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Before we get into the nitty-gritty of our sound work, let's make sure we fully understand the video formats we are working with. There is a lot to know about video technology, but hey, we're here for sound, not video. So I'll bring things down to the key points that will affect you on the audio side of things. When you are working in Pro Tools with video you're working separately from the master video file, tape, or film. When you finish your work it will have to be re-married to the final visual medium, so it's absolutely essential that we keep everything in frame-accurate sync as lay in our audio. Timecode is the key to making sure everything stays in perfect sync.
SMPTE, an acronym for Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers, came up with a way of counting time for visual media called SMPTE timecode. It's laid out the following way. Here up in our main counter, we have it set to timecode, and the fields go like this. We have hours, minutes, seconds, and finally frames. There are several different timecode rates we can work with. The difference in timecode rates comes from how many frames make up a second. Most of our timecode settings are found in the Session Setup dialog window, which is located under Setup > Session.
Here on the right we have a timecode rate ,and there are all the different timecode rates. When we work with film it's easy. Film runs at a rate of 24 frames per second. We have that setting here. Speaking of celluloid film, people who work with the stuff count time in feet and frames. You can also count feet and frames in the main counter. Set this to Feet+Frames. There are 15 frames per foot on 35-millimeter film. This is an old-school way of working, but I have come across veteran sound designers who still use this as a reference.
Video is a little trickier. In North America we use NTSC video. NTSC, named for National Television System Committee, is the analog television system used in both of North America, South America, and parts of Asia. NTSC video runs at the following rates: 29.97 frames per second, 29.97 frames per second drop, and 23.976 frames per second. Why these crazy numbers? It has to do with the rate of electricity, scan lines of video, and some other really technical stuff.
For now, don't get bogged down with the numbers. Just go with it. Don't let it stump you up. Basically, when we convert film to video it has to be changed to these timecode rates. The Drop frame version of the 29.97 rate accounts for real time. By effectively cheating, it excludes and skips over two frames every minute, except for every 10th minute. The net result is at the minutes and seconds field reflect an accurate duration of time. In other words a drop frame time between 0 and 30 minutes means that a true half hour, 30 minutes, has elapsed.
I can show you this here in our timeline. We set our Main timeline back to Timecode, and here on the Sub counter that's set to Minutes and Seconds. So if I enter in a value of 30 minutes, you can see then the Sub counter it's almost exactly 30 minutes. It's only 2 milliseconds off. Very close to real time. If I go back to 29.97 non-drop frame and I set that to 30 minutes in the timecode field, our Sub time counter, which is real time, shows that they we are almost 2 full seconds, 1.8 seconds off.
So obvious uses of drop frame are broadcast scenarios where timecode needs to reflect a truthful time reference. A lot of video cameras nowadays shoot at a frame rate of 24 frames per second, or 24 PHD, like film. Again, once this gets imported to video editing software and makes it your way, in the NTSC world it becomes 23.976 frames per second. There is a setting for that in the Time Code Rate pulldown menu as well. PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line. It's used in Europe, Australia, and many other Asian and African countries.
PAL has a nice round frame rate of 25 frames per second. You can set that here in the Time Code Rate pulldown as well. We also see frame rates of 30 frames per second and 30 frames per second drop. These are way rarer and used only in music or audio only applications, not with video. Now that we've been talking about timecode, I want to share a little secret. In Pro Tools, as long as you're not syncing your Pro Tools hardware to an external device and your clock source is internal, as we see here, audio always runs at the same absolute speed, and that's determined by the session sample rate, which is assigned when you make a new session.
You can see our session sample right here is at 48 kHz. So the only thing that changes when you alter the timecode settings in his pulldown menu is the playback speed of the video itself and the underline timing grid of your timeline, the way it count frames. If you are in grid mode, like we are here, and you zoom way in, you can see these timing grids in the timeline in the tracks. So the audio doesn't change speeds when you change a timecode rate, just the timing grids. So how do we know what frame rate to use for our project? One thing is to have a really good communication with a video editor in the production team.
Also, Pro Tools has an awesome feature that autodetects the frame rate of video you've imported. Let me zoom out, and we can see our video track. On the left of our video track we have some numbers. This says 23.98 frames per second. That's rounded up from 23.976. You can also see that these numbers are red. When the numbers are red it means that our Pro Tool session is not accurately referencing the timecode rate of this imported video. So if we go here in Session Setup window and we change it to 23.976, the numbers become white and everything is happy.
We are back in sync with the video. Just to be even more sure, we should always have the video editor includes sync pops. This is one frame of tone along with a corresponding frame of video. If I zoom in here, it's pretty common to do this on a flash frame of the number 2 as a countdown. So it goes 4, 3, 2, and 2 is 1 frame long. You can see we have a corresponding beep that corresponds with the frame 2. I will play it, and we can see what this looks like. (beep) That ensures that we are in sync and we are referencing the right timecode rate.
SMPTE timecode and the different frame rates make up some of the terminology and concepts we will be dealing with as we work on video and Pro Tools. As you can see, Pro Tools has all of its bases covered when it comes to this complex integration with video.
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