MIDI timecode

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{system, computer, user}
{film, series, show}
{black, white, people}

MIDI time code (MTC), or MIDI time division, embeds the same timing information as standard SMPTE time code as a series of small 'quarter-frame' MIDI messages. There is no provision for the user bits in the standard MIDI time code messages, and SysEx messages are used to carry this information instead. The quarter-frame messages are transmitted in a sequence of eight messages, thus a complete timecode value is specified every two frames. If the MIDI data stream is running close to capacity, the MTC data may arrive a little behind schedule which has the effect of introducing a small amount of jitter. In order to avoid this it is ideal to use a completely separate MIDI port for MTC data. Larger full-frame messages, which encapsulate a frame worth of timecode in a single message, are used to locate to a time while timecode is not running.

Unlike standard SMPTE timecode, MIDI timecode's quarter-frame and full-frame messages carry a two-bit flag value that identifies the rate of the timecode, specifying it as either:

  • 24 frame/s (standard rate for film work)
  • 25 frame/s (standard rate for PAL video)
  • 30 frame/s (drop-frame timecode for NTSC video)
  • 30 frame/s (non-drop timecode for NTSC video)

MTC distinguishes between film speed and video speed only by the rate at which timecode advances, not by the information contained in the timecode messages; thus, 29.97 frame/s dropframe is represented as 30 frame/s dropframe at 0.1% pulldown.

MTC allows the synchronisation of a sequencer or DAW with other devices that can synchronise to MTC or for these devices to 'slave' to a tape machine that is striped with SMPTE. For this to happen a SMPTE to MTC converter needs to be employed. Please note that it is possible for a tape machine to synchronise to an MTC signal (if converted to SMPTE), if the tape machine is able to 'slave' to incoming timecode via motor control, which is a rare feature.

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