can be provided upon request. 

What are the system and browser requirements for optimal site and video viewing?

We recommend using a recent version of a modern web browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. In order to view video on vdb.org, you should have version 10 or greater of the Adobe Flash Player