Final Cut Pro: Resolving Timecode Errors

Final Cut Pro has been designed to reliably capture frame accurate timecode from a variety of sources, but certain situations may impede this accuracy. Incorrect reel numbers, breaks in timecode, and failure to calibrate the Timecode Offset Preference can all adversely affect timecode accuracy. This article describes these situations, and how to get resolve them.

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There are two ways that Final Cut Pro can capture timecode while importing video clips. One is through FireWire (the solution available on most consumer DV equipment), the other is through serial device control (either RS-232 or RS-422) on professional VTRs.

FireWire Device Control

There is one important issue to note when using FireWire timecode to capture DV material. When capturing video recorded with miniDV camcorders, it is important to remember that every tape you record starts at hour 00:00:00:00. Unlike DVCam or other professional formats, miniDV does not have user selectable timecode (the ability to manually set at what hour the timecode starts). When batch capturing material from of multiple tapes, it is important to assign individual reel numbers to each tape, and to physically write these reel numbers on the tapes themselves so there is no confusion.

With this in mind, be aware that any timecode break on a miniDV tape results in the timecode resetting itself back to 00:00:00:00. When this happens, it means that there are essentially two or more reels on one tape. This should be avoided because it causes unnecessary confusion, but when it does occur you should note this fact on the tape. Give each section of the tape its own reel number. For example:

  • Tape 10
  • (timecode break)
  • Tape 10a

Be sure to always fast forward the tape to the appropriate section when prompted by Final Cut Pro for Tape 10a before pressing the Okay button.

Serial Device Control

There are two common sources of timecode errors you may encounter when using Serial device control to capture timecode, and both are easily avoided if you are conscientious.

The first occurs when there are timecode breaks on a tape. Timecode breaks occur when a tape is started or stopped while it is being recorded, and a gap appears in the timecode track. This can happen if the camera is powered off while being used in the field, or for any one of a number of other reasons. Timecode breaks do not appear after every shot, but they are not infrequent in typical source material. You may be tempted to record long video clips when logging tapes and capturing material in Final Cut Pro, but the danger in doing so indiscriminately lies in the possibility of capturing a clip with a timecode break somewhere within it.

When this happens, the timecode of the clip is incorrect, resulting in an incorrect offset of the timecode starting at the point of the clip where the timecode break occurred. Video clips with this error can not be recaptured, which can cause significant difficulties. Final Cut Pro warns you of this, but in the case of a large batch capture, it may be difficult to determine which clip is at fault.

The solution to this is simply to take more care in logging and capturing video clips. Shorter, rather than longer, clips should be captured so that when a timecode break occurs, it only affects one or two shots rather than ten minutes worth of material. Furthermore, any visible glitches on the tape should be noted and avoided during the logging process.

The second source of timecode errors occur when the Timecode offset in the Device Control Preferences tab is not calibrated properly.

Figure 1 The Timecode Offset in the Device Control Preferences tab

This can be especially problematic if project files are moved frequently from location to location, between different Final Cut Pro editing workstations. If any of the workstations in question are not calibrated properly and video material is recaptured, all recaptured clips will be offset incorrectly, and all of the in and out points in that project's various sequences will be incorrect. The solution is simply to delete the problematic video clips, recalibrate the Timecode Offset, and recapture the material. For more information on recalibration, please see article 25154: "Final Cut Pro: How to Calibrate Serial Timecode"

Last Modified: Feb 19, 2012

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