SMPTE Timecode Explained

What Is SMPTE Timecode?

SMPTE timecode is a standard for labeling frames of video or film. The standard was developed and defined by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (hence the name SMPTE) and allows for accurate editing, synchronization, and identification of media. SMPTE timecode appears as hour:minute:second:frame (for example, one hour would be written as 01:00:00:00). The frame rate is derived directly from the data of the recorded medium: in other words, the frame rate is inherent to the media, and can differ for film vs. digital, video vs. audio, and color vs. black and white.

Frame rate is important for SMPTE timecode because it dictates how many frames per second (fps) appear in the media. The final part of the SMPTE timecode reflects the frame number; this number can only go as high as the frame rate. For instance, if your frame rate is 29.97 fps, the timecode after hh:mm:01:29 would be hh:mm:02:00. The following chart reflects the frame rate standards developed by SMPTE (as well as the European standards developed by the European Broadcasting Union, EBU):

SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers)
29.97 fps NDF Color 60Hz Non-Real Time
29.97 fps DF Color 60Hz Real Time
30 fps NDF Black & White 60Hz Real Time
59.94 fps NDF Color HD 60Hz Non-Real Time
59.94 fps DF Color HD 60Hz Real Time
60 fps NDF Color HD 60Hz Real Time
EBU (European Broadcasting Union)
25 fps NDF Color 50Hz Real Time
50 fps NDF Color HD 50Hz Real Time
Film
24 fps NDF Color N/A Real Time
23.98 fps NDF Color HD 60Hz Non-Real Time

A slower frame rate creates more of a jump between frames, and allows the eye to interpret action and motion more than it can with higher frame rates.

See more information about Drop Frame vs Non-Drop Frame (DF vs NDF)

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