Linear timecode

An encoding of SMPTE timecode data in an audio signal, as defined in SMPTE 12M specification.

Linear (or Longitudinal) Timecode (LTC) is an encoding of SMPTE timecode data in an audio signal, as defined in SMPTE 12M specification. The audio signal is commonly recorded on a VTR track or other storage media. The bits are encoded using the biphase mark code (also known as FM): a 0 bit has a single transition at the start of the bit period. A 1 bit has two transitions, at the beginning and middle of the period. This encoding is self-clocking. Each frame is terminated by a 'sync word' which has a special predefined sync relationship with any video or film content.

A special bit in the linear timecode frame, the biphase mark correction bit, ensures that there is an even number of AC transitions in each timecode frame.

The sound of linear timecode is a jarring and distinctive noise and has been used as a sound-effects shorthand to imply telemetry or computers.

Generation and Distribution

In broadcast video situations, the LTC generator should be tied into house black burst, as should all devices using timecode, to ensure correct color framing and correct synchronization of all digital clocks. When synchronizing multiple clock-dependent digital devices together with video, such as digital audio recorders, the devices must be connected to a common word clock signal that is derived from the house black burst signal. This can be accomplished by using a generator that generates both black burst and video-resolved word clock, or by synchronizing the master digital device to video and synchronizing all subsequent devices to the word clock output of the master digital device (and to LTC).

Made up of 80 bits per frame, where there may be 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, LTC timecode varies from 960 Hz (binary zeros at 24 frames/s) to 2400 Hz (binary ones at 30 frames/s) and thus is comfortably in the audio frequency range. LTC can exist as either a balanced or unbalanced signal and can be treated as an audio signal in regards to distribution. Like audio, LTC can be distributed by standard audio wiring, connectors, distribution amplifiers, and patch bays, and can be ground-isolated with audio transformers. It can also be distributed via 75-ohm video cable and video distribution amplifiers, although the voltage attenuation caused by using a 75-ohm system may cause the signal to drop to a level that can not be read by some equipment.

Care has to be taken with analog audio to avoid audible 'breakthrough' (aka "crosstalk") from the LTC track to the audio tracks.

LTC care:

  • Avoid percussive sounds close to LTC
  • Never process an LTC with noise reduction, eq or compressor
  • Allow pre-roll and post-roll
  • To create negative time code add one hour to time (avoid midnight effect)
  • Always put the slowest device as a master

Longitudinal SMPTE timecode should be played back at a middle-level when recorded on an audio track, as both low and high levels will introduce distortion.

  • LTC
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Last modified on July 23, 2019, 10:15 am is a service provided by Codecide, a company located in Chicago, IL USA.