The issue of old digital footage being able to be retrieved years later came to the fore this weekend as I went to access some of my old journalism stories from when I worked at CNBC in the early noughties.

After a (relatively) short 7 years, the codec used to archive those stories was all but impossible to track down. I simply could not play back the files from disk no matter what I tried. And I’m pretty good at this stuff – usually.

I had tried a couple of times over the intervening 7 years to hunt down the pesky codec and had failed each time.

Fortunately this time round I succeeded, but it serves as a cautionary tale for anyone with video files stored on disk (i.e. all of us!)

For the benefit of those hunting for the same file, here is the Avid AVRN (aka AVDJ, aka M-JPEG) codec for PC which I’m RE-HOSTING so it doesn’t disappear.

Avid AVRN codec for PC

Mac users will have to borrow the wife’s PC (as I did), borrow somebody else’s, or use emulation / Bootcamp to do it. I’m a Mac user and completely failed to find a Mac version of the codec, even though the original Media Composer Edit Suite where the stories were archived was all Mac based.

The average home user is unlikely to be faced with finding such an obscure ‘broadcast’ codec, but operating systems come and go, software companies go out of business, or, (in the case of Avid), fail to make available their old codecs adequately.

The lesson learned is that a digital ‘audit’ of all your precious video files should be something you do every 5 years at least. Try to play your video files back, be aware whether they’re encoded with a codec that’s going out of use (use tools like Gspot and MediaInfo Mac to know which codec you’re using and do research) and consider re-encoding them to a currently popular codec that is widely available and unlikely to disappear. If you use something widely used like H264, you probably will never have to re-encode them again.

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