March 25, 2013

Saving old tape recordings using ESXi and Ubuntu

For years I've had piles of old Digital-8 (plus a few Hi-8) tapes stored that will eventually become very hard to read as the hardware supporting them has not been for sale in many years. The existing units that are still alive are getting old (I had this cam to the repair shop twice during the last two years of service (2000-2009)). Getting the tape data to a more accessible storage device is important or I'm risking it will be lost forever, stuck on media that nobody can read.

  1. ESXi 5.1
  2. VT-d enabled in BIOS on the host
  3. Physical server with IEEE 1394 firewire card. I had one integrated on the motherboard (Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD3, Socket-AM3+)
  4. Host / Hardware / Advanced Settings / DirectPath IO / Edit / Select 1394 device
  5. Ubuntu Server 10.04 LTS with dvgrab
  6. sudo dvgrab -a -format raw -rewind -t prefix-

One drawback I had during this setup was that my two port Gig nic also had to be allocated for sharing. I didn't have to configure it for my particular VM, but I could no longer use it for vSwitching. :(
In the VM I added the firewire card under Add / PCI device.
lspci revealed that my VM could indeed see the firewire card.
The command I'm using to rewind a tape and capturing the data is:
sudo dvgrab -a -format raw -rewind -t prefix-t
I'm also using a script that copies the captured data to a file server after finishing the capture job.

The VM was  a standard install of Ubuntu Server 10.04 LTS and I've included a list of installed packages here.

When creating your VM, keep in mind that a 90 minute Digital-8 tape has about 19 Gigabytes of data.

I initially tried using Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS, first in a VM, and then on a physical box. Both attempts failed even though it looks like at least one guy has gotten it working, but I found several others who had the same problems as me (Error: no camera exists). I did however find a posting indicating that this could be caused by a problem present in newer versions of Ubuntu.

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