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I'm trying to use ffmpeg to cut video files at precise times. The ffmpeg help shows an option -timecode_frame_start to specify the starting frame but I am unable to get this command to work. The resulting video always starts at the beginning of the original video. Here's an example of the command I'm running:

ffmpeg -i input.mpg -acodec copy -vcodec copy -timecode_frame_start 200 -vframes 210 -n ouput.mpg

I've moved the timecode_frame_start option before and after the other options with no change in results. Is there an additional option I need to specify? I've tried various file formats, mkv, avi, mp4, and it doesn't appear the problem is codec related. Here is one file I've tried:

http://www.seaotter.com/marine/movies/hermit-long-01.mpg

Am I missing something?

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  • appears this was answered on the mailing list (and NB that with -vcodec copy you can't "really" get frame specific cutting, since it can only resynchronize on i-frames
    – rogerdpack
    Aug 9, 2012 at 11:46
  • @user39364 I asked on the mailing list and it turns out that this option doesn't do what the OP wants. I also learned something new :)
    – slhck
    Aug 9, 2012 at 11:46
  • Just wanted to note that I found a method for cutting at exact frames using melt, see Accurately cut video files from command line - Super User
    – sdaau
    Jan 26, 2018 at 2:26

4 Answers 4

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timecode_frame_start does not work like this.

Seeking based on frame numbers is not possible. The only way to start at specific frames is to convert a number of frames to ss.ms syntax, or hh:mm:ss.ms. So, if your video is at 25 fps, and you want to start at 133 frames, you would need to first calculate the timestamp:

133 / 25 = 5.32

Then run:

ffmpeg -ss 5.32 -i input.mp4 -c:v libx264 -c:a aac out.mp4

Note that cutting on exact frames with bitstream copy (-c:v copy) is not possible, since not all frames are intra-coded ("keyframes"). A video must begin with a keyframe to be decoded properly. You will therefore have to re-encode the video, e.g. to H.264 using -c:v libx264 as shown above. You can also choose a lossless codec like -c:v ffv1 which preserves the quality of the input video.

To summarize, -ss will always be frame-accurate when performing re-encoding.

If you further want to encode a specific number of frames, use -frames:v, for example:

ffmpeg -ss 5.32 -i input.mp4 -c:v libx264 -c:a aac -frames:v 60 out.mp4

Note that you you also have the choice to use the select/aselect filters to select frames/audio samples.

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -vf 'select=gte(n\,100)' -c:v libx264 -c:a aac out.mp4

This, however, is slower than the -ss option shown above, since the entire video will be decoded.

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  • 7
    for videos with drop frames (e.g. 29.97fps) that are over 10 minutes; how would you go about accurately calculating the time for a particular frame?
    – GFoley83
    Sep 5, 2016 at 20:53
  • 2
    the select=gte(n\,100) method works but the seeking is eating up performance. If you test by encoding just 30 frames at a time, The further into the video I start, the longer ffmpeg takes to complete because of the seeking.
    – Adam Grant
    Jan 29, 2017 at 9:32
  • 1
    After applying this method to a video file, in my player (VLC), there's some lingering audio that plays after the video frames have stopped playing. I'm thinking I need to somehow apply this same method to "audio frames". Or simply tell ffmpeg to halt adding more audio once the video has stopped. How do I do that?
    – t-mart
    Feb 14, 2020 at 23:11
  • 2
    @t-mart Add -shortest to make it stop encoding when the shortest stream is finished (i.e. the video stream in your case).
    – slhck
    Feb 16, 2020 at 15:52
  • how can i trim at an exact frame but only re-encode from the starting frame until the first keyframe after that, then copy?
    – Michael
    Oct 7, 2020 at 1:47
19

The option

-vf select="between(n\,start_frame_num\,end_frame_num),setpts=PTS-STARTPTS"

e.g.,

-vf select="between(n\,200\,300),setpts=PTS-STARTPTS"

cuts video from(includes) 200th to(includes) 300th frame, the sequence counting starts from 0.

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    bash: syntax error near unexpected token `(' Mar 5, 2020 at 17:47
  • 2
    What does setpts=PTS-STARTPTS do?
    – Kingsley
    Jul 17, 2020 at 0:23
  • For reference, here's the documentation on ffmpeg filters: ffmpeg.org/ffmpeg-filters.html. In particular, see the section on Multimedia Filters for descriptions of the select and setpts filters (as at 15 Jan 2021 sections 16.14 and 16.16, respectively).
    – Simon Elms
    Jan 14, 2021 at 20:57
  • It would be OK if the audio too were selected accordingly. However, although the visual part stops after the selected end frame but the audio continues.
    – Apostolos
    Apr 20 at 9:15
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LosslessCut is a cross-platform GUI tool that uses FFmpeg as a backend and losslessly cuts your video. You can choose to cut at a keyframe or any frame.

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  • 2
    I don't think this is the case. LosslessCut's README states that it rounds to nearest keyframe. Feb 21, 2022 at 4:36
  • 1
    @matthew-e-brown Using their experimental smart cut feature, any frame can be chosen, and only the frames up to the next keyframe will be re-encoded. It worked great for the one video I tested. Aug 15, 2023 at 21:35
0

I have a solution, but I don't know how to do it using current ffmpeg commands (my trials to copy at keyframes didn't come accurate too. I want to know how ffmpeg decides the cutpoints).

I suggested suggest this algorithm, to divide the segment (t1, t2) that we want to copy to 3 parts:

  1. a part (t1-x, t1+y), which is a complete encoded block that should be re-encoded to be able to copy the part (t1, y) precisely.
  2. a part (t2-z, t3+w), which is a complete encoded block that should be re-encoded to be able to copy the part (z, t2) precisely.
  3. a middle part (y, z) which contains complete encoded blocks, where it can be copied as is.
  4. Join the 3 parts resulted from the above steps.

Note that the first two parts are expected to be small (and one of them or both can be zero length), so, the re-encoding process will be fast. This will make us able to have exact cuts with slightly slower operation but still super faster than re-encoding the full video. It can be even faster if we can do multiple cuts with one command, so we traverse the frames once. I hope if someone can apply this, and tell us how, or mention some of the ffmpeg team, or deliver it to them anyhow.

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  • I agree with your suggestion (and i virtually had such an idea years ago). Such a feature should be provided with options. Before such a feature exists we might manage to do it with shell scripts but I'd rather avoid the troubles such as shell compatibility. I am concerned that codecs or muxers might not support well a variability in the rate (conversely delay) of key frames near the extremities. I learnt recently about Instantaneous Decode Refresh frames and their opposite whatsoever which may cause troubles like interrupted buffered video streams on internet.
    – Link-akro
    Aug 30, 2020 at 15:32

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