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Video Building Block: Time Code

Published September 18, 2020

AQ1.05 Cover - Timecode

As we zoom in even closer on each of the building blocks of a video, we examine length, or the video time. It is noted as a time code, which has various formatting depending on where you are. In America, standards are set forth by SMPTE, the Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

The SMPTE timecode is formatted hour:minute:second:frame. Eg: 01:02:03:04. Those colons are important. If you see any periods or semicolons in the timecode, its actually drop-frame time-code.

Drop-frame is a method used by broadcasters to make time codes match when playing 30 fps video at 29.97 fps. Despite its name, no frames are actually dropped. Instead, two frame time codes are skipped over at every minute mark except when divisible by ten. This eliminates the extra few seconds that would be added on at the end of the video.

DF @ Minute
DF @ 1/10 Minute

From recording to playback, the time code is what makes professional broadcast production possible. With the 32-bits of time data, the production crew can all be in sync and post production editors know precisely where to cut to match the directors specifications.You probably won’t find the SMPTE standard while watching Netflix or YouTube, which are more user friendly with just minutes and seconds. The SMPTE timecode is still stored in there though. You’ll probably only encounter the timecode if you’re editing and broadcasting online.


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