The Analog Sunset
Important notice about the analog video format
This is an important notice about the analog video format. It relates to the phasing out analog media and analog players (VCR, Laserdisc [LD] and slide projectors) in the classrooms at Middlebury College. Please review the next sections for information on the reasons behind this and the approach that LIS plans to undertake.
What do the analog sunset and digital audio/video mean for Middlebury?
Analog media (VHS, Betamax, U-matic, etc.) and certain digital media (LaserDiscs) have become obsolete – new media are not being produced, nor are replacement players. For LaserDisc and VCR technology, better, higher quality, and easier to use digital technologies have emerged. By removing these media players players and slide projectors from classrooms, and by replacing these older formats with digital ones, we can ensure that our classrooms will continue to be functional, easy to use, and easy to support, both now and in the near future.
The media and computer industries have chosen to retire certain older audio and video technologies and move to newer digital audio and video formats. This means the imminent death of VHS, LaserDisc, 3/4" tape and, eventually, even our beloved VGA (and possibly even 16mm and 35mm film, but we don't know that quite yet). BluRay (using a newer connection type - HDMI) and streaming Internet video are the newer formats intended to replace all of the aforementioned older media formats. The DVD format remains alive, for now.
LIS has developed a plan to address the obsolescence of these older formats and support for the new ones. The process is guided by a combination of technology options, copyright law, and input from our user community. The Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines section of the Handbook outlines some of the copyright intricacies. If you currently have a VHS tape, Laserdisc or 35mm slides that you use for class, you should be developing a strategy for migrating the class material to a different media for use inside and outside of class (see #What can you do to prepare.)
Phase I - Beginning January 1, 2013 LIS will no longer add VHS players to new or renovated classrooms. Current status: VHS players were not added to any of the Warner classrooms after the renovations in January, 2013.
Phase II - Beginning January 1, 2014 LIS will begin removing VHS, LaserDisc, and slide projectors from all classrooms except for the main auditoriums (Sunderland Dana, Alexander Twilight Auditorium, and Axinn 232). We need to preserve as many of these devices as possible for spare parts and archival purposes.
Phase III - Onward and upward. LIS will continue to move forward with digital technology, including investigating reliable streaming options, and strive to accommodate any emerging technologies for the future.
What does the analog sunset mean for computers
The VGA plug that can be found on most computers is slowly being phased out. Dell and other computer manufacturers are not including it on some newer computer models - a trend that is likely to continue. HDMI is a new type of audio/video connection that allows audio and video to be sent over the same cable. DisplayPort (used by some Dell computers) and Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt (used by most modern Apple computers) are additional audio/video connection types that are compatible with HDMI and can send both audio and video over the same cable. Both HDMI and DisplayPort aim to reduce audio/video projection complexity and reduce cable clutter. Moreover, both of these connection types allow for higher quality projection.
Of the two, Middlebury has chosen to support HDMI alongside the existing video cables (VGA) for the foreseeable future. Thus, any classrooms built or upgraded after May 2009 will support both HDMI and VGA. This decision was made based on the media industry's decision to support HDMI, Dell's current and future choice to use HDMI and Apple's promise of compatibility between their Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt and HDMI.
- some computers distributed by Middlebury College have a VGA connector only (mostly Dell computers made before 2010)
- other computers distributed by Middlebury College have a DisplayPort and VGA connector (mostly Dells made between 2010 and 2011)
- a third group of computers distributed by Middlebury College have an HDMI and VGA connector (mostly Dells after 2011)
- a fourth group - most current Mac computers - can be connected to VGA or HDMI with the appropriate adapter.
What does the analog sunset mean for DVD, VHS, Laserdisc, 3/4" tape, film slides
- Last (blank) VHS tape produced in 2008. 
- Last standalone VHS player produced in 2008. 
- Last LaserDisc produced in 2000. 
- Last LaserDisc player shipped in 2009. 
- DVDs and DVD players are still actively produced, though it is likely they will eventually be superseded by Blu-Ray and Internet video. More and more titles are simultaneously released on DVD, Blu-Ray and (legal) Internet video.
This means that the supply of VHS/VCR & LaserDisc players and parts is becoming limited. Soon we will no longer be able to buy new players to replace existing ones as they fail. In addition, there will be a limited supply of spare parts and technical personnel that have the knowledge to repair equipment. Middlebury College's timeline is outlined in the Important Dates section above.
What we are doing to prepare
- Over the past two years, LIS has replaced a large amount of analog and obsolete media (VHS & LaserDisc) placed on Library Reserves with DVD or Blu-Ray media. Last winter, a large LaserDisc deselection project reduced our holdings by almost 90% and was lauded by staff and faculty as a strong step forward. In the past year we've been turning our attention to the VHS collection, targeting those items which have never circulated, which reduced our holdings by over 35%. We are currently in the process of removing VHS copies of works for which we also have DVD and/or Blu-Ray versions.
- Other VHS titles have not circulated at all in the past seven years (i.e., since our migration of MIDCAT to the current platform), and we are reviewing those titles with faculty input and assistance. Individual departments should check their collection of media titles for VHS items. If any are crucial for teaching or research, LIS can attempt to purchase new copies in modern format (DVD or Blu-Ray) if we do not already have them. If these formats are not available, we will retain the VHS.
- Our classrooms will continue to have the option of bringing in an analog or obsolete digital device (VCR, LaserDisc player, slide projector) for the foreseeable future. LIS maintains an inventory of VCRs, LaserDisc players, and slide projectors in functional condition available for check-out from the Library circulation desk. However, there is no guarantee that we will be able to maintain and repair these devices indefinately, as new supplies dwindle.
- We are following similar steps with our collection of aging audio cassettes. Cassettes that have never circulated in the past seven years are being reviewed. Cassettes that have been put on reserve or that have circulated will be replaced, retained, or migrated to a newer format.
- Please place individual requests to purchase replacements VHS/LaserDisc media at go/requests.
What can you do to prepare
- If you currently have a VHS tape, Laserdisc or 35mm slides that you use for class, you should be developing a strategy for migrating the class material to a different media for use inside and outside of class. Look for DVD, Blu-Ray or (legal) Internet video replacements for any VHS, LaserDisc, 3/4" tape, or Betamax titles in your personal collection. The Library (go/request) or your liaison (go/liaisons) can work with our media curator to assist you with this. If a commercial digital copy is available we will attempt to purchase a replacement; processing times will vary based on availability. Before any in-house conversion of analog or obsolete digital formats is done, however, we need to determine the legality of the duplication request. Expect about 5 business days for the copyright question to be resolved (this can be a somewhat complex issue) and another 5 business days for the actual conversion.
- If you are purchasing a personal computer or tablet (e.g. iPad) and suspect you may need to use it in a classroom, ensure that it has a VGA port or, if it does not, purchase a VGA video adapter (speak with your vendor for more details about compatible adapters). Keep an eye on this page and MiddPoints/the LIS blog for any announcements on the future of VGA.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What will happen to all the tapes and LaserDiscs in the Library's collection? See the section above, What we are doing to prepare.
- How can I replace my NON-LIS VHS or Laserdisc film that is needed for a class? Check if the Library has a copy of the film already (http://go.middlebury.edu/midcat). If we do not already have the film, the library can search for a replacement - place your request to purchase the item at http://go.middlebury.edu/request.
- How can I replace VHS or Laserdisc material that's in my personal collection? If the material will be used for a class, it is best to follow the recommendation in the answer to the previous question. If the material will not be used for a class, you can try an outside service. LIS is developing self-service options for this purpose. If the material is a recording of an on-campus event, LIS may be able to offer copying and conversion services. See the Audio-Video Copying Services page.
- What has Middlebury College done so far to ease this process? See the section above, What we are doing to prepare.
- What can I do to prepare? See the section above, What can you do to prepare.
- If I convert my VHS tape to DVD, will it increase or decrease the quality? The quality does not increase if a tape is converted to DVD. There may be some loss of quality whenever a conversion happens. It is best to look for a commercially made replacement title. If the tape itself is in poor condition, there is no way to increase the quality or remove errors. Also, attempting to convert tapes that have Macrovision protection will result in a very poor quality picture.
- Does digital media offer higher quality than analog media? When compared to VHS and LaserDisc, yes, a commercially made DVD, Blu-ray or Internet video will usually provide higher quality.
- Can someone help me with a conversion project that includes editing? I'd like to make MP4 clips from a VHS tape for class use (for example)... It is important to get a digital copy of the entire tape, first. That way, you will be able to use the material despite current industry changes. See the answers above for ways you can get a digital copy. After you obtain a digital copy, and provided that LIS has confirmed that the requested copying complies with U.S. copyright law, the Digital Media Tutors (DMTs) in the Wilson Media Lab in the Davis Family Library can assist with these types of projects. With advance notice, DMTs even can complete the conversion from start to finish as a summer project (for summer 2013, see Get Help with Media Projects for Your Courses).