Displaying Timecode in Final Cut Pro

By default, when Final Cut Pro displays a clip’s timecode, it reads the timecode from the timecode track of the clip’s media file. This timecode is permanently stored in the media file, not in the clip, and it is referred to as the source timecode because it is the same as the timecode from the original source tape. When you display source timecode, you see the timecode directly from the media file timecode track.

Note: It is possible to permanently modify the timecode in a media file’s timecode track, but in most cases this is not recommended, because the whole point of the timecode track is that it allows you to refer back to the original videotape when necessary. If you change the timecode in the media file, the timecode no longer corresponds to the timecode on the original tape, making recapture difficult and project interchange files (such as EDL and OMF files) inaccurate.

Choosing a Timecode Display Option

Final Cut Pro has the following timecode display options, although not all options are available for all frame rates:

  • Non-Drop Frame: The timecode counter counts at a consistent rate without dropping any numbers from the count. Non-drop frame timecode is available as a display option for every frame rate.
  • Drop Frame: Frames 0 and 1 are skipped the first second of every minute, unless the minute number is exactly divisible by 10. The dropped numbers do not appear in the Final Cut Pro timecode fields because they’ve been dropped and are not on your tape. Drop frame timecode is only available as a display option for 29.97 fps (NTSC) media files.
  • 60 @ 30: Displays 60 fps video with 30 fps timecode. This option is used to display timecode for 60 fps formats (such as 720p60) using 30 fps timecode. This option matches the timecode display on many VTRs that can play 60 fps formats (such as a DVCPRO HD deck). Each timecode number represents a pair of video frames, with the second frame distinguished by an asterisk (*). This option is available only for 60 and 59.94 fps (high definition) media files.
  • Frames: Shows an absolute frame count instead of hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. This option is available for any frame rate.
  • Feet + Frames: Displays a film feet and frames counter using the default film standard assigned in the Project Properties. To change the current film standard in your project, choose Edit > Project Properties and select an option from the Default Film Standard pop-up menu.

Final Cut Pro can display a clip’s timecode in several different display formats without modifying the timecode itself. For example, for animators, an absolute frame counter (simply called frames in Final Cut Pro), can be more helpful than SMPTE timecode. It is simple to change the timecode display in the Viewer, Canvas, Browser, or Timeline to show an absolute frame count instead of hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. You can switch back to a normal timecode display at any time.

If you aren’t using NTSC footage, there is no option for drop frame timecode display because only 30 fps timecode has a drop frame mode. PAL (25 fps) footage and 60 fps high definition footage only have a non-drop frame display mode. Non-drop frame simply means that the timecode counter counts at a consistent rate without dropping any numbers from the count. You can think of “non-drop frame” to mean “normal” timecode display. In most cases, you only have the option to display your timecode as non-drop frame (normal timecode count) or frames (an absolute frame counter).

To change the timecode display format
  • Control-click a timecode field in the Viewer, Canvas, Timeline, or Browser, then choose one of the available timecode display options from the shortcut menu.

Important: Changing the timecode display of a clip does not modify the actual timecode track in the media file.

Here is how to determine the type of timecode used in Final Cut Pro:

  • Non-drop frame timecode has a colon (:) between the seconds and frames fields, and no numbers are dropped from the counter.

    01:16:59:29, 01:17:00:00

  • Drop frame timecode has a semicolon (;) between the seconds and frames fields, and two timecode numbers are skipped from the frames counter each minute (except every tenth minute).

    01:16:59;29, 01:17:00;02

A clip’s timecode comes directly from its media files. To set sequence timecode, you can use the Drop Frame checkbox in the Timeline Options pane of Sequence Settings. For more information, see Changing Timeline Display Options.

Displaying Timecode Affected by Speed Changes

If you alter the speed of a clip by applying a constant or variable speed change, the frames of the media file are no longer played at their original rate. By default, Final Cut Pro displays the timecode in italics whenever a clip is not playing at normal speed. This option, called View Native Speed, is selected by default.

When View Native Speed is selected, Final Cut Pro displays the clip’s source timecode (the timecode stored in the media file’s timecode track), so you may see timecode numbers repeated or skipped because the video frames themselves are repeated or skipped to create the speed change.

For example, if you adjust a clip’s speed by 200%, Final Cut Pro plays the media file at twice the normal speed, which actually means only half the frames are played (every other frame is skipped). The timecode display shows the actual timecode number of each frame, so the timecode numbers skip, just as the video frames do.

When View Native Speed is deselected, Final Cut Pro increments the timecode number for every frame of the speed-adjusted clip, regardless of which frame of the media file is shown. This timecode display has no accurate relationship to the timecode of the media file or original source tape, but is helpful if you want to see the timecode display increment each time you move forward or backward within the clip. When you turn off View Native Speed, Final Cut Pro creates the illusion that every frame you see in the speed-adjusted clip has a unique timecode number, instead of the timecode numbers incrementing whenever a different frame from the media file is shown.

Usually, it’s best to keep View Native Speed selected because it shows you the actual timecode number for each frame in the media file. If you want to reference a particular frame on your source tape or in the media file, you should have View Native Speed selected so you see the correct source timecode number associated with that frame.

Choosing Source and Auxiliary Timecode Track Display

QuickTime media files can have several timecode tracks, although they typically start with one. The timecode track written when you first capture a media file is called the source timecode track. You can add additional timecode tracks to the media file after you capture. These are called auxiliary (aux) timecode tracks.

Auxiliary timecode tracks do not refer to the original timecode from your source tape, since this is the purpose of the source timecode track. Instead, they can refer to timecode on a different tape, such as an independent audio tape recorded at the same time as the video. In these dual system productions (in which video and audio were recorded separately), the timecode on the videotape and the audio tape are often not the same; yet in post-production, you need to synchronize the video and audio media files together to edit.

Adding auxiliary timecode tracks to your media files allows you to add matching timecode to both media files without removing the original source timecode—which is still important for referring back to your original tapes.

In Final Cut Pro, you can choose which timecode track to display for each clip: source, Aux 1, or Aux 2. Many clips only have a source timecode track, so in these cases there is no option to display Aux 1 or Aux 2 timecode.

Clip Time Versus Source Time

In most situations, it’s best to view the source timecode track of your media file. Because you usually need to refer back to the original source tapes at some point during your project, Final Cut Pro displays source timecode by default. However, if you are working with media files that have a different video frame rate and source timecode rate (such as a 23.98 fps video rate with 30 fps timecode), you may want to display timecode that counts at the video frame rate instead of the actual source timecode track. In Final Cut Pro, this is known as clip time.

For example, if you are editing 23.98 fps (24p) video that came from 29.97 fps tapes, the frame rate of your media files is 23.98 fps, but the timecode track still runs at 30 fps. To see 24 fps timecode that matches the video frame rate, you need to display clip time.

Another example is when you are editing 24 fps clips that came from 25 fps (PAL) tapes. In this case, you can display the original 25 fps timecode (source time) or have Final Cut Pro display 24 fps timecode (clip time).

If your media file’s timecode track and video track have the same rate, there is no difference between source time and clip time. To avoid confusion, you should always display source time unless you have a specific reason to use clip time.

Important: Clip time does not accurately reflect timecode that matches back to the media file or videotape timecode. Do not rely on clip time when trying to refer back to original media files or tapes.

Changing Global Timecode Display Options

Timecode display settings can be globally adjusted for an entire project. For most situations, it’s best to stick with the Final Cut Pro default settings:

  • Timecode: Source Time
  • View Native Speed: Enabled

Note: If you customize a particular clip’s timecode display, its display option overrides the global timecode display option. Affiliate clips are not affected when you change the timecode display of a master or other affiliate clip.

To choose default timecode display options for the active project
  1. In the Browser, click the tab of the project for which you want to change timecode display settings.

  2. Choose Edit > Project Properties.

    Figure. Project Properties window showing the Time Display pop-up menu.
  3. Choose a new timecode display from the Time Display pop-up menu.

  4. Click OK.

To reset the timecode display for all clips in the active project
  1. In the Browser, click the tab of the project for which you want to change timecode display settings.

  2. Choose Edit > Project Properties.

  3. Choose a timecode display from the Time Display pop-up menu.

  4. Select the Reset Time Display checkbox.

  5. Click OK.

To set all clips in the active project to display source time or clip time
  1. In the Browser, click the tab of the project for which you want to change time mode settings.

  2. Choose Edit > Project Properties.

  3. Choose Source Time or Clip Time from the Time Mode pop-up menu.

  4. Click OK.

To change the native clip speed display mode for all clips in the active project
  1. In the Browser, click the tab of the project for which you want to change time mode settings.

  2. Choose Edit > Project Properties.

  3. Select or deselect the View Native Speed checkbox.

  4. Click OK.

Timecode Overlays

Timecode overlays in the Viewer and Canvas always display source time from the media file (not clip time). Timecode overlays are not affected when clip time is selected or View Native Speed is deselected.

To view timecode overlays
  • Choose View > Show Timecode Overlays, so there’s a checkmark next to it (or press Option-Z).

Each timecode overlay is colored to indicate linked video and audio clips. A plus sign (+) next to the video or audio overlay title indicates that there are additional timecode overlays that cannot fit. Changing the size of the Canvas or Viewer can sometimes reveal additional timecode overlays.

Figure. Timecode overlays in the Canvas.

You can use timecode overlays to verify that video “window burn” timecode (visible timecode in the video picture itself) matches the source timecode of the media file.

Timecode Viewer

The resizable Timecode Viewer makes reading current timecode very easy, particularly from a distance. By default, the Timecode Viewer displays the timecode for either the Timeline/Canvas or the Viewer as well as the corresponding sequence name or clip name.

Figure. Timecode Viewer showing the current timecode.
To open the Timecode Viewer
  • Choose Tools > Timecode Viewer (or press Control-T).

You can display additional information in the top half or the bottom half of the Timecode Viewer, including additional channels of timecode and a variety of metadata fields.

To display or hide the frame counter or additional channels of timecode
  1. Control-click the top half of the Timecode Viewer.

  2. Choose one or more of the following from the shortcut menu:

    • Timecode Frames

    • AUX 1 Timecode

    • AUX 2 Timecode

To display or hide additional metadata
  1. Control-click the bottom half of the Timecode Viewer.

  2. Choose one or more of the following from the shortcut menu:

    • Duration (Total)

    • Duration (Marked)

    • Shot / Take

    • Angle

    • Log Note

    • Master Comment 1

    • Master Comment 2

    • Master Comment 3

    • Master Comment 4

    • Description

    • Label

You can adjust the size of the text in the Timecode Viewer.

To resize the text in the Timecode Viewer
  • Do one or both of the following:

    • Drag the lower-right corner of the Timecode Viewer.

    • Drag the dividing line between the top half and the bottom half up or down.

Determining Speed Settings in the Timecode Field

You can experiment to determine how speed settings affect the timecode view.

To see how speed settings affect the timecode view
  1. Open a clip in the Viewer.

  2. Choose Modify > Speed (or press Command-J).

  3. Type “25” in the Speed field, then click OK.

    The clip now plays back frames from the media file at 25 percent speed. The source timecode plays back just as slowly.

  4. In the Viewer, move through the clip one frame at a time using the Left Arrow and Right Arrow keys.

    Note that the timecode numbers change once every four frames. This is because the speed-adjusted clip holds each video frame for a duration of four frames, and the native timecode numbers are displayed. The video frames and the timecode numbers change only every fourth frame when viewed in the speed-adjusted clip.

  5. Control-click the Current Timecode field, then choose View Native Speed from the shortcut menu to deselect it.

    Note: When View Native Speed is deselected, the timecode field is no longer italicized.

  6. In the Viewer, move through the clip one frame at a time using the Left Arrow and Right Arrow keys.

    Final Cut Pro now increments the timecode at the frame rate of the clip, ignoring any speed adjustments. This timecode is not accurate to the timecode of the media file, but it allows you to see the timecode counter increment each time you advance a frame.

    If you want to see the actual source timecode of each frame of the media file, leave View Native Speed selected.