Tag Archives: timecode

Calculating duration of QuickTime movie files

I have been doing video analysis on quicktime movie files for several years, but have never really had the need to use the time information of the movie files. For a project, I now had the need for getting the timecode in seconds out of the files, and this turned out to be a little more tricky than first expected. Hence this little summary for other people that may be in the same situation.

It turns out that QuickTime uses something called time units for the the internal representation of time, and this is also what is output in Jitter when run my analyses on the files. The time unit is not very meaningful for humans, as it is a combination of frames and a timescale that defines the actual length of each time unit. Apple has posted some more technical information about Timecode Media Handler Functions, but it didn’t really help me solve the problem easily.

Fortunately, there are a few threads on this topic on the Cycling ’74 forum, including one on relating sfplay time to quicktime time, and another on converting quicktime Units into time code. These threads helped me realise that calculating the duration of a movie file in seconds, is as easy as dividing the duration in frames by the timescale. And, by knowing the total number of frames it is then also possible to calculate the frames per second of the file. Now that I know this, it is obvious, but I post the patch here in case there are others looking for this information.

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-----------end_max5_patcher-----------

My main problem, though, was that I already had a lot of analysis files (hundreds) with only the QuickTime time unit as the time reference. It was not an option to rerun these analyses (which have taken weeks to finish), so I had to figure out a way of retroactively calculating a more meaningful timecode (in seconds).

After fiddling around with the time series data for a little while, I realised that it is possible to use the difference between two time samples and, knowing the original fps of the movies (using QuickTime Player to check the fps), calculate the correct duration in seconds. For my dataset there turned out to be only five different time unit durations, so it was fairly easy to write a small script for calculating the durations in Matlab. This is the part of the script that handles the time calculation, in which a is a Matlab structure with my data, hence a.time(1) is the time code of the first sample in the dataset.

time_diff=a.time(2)-a.time(1);
switch(time_diff)
    case 1001
        t = (a.time-a.time(1))/(29.97*time_diff); % 29.97 fps
    case 2000
        t = (a.time-a.time(1))/(29.97*time_diff); % 59.94 fps
    case 3731
        t = (a.time-a.time(1))/(24*time_diff);    % 24 fps
    case 3733
        t = (a.time-a.time(1))/(24*time_diff);    % 24 fps
    case 3750
        t = (a.time-a.time(1))/(24*time_diff);    % 24 fps
    otherwise 
        t = (a.time-a.time(1))/(29.97*time_diff); % 29.97 fps
        disp('!!! Unknown timecode.')
end

For new analyses, I will calculate the correct duration in seconds right away, but this hack has a least helped in solve the problem for my current data set.