Create a random thumbnail of a video file

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Comments: 16

Create a random thumbnail of a video file

Looking at sites like YouTube, you may think it’s quite hard to create a lot of different thumbnails from video files, and have them from random times within that file. But, no, it’s not! As this article shows, by using the very fabulous FFmpeg library, it’s actually a very short amount of code that’s required to create all those lovely random thumbnails.

First a little information about FFmpeg. If you haven’t come across this yet then you’re missing out on an excellent bit of software to put in your tool kit. It can convert and stream all manner of video and audio files, is open source (under LGPL, but with some optional GPL bits), and is always being worked on and developed.

FFmpeg’s homepage is at, where you can grab the latest revision from SVN. If you want it for Windows, then one location I found with quite recent builds is, but if you know any better ones then let me know.

So on with the code…

if (preg_match(‘/Duration: ((\d+):(\d+):(\d+))/s’, `$cmd`, $time)) {
$total = ($time[2] * 3600) + ($time[3] * 60) + $time[4];
$second = rand(1, ($total – 1));

// get the screenshot
$cmd = “$ffmpeg -i $video -deinterlace -an -ss $second -t 00:00:01 -r 1 -y -vcodec mjpeg -f mjpeg $image 2>&1”;
$return = `$cmd`;

// done! 😉
echo ‘done!’;


Nice and short, and that’s even with me being generous over white space!

The two key portions in this code are the ones to get the random time location of the video, which we do by parsing the output from a call to ffmpeg, and then running another command to generate the image.

When running the first command it’s important to remember the 2>&1 to redirect the stderr to stdout, as it’s actually an error message we want to capture. To be on the safe side, I simple add it to all my command line calls to FFmpeg (which in this example is only two!)

Now that you have your thumbnail image you may be thinking that you need to use GD, ImageMagick, or some other graphics library to resize the image, right? Well, you could, if you wanted to, but you could also do it in the very same command line to create the thumbnail! Basically, you’d use the -s flag to resize the thumbnail. For example:

[php]$cmd = “$ffmpeg -i $video -deinterlace -an -ss $second -t 00:00:01 -r 1 -y -s 320×240 -vcodec mjpeg -f mjpeg $image 2>&1”;[/php]

You may also notice the -deinterlace flag in there. You may not need this – it depends on whether you video file needs deinterlacing or not. All of the flags are detailed in the FFmpeg documentation.

Oh, and if you’re taking user input for the video file or output image file, then please remember to escape your variables accordingly! Use something like the escapeshellcmd() PHP function.

Have fun grabbing your video frames!!


16 Responses

  1. thanks alot.i’ve searching for this for a while and never found something useful and simple like this.

  2. Hi, I’m new to PHP scripting.I have downloaded the ffmpge file but don’t know how to install it.. Do i have to just copy the file to the root folder of the web.? I would be thank full if some one could post a sample … Thanks

  3. i can’t run it in linux server.Please guide how to do the same in linux server as wel as where to put ffmpeg.exe in linux server. it’s very urgent.

  4. I’m not overly familiar with installing it on linux, having only done it once some time ago. However, I think all linux distributions come with some kind of package manage such as yum or rpm so you should be able to install it via those channels.

    Here’s how to install ffmpeg on the Dreamhost servers – you should be able to use that as a basis to install on whatever your server is:

  5. I found out that it is a lot faster when the -ss option is put before the -i option. Thought this might help other people as well.

    Thanks for the article, it was very helpful even after three years.

  6. I tried to used the script by modified it to play some of videos that I got. But it isn’t showing the screen. After I run the scripts. it’s displaying “Done”. Please could anybody help me! I did install ffmpeg in my computer Thanks in advance.

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