Timecode is a label that uniquely identifies every frame of video in a clip or project. Most often, timecode is displayed as four pairs of numbers, where the first pair represents hours, then minutes, then seconds, then frames.
NOTE: Sometimes, the frames number is replaced by a decimal representing thousandths of a second. The first three pairs, however, remain the same.
Timecode exists because without it we couldn’t edit. It would be similar to saying: “Come visit my house.” “Where is it?” “Oh, right here in LA.” While it is nice to be invited to visit, the description of the location of the house is far too vague to actually find it.
Same thing with timecode. We need something that specifically, precisely and uniquely identifies every frame. Actually, Final Cut creates a label for each frame composed of the clip’s path name, file name and timecode. This is why you can have two clips with exactly the same file name and timecode, yet Final Cut can still tell them apart.
THE OLDE DAYS
In the “old days,” when video was principally distributed on broadcast television and cable, there were rules about the timecode to be assigned to each project. Setup material, such as bars and tone, started at 00:58:45:00 and the program started precisely at 01:00:00:00. (Programs originating in the EU would often start at 09:58:45:00 and 10:00:00:00, respectively.)
Today, with most vides distributed to the web and setup material no longer required, the rules are much simpler: “Any timecode you want to use is fine.” In fact, most of the time, you can ignore timecode with a clear conscience.
Again, in the old days, editing systems were not as robust as today and we would sometimes need to find ways to change clip timecode – for example, repairing damaged archive clips captured from older video tape. Today, I can’t think of a single reason where changing clip timecode is necessary. Even for those situations where audio and video timecode don’t match, it is easier to dial in an offset than to reset the timecode of the clip itself.
NOTE: Unless your distributor tells you to change timecode, don’t change timecode. The default settings are fine for most projects and any timecode will work for the web.
However, there are times where changing the project timecode can solve problems. Here’s how.
• Open the project with the timecode you want to change into the Timeline.
• Type Cmd + J (or choose: Window > Project Properties).
• At the top of the Inspector, click the blue Modify text button. This opens the Project Properties dialog.
• Enter the starting timecode you want to use for your project in the Starting Timecode text entry box, located at the top of the dialog.
Click OK and you’re done.
You may have heard the terms “drop-frame” and “non-drop-frame” timecode. These terms applied only to standard-definition NTSC video. The frames being “dropped,” were not video frames, but timecode numbers associated with video frames. (“No video frames were harmed in the making of this drop-frame project.” Smile…)
This renumbering was required when television switched from black and white to color video in the late 1950s and caused by the extra time it took to transmit color information as part of the video signal. The rule was:
“Drop two timecode numbers (frames) every minute on the minute except for every tenth minute, when no timecode numbers will be dropped.”
This is why the timecode: 01:00:00:00 exists in 29.97 fps NTSC video, but 01:01:00:00 does not. The first number is on a tenth minute, but the second number is not.
Weird, but true. HD video does not drop any timecode numbers.
10 Responses to Apple Final Cut Pro X: Change Project Timecode
Larry, with HD we typically still use a frame speed of 29.97 and therefore still need to drop frames if we wish to have time code track with our time-of-day clocks.
Ah, good point. Thanks.
But how to set for editing non- drop frame? My distributor requires we put put in non drop frame and I cant find a toggle button in FCPX for it!
There are three frame rates that require drop-frame time code: 23.976, 29.97 and 59.94. Why? Because video does not display fractional frames. Selecting any one of these three means you are using drop-frame timecode. Check with your distributor to see which they prefer. Any whole number timecode is, essentially, non-drop-frame.
Remember, “drop-frame” refers to timecode numbers being dropped, not video frames.
Here’s an article that explains timecode in more detail:
It is generally a good idea that the timecode match the frame rate of your media.
Hi Larry, how come for the life of me I can’t change the source timecode of a clip (as opposed to a project) in FCPX? Seems it was an option in FCP, but no longer. Any help would be great, thanks!
You are correct, you can’t.
Hi Larry, do have any suggestion to solve this problem? Have a client(broadcaster) that need color bars inserted 30 second before the actual film starting.
Color bars are a still frame containing color data that the broadcaster needs to set up their systems. Most digital files don’t need them, but they can be easily added. However, there are two different sets: one for SD Rec. 601 video and one for HD Rec. 709 video. Also different sets for 4:3 and 16:9 media.
Download bars from the SMPTE website, and insert them at the beginning of your program. Remember to always include 10 seconds of black after the bars. As well, many stations require a slate. As them for their specs for pre-program material.
When burning a project to any of the dvd formats does the timecode transfer to the disc as well, or is a new timecode generated for the dvd?
whatever timecode is associated with the compressed version should transfer. Most DVDs use 00:00:00:00.