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How to Use ffmpeg Command

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What is FFmpeg

The name FFmpeg is derived from the phrase “fast forward” and the name of the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) video standards group. FFmpeg is used for technically demanding operations on media files such as format conversion, encoding, resizing, concatenation, and compression. The application is mainly geared towards industry professionals and software developers. The FFmpeg libraries power many common media-based applications, including YouTube, iTunes, and the video player VLC.

The inherent complexity of FFmpeg and its extensive number of options means it is not always easy for beginners to use. FFmpeg also lacks native input and output mechanisms for audio and video. It does not include a GUI, but some third-party products integrate with it. FFmpeg can be downloaded as an official version or through Linux packages, but it can also be compiled directly from the source code. It is most typically used on Linux or macOS platforms.

FFmpeg operates as a command-line application, so it can be fully incorporated into automated processes. The FFmpeg suite of utilities includes the core ffmpeg tool, the media player ffplay, and ffprobe, which displays media information. ffprobe can also inspect files and individual frames. One of the most useful FFmpeg components is libavcodec, a codec, multiplexer, and demultiplexer library. This library can handle a wide variety of media formats, including relatively uncommon or older ones. It also supports all common platforms and streaming protocols.

Some of the most popular FFmpeg features are as follows:

  • Format transcoding, which converts a file from one format to another, such as .mp3to .wav.
  • File compression
  • Basic editing operations, such as trimming or concatenation
  • Video scaling
  • Adding visual effects or subtitles
  • Frame filtering
  • Frame extraction
  • Standards compliance

How to Install FFmpeg

The following steps illustrate how to install FFmpeg version 4.2 from the default package. This version is suitable for most users. These installation instructions are geared towards Ubuntu users.

  1. Update the available Linux packages.

     sudo apt update
    
  2. Install the ffmpeg package.

     sudo apt install ffmpeg
    
    ffmpeg version 4.2.4-1ubuntu0.1 Copyright (c) 2000-2020 the FFmpeg developers
    built with gcc 9 (Ubuntu 9.3.0-10ubuntu2)
    
  3. To verify the FFmpeg version, use the following command:

     ffmpeg -version
    

Note

FFmpeg can also be compiled from the source code. This approach is recommended for advanced users who might want to modify or tinker with FFmpeg. For instructions on how to compile FFmpeg from source, consult the official FFmpeg Compilation Guide (https://trac.ffmpeg.org/wiki/CompilationGuide).

FFmpeg Options

Certain FFmpeg options are used in many different contexts, so it helps to be familiar with them. Some of these options are appended to the main ffmpeg command to display the available alternatives, for instance, all of the codec files. Others are used when editing the files.

Generic FFmpeg Options

The following FFmpeg options are used to display information. To use these options, specify the ffmpeg command and the option, for example, ffmpeg -devices. For information on the various options, see section 5.2 of the ffmpeg Documentation (http://ffmpeg.org/ffmpeg.html#Generic-options).

Below is a list of the most commonly used generic options.

  • h/-help: Displays the help information.
  • demuxers: Displays the demultiplexer options.
  • muxers: Displays all the available multiplexers.
  • devices: Displays the supported devices.
  • codecs: Lists all the codec options (media bit-stream formats) inside libavcodec.
  • decoders: Lists all decoders.
  • encoders: Lists the available encoders.
  • filters: Displays all the filter options contained in libavfilter.

FFmpeg Command Options

The following FFmpeg options are typically used with the various tools to specify parameters to the command. A full list of options can be found in section 5.4 of the FFmpeg Documentation (https://ffmpeg.org/ffmpeg.html#Main-options).

The list below contains some of the main options.

  • i: Supplies the URL or file location of the input file.
  • c: Specifies the type of codec to use.
  • ss: Indicates the starting input position of the file. FFmpeg “seek scans” as accurately as possible to this position.
  • t: Indicates the duration to read from the input file or write to the output file.
  • target: Is used to specify the target file type.
  • filter: Specifies a filter to apply to the stream.

FFmpeg Stream Specifiers

Most of the FFmpeg options can be used in conjunction with stream specifiers. A stream specifier designates the streams to which the option should be applied. An a indicates an audio stream, while a v denotes a video stream. A zero-based stream index can also be specified. If there is no stream specifier, then the option is applied to all streams.

To use a stream specifier, append it to the option, separating it with a colon. For example, to apply the ac3 codec to the second audio stream, the stream specifier would be -codec:a:1 ac3. However, -codec:a ac3 applies the codec to all audio streams.

For detailed information on stream specifiers, consult the FFmpeg Documentation (https://ffmpeg.org/ffmpeg.html#Stream-specifiers-1).

How to Use FFmpeg to Display File Information

To display technical details about a file, use the ffmpeg -i command along with the file name. The -hide_banner option strips out any details about the FFmpeg application and libraries, and only displays the file information.

Sample files in various formats are available from the File Samples Archive (https://filesamples.com/categories/video). These short clips are very useful for trying out the various FFmpeg capabilities.

ffmpeg -i filename.mov -hide_banner

Running the command should return a similar output:

Input #0, mov,mp4,m4a,3gp,3g2,mj2, from 'filename.mov':
  Metadata:
    major_brand     : qt
    minor_version   : 537199360
    compatible_brands: qt
    creation_time   : 2015-08-05T14:58:54.000000Z
  Duration: 00:01:36.65, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 7909 kb/s
    Stream #0:0(eng): Video: h264 (Main) (avc1 / 0x31637661), yuv420p(tv, bt709), 1280x720, 7905 kb/s, 59.94 fps, 59.94 tbr, 5994 tbn, 11988 tbc (default)
    Metadata:
      creation_time   : 2015-08-05T14:58:54.000000Z
      handler_name    : Apple Video Media Handler
      encoder         : H.264

How to Concatenate a File with FFmpeg

FFmpeg provides a mechanism to concatenate, or join, several media files into one file. All input files must have the same format and use the same codec. For example, all files might be of type mp4.

  1. Create a join.txt file containing the full path of all the files to join. Each file must be preceded by the keyword file and listed on a separate line. Do not add any empty lines between the entries.

    File: join.txt

    1 2 3

    file dir/file1.mov file dir/file2.mov

  2. Use the concat filter to join the files. Specify the join.txt file as the input file. The following command appends file2.mov to the end of file1.mov and saves the resulting file as concatenate.mov.

     ffmpeg -f concat -i join.txt -c copy concatenate.mov
    

    Your output should resemble the following:

    Input #0, concat, from 'join.txt':
      Duration: N/A, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 1428 kb/s
        Stream #0:0(eng): Audio: aac (LC) (mp4a / 0x6134706D), 48000 Hz, stereo, fltp, 126 kb/s
        Metadata:
          creation_time   : 2008-05-01T21:39:25.000000Z
          handler_name    : Apple Sound Media Handler
        Stream #0:1(eng): Video: h264 (Main) (avc1 / 0x31637661), yuv420p(tv, bt709), 1280x720, 1302 kb/s, 29.97 fps, 29.97 tbr, 5994 tbn, 11988 tbc
        Metadata:
          creation_time   : 2008-05-01T21:39:25.000000Z
          handler_name    : Apple Video Media Handler
          encoder         : H.264
    Output #0, mov, to 'concatenate.mov':
      Metadata:
        encoder         : Lavf58.29.100
        Stream #0:0(eng): Video: h264 (Main) (avc1 / 0x31637661), yuv420p(tv, bt709), 1280x720, q=2-31, 1302 kb/s, 29.97 fps, 29.97 tbr, 11988 tbn, 5994 tbc
        Metadata:
          creation_time   : 2008-05-01T21:39:25.000000Z
          handler_name    : Apple Video Media Handler
          encoder         : H.264
        Stream #0:1(eng): Audio: aac (LC) (mp4a / 0x6134706D), 48000 Hz, stereo, fltp, 126 kb/s
        Metadata:
          creation_time   : 2008-05-01T21:39:25.000000Z
          handler_name    : Apple Sound Media Handler
    Stream mapping:
      Stream #0:1 -> #0:0 (copy)
      Stream #0:0 -> #0:1 (copy)
    Press [q] to stop, [?] for help
    [mov,mp4,m4a,3gp,3g2,mj2 @ 0x55d49ab13bc0] Auto-inserting h264_mp4toannexb bitstream filter
    frame= 8116 fps=0.0 q=-1.0 Lsize=   77968kB time=00:04:30.75 bitrate=2359.0kbits/s speed=1.22e+03x
    video:73433kB audio:4180kB subtitle:0kB other streams:0kB global headers:0kB muxing overhead: 0.458374%
    
  3. Verify the file information for concatenate.mov and ensure the file is in the correct format and has the expected length.

     ffmpeg -i concatenate.mov  -hide_banner
    

    The output provides the following information:

    Input #0, mov,mp4,m4a,3gp,3g2,mj2, from 'concatenate.mov':
      Metadata:
        major_brand     : qt
        minor_version   : 512
        compatible_brands: qt
        encoder         : Lavf58.29.100
      Duration: 00:04:30.79, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 2358 kb/s
        Stream #0:0(eng): Video: h264 (Main) (avc1 / 0x31637661), yuv420p(tv, bt709), 1280x720, 2223 kb/s, 29.97 fps, 29.97 tbr, 11988 tbn, 23976 tbc (default)
        Metadata:
          handler_name    : Apple Video Media Handler
          encoder         : H.264
        Stream #0:1(eng): Audio: aac (LC) (mp4a / 0x6134706D), 48000 Hz, stereo, fltp, 126 kb/s (default)
        Metadata:
          handler_name    : Apple Sound Media Handler
    

How to Trim or Cut a Video with FFmpeg

It is possible to cut a smaller segment from a larger media file. The trimmed out section can either be saved as a new file or replace the old one. Use the -ss variable to specify a starting point in hours, minutes, and seconds. It is possible to define the duration of the clip by using the -t option. However, the ending point can also be indicated with the -to option followed by the timestamp of the ending point.

In the following example, the part to trim out begins at 00:01:30 and has a duration of 60 seconds. It is saved to trim.mov.

ffmpeg -i file1.mov -ss 00:01:30 -t 60 -c copy trim.mov

Your output should resemble the following:

...
Output #0, mov, to 'trim.mov':
...
frame= 1797 fps=0.0 q=-1.0 Lsize=   23617kB time=00:00:59.98 bitrate=3225.1kbits/s speed=1.32e+03x
video:22612kB audio:939kB subtitle:0kB other streams:0kB global headers:0kB muxing overhead: 0.279974%

How to Crop a Video with FFmpeg

FFmpeg provides a method for cropping videos. When using the crop filter, add the stream specifier v to indicate that only the video component should be edited. The dimensions and offset of the crop must be in the format crop=w:h:x:y. The w and h are the width and height, in pixels, of the section to crop out. Indicate the offset of the crop using x and y coordinates of the upper left corner.

Note

The crop filter can negatively affect video quality.

ffmpeg -i file1.mov -filter:v "crop=640:480:150:100" crop.mov

After running the command, you should see a similar output:

...
        Output #0, mov, to 'crop.mov':
  Metadata:
    major_brand     : qt
    minor_version   : 512
    compatible_brands: qt
    encoder         : Lavf58.29.100
    Stream #0:0(eng): Video: h264 (libx264) (avc1 / 0x31637661), yuv420p, 640x480, q=-1--1, 29.97 fps, 11988 tbn, 29.97 tbc (default)
...

How to Convert Files with FFmpeg

As long as the input and output formats are supported, it is straightforward to convert between one format and another. Specify the name of the input file, the name of the output file, and the extension that corresponds to the new format. FFmpeg determines the correct format based on the extension. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this process.

.mkv to .mp4 Format

To convert from a .mkv format to .mp4, specify the original file as the input file. Then, specify the name of the new file with the .mp4 extension. This allows for the correct conversion detection formula. The name of the output file does not have to match the name of the input file.

ffmpeg -i file1.mkv convert.mp4

After running the command, your out resembles the following:

Output #0, mp4, to 'convert.mp4':
  Metadata:
    COMPATIBLE_BRANDS: isomavc1
    MAJOR_BRAND     : isom
    MINOR_VERSION   : 1
    encoder         : Lavf58.29.100
    Stream #0:0: Video: h264 (libx264) (avc1 / 0x31637661), yuv420p, 960x400 [SAR 1:1 DAR 12:5], q=-1--1, 23.98 fps, 24k tbn, 23.98 tbc (default)
    Metadata:
      HANDLER_NAME    : GPAC ISO Video Handler
      DURATION        : 00:00:46.550000000
      encoder         : Lavc58.54.100 libx264
    Side data:
      cpb: bitrate max/min/avg: 0/0/0 buffer size: 0 vbv_delay: -1
    Stream #0:1: Audio: aac (LC) (mp4a / 0x6134706D), 48000 Hz, stereo, fltp, 128 kb/s (default)
    Metadata:
      HANDLER_NAME    : GPAC ISO Audio Handler
      DURATION        : 00:00:46.616000000
      encoder         : Lavc58.54.100 aac
frame= 1116 fps= 53 q=-1.0 Lsize=   16058kB time=00:00:46.63 bitrate=2820.7kbits/s speed= 2.2x
video:15326kB audio:701kB subtitle:0kB other streams:0kB global headers:0kB muxing overhead: 0.192612%

.mov to mp4 Format

To convert from a .mov format to .mp4, repeat the process, but use the .mov file as input. The output file is specified with an mp4 extension. FFmpeg auto-detects the format of each file.

ffmpeg -i file1.mov convert2.mp4

How to Use FFmpeg with Python

FFmpeg functionality can be integrated with the Python programming language. This allows common media processing tasks to be handled in software. The FFmpeg-Python package contains an FFmpeg wrapper that supports the most common filters, devices, and codec types.

This approach allows a finer level of control over the media translation process. For example, a developer could write a program to concatenate every other ten-second segment into a new file. For more information on FFmpeg-Python, see the FFmpeg-Python GitHub page (https://github.com/kkroening/ffmpeg-python).

To install FFmpeg-Python, follow the instructions below:

  1. If Python is not already installed, install it using apt.

     sudo apt install python3-dev python3-pip
    
  2. Use pip to install the ffmpeg-python package.

     pip install ffmpeg-python
    
  3. To use FFmpeg-Python in an existing Python project, import the package using the import ffmpeg directive.

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