Avoiding Duplicate Timecode Numbers on a Single Tape

If you aren’t careful during production, you can end up with duplicate timecode numbers on your tape. Each time the camcorder is turned off and on again, there is a potential that the camcorder will reset the timecode counter to zero. This is especially true when working with consumer camcorders. For logging, capturing, and media management, a tape with the same timecode number in two or more locations is very difficult to work with.

If someone asks you to capture media from timecode 00:00:00:00 to 00:01:00:00 on reel 1, you assume that you should capture the first minute of the tape. But if the camcorder was powered off and back on at some point during the shoot, the timecode counter may have reset somewhere in the middle of the tape. This tape has two occurrences of timecode 00:00:00:00, so which occurrence should you capture?

Worse, during logging and capturing, neither Final Cut Pro nor the VTR will necessarily navigate to the proper timecode 00:00:00:00, because there are two. Device control uses timecode for positioning information, and always assumes that timecode numbers increase as the tape progresses. If the timecode starts over somewhere in the middle of the tape, you have to manually navigate to the correct area of the tape.

Logging Tapes with Duplicate Timecode Numbers

If you have to log tapes that have duplicate timecode numbers, make sure that you account for any timecode breaks by assigning separate reel numbers for each section of tape where the timecode reset to 00:00:00:00.

For example, suppose you have a DV tape with footage from 00:00:00:00 to 00:30:00:00, followed by a timecode break. You could name the first half of the tape reel 4-A, and the second half of the tape (which goes from 00:30:00:00 through the end of the tape reel), 4-B. Clips from both reel 4-A and 4-B actually come from one physical tape labeled reel 4, but for ease of media management and clip recapturing, it helps to have a unique reel number for each section of continuous timecode, so you are never confused about where on the tape a particular timecode number is located.

How to Avoid Multiple Occurrences of the Same Timecode Number

Duplicate timecode numbers on a single tape can be one of the most frustrating experiences during logging and capturing. Make sure the camera operator is aware of these pitfalls before shooting, especially when using a consumer camcorder.

Note: A camcorder may automatically shut off after sitting idle for several minutes to conserve battery power. One solution is to use AC power with the camcorder, though this isn’t always practical.

Here are some techniques for avoiding reset timecode counters when shooting with consumer DV camcorders:

  • Prerecord a video signal (preferably black) on each tape before production to create a continuous timecode signal on the entire tape: This is called blacking a tape. You can do this in any camcorder by pressing Record with the lens cap on and the microphone disconnected (to avoid recording any audio signals). The more professional solution is to use a DV deck and its internal black generator. Some DV decks also allow you to choose what timecode number your tape starts with.
  • Dub your tapes so that you copy the video and audio information, but not the timecode: The dubbed tapes become your new source tapes, and you can capture from these.
  • During production, pay attention to the position of your tape: Camcorders attempt to create continuous timecode by quickly reading the last timecode number written on tape. The process of generating new timecode based on the last stored timecode number is referred to as jam syncing timecode. However, if the camcorder doesn’t see a timecode or video signal on the tape (for example, at the beginning of a blank tape), the timecode counter is reset to zero.

    DV camcorders tend to be fairly good at finding the last timecode number on tape as long as the camcorder has not been powered off. If the camcorder is powered off, the best solution is to rewind the tape by a second or two so that the camcorder can jam sync the timecode already written on tape when you start recording again. In theory, this technique can remedy most potential timecode problems. In practice, however, it can be difficult to always remember to rewind, or you may rewind too far and then spend time cueing your tape to make sure you don’t record over part of the previous shot.

    One helpful tip when using this technique is to record several additional seconds well past the end of each shot. If your camcorder is powered off and on, you can rewind a few seconds into the previous shot without worrying that you are going to record over important footage.