Seeking with FFmpeg

Cutting small sections

To extract only a small segment in the middle of a movie, it can be used in combination with -t which specifies the duration, like -ss 60 -t 10 to capture from second 60 to 70. Or you can use the -to option to specify an out point, like -ss 60 -to 70 to capture from second 60 to 70. -t and -to are mutually exclusive. If you use both, -t will be used.

Note that if you specify -ss before -i only, the timestamps will be reset to zero, so -t and -to have the same effect:

ffmpeg -ss 00:01:00 -i video.mp4 -to 00:02:00 -c copy cut.mp4
ffmpeg -i video.mp4 -ss 00:01:00 -to 00:02:00 -c copy cut.mp4

Here, the first command will cut from 00:01:00 to 00:03:00 (in the original), whereas the second command would cut from 00:01:00 to 00:02:00, as intended.

If you cut with stream copy (-c copy) you need to use the -avoid_negative_ts 1 option if you want to use that segment with the ​concat demuxer .


ffmpeg -ss 00:03:00 -i video.mp4 -t 60 -c copy -avoid_negative_ts 1 cut.mp4

Time unit syntax

Note that you can use two different time unit formats: sexagesimal (HOURS:MM:SS.MICROSECONDS, as in 01:23:45.678), or in seconds. If a fraction is used, such as 02:30.05, this is interpreted as “5 100ths of a second”, not as frame 5. For instance, 02:30.5 would be 2 minutes, 30 seconds, and a half a second, which would be the same as using 150.5 in seconds.

Doing a bitstream copy gives me a broken file?

If you use -ss with -c:v copy, the resulting bitstream might end up being choppy, not playable, or out of sync with the audio stream, since ffmpeg is forced to only use/split on i-frames.