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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?

  • 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 '12 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 '12 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 '18 at 2:26
54

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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  • 3
    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 '16 at 20:53
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    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 '17 at 9:32
  • 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 at 23:11
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    @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 at 15:52
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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 `(' – mLstudent33 Mar 5 at 17:47
  • What does setpts=PTS-STARTPTS do? – Kingsley Jul 17 at 0:23
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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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