Several different audio-video technologies and terms exist. Not all are public knowledge or household words.
HDMI, 4K, Dolby Atmos, etc., are names most people with little familiarity with the audio-video space would have heard of.
However, only true enthusiasts would know specific terminologies—NTSC and PAL are those terms. So, what are they?
If you appreciate history or fancy origin stories, this article will help you understand TV video technologies of yore and how they helped evolve current tech.
Read on to get enlightened.
What is NTSC?
NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) is a color-encoding system used in analog videos. It was used in television broadcasting and DVD players.
The committee handles video standards in America, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, and other locations.
An NTSC image comprises 525 scan lines split between interlaced fields—each containing 262.5 sequences.
NTSC pictures had a maximum of 16 million colors and boasted 30 FPS (frames per second). NTSC employs a tint color for manually correcting color.
NTSC refresh rate started at 60 Hz, conforming to the U.S. electrical current standards. If the refresh rate chosen didn’t align with the power infrastructure, there would have been interference issues.
With the introduction of color, NTSC’s refresh rate fell by 0.1 percent, accommodating discrepancies with the additional color data. NTSC, therefore, technically runs at 29.97 FPS and 59.94 Hz refresh rate.
Introduced in 1953, NTSC streamlined things or addressed the conflicts that arose when TVs transitioned from black-and-white to color. U.S. broadcasting firms were using different color-encoding methods.
NTSC was set up to work with most televisions back then, irrespective of the make or brand. Although analog TV technology is a thing of the past, modern TV broadcasters’ frame rates and resolution lines are identical to NTSC.
NTSC has multiple variants—including NTSC-M, NTSC-J, NTSC-film, NTSC 4.43, OSKM (USSR-NTSC), and NTSC-N/NTSC50.
The abbreviations NTSC-U, NTSC-U/C, or NTSC-US denote North America’s video gaming region, which helps limit games from foreign areas. In other words, the games are not playable in Europe.
What is PAL?
PAL (Phase Alternating Line) is a video mode setup for analog color TVs. It has 625 interlaced lines and a frame rate of 25.
The term “phase alternating line” denotes how a part of a video signal’s color data is reversed with every line, automatically correcting phase mistakes in signal transmission through cancellation.
History and Objective
Designed in Germany during the late 1950s and released in 1963, PAL was developed to provide a color TV requirement for Europe when color televisions were emerging.
PAL intends to address specific NTSC weaknesses, such as signal stability concerns during poor weather. The issue was particularly prevalent in European broadcasting.
PAL helped address the issue by reversing alternate lines in a television signal. PAL also ushered in the locally relevant and necessary 50 Hz picture frequency.
PAL has variants (such as PAL-B/G/H, I and D/K) for different regions, which include Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East. Pretty much all areas that didn’t have NTSC used PAL.
The variants vary with their number of fields, scan lines, active lines, channel bandwidth, video bandwidth, etc.
Note that another system, SECAM, was used in Eastern Europe as an NTSC alternative. During the late 2000s, DVB replaced the system, leaving only a handful of Technicolor color TVs (under various brand names) still incorporating the system.
NTSC and PAL Comparison: Which Has Better Quality?
Both NTSC and PAL were in use before digital broadcasting. However, the two are not identical. The following are some fundamental differences:
|Full form||National Television Standard Committee||Phase Alternating Line|
|Video bandwidth||4.2 MHz||5 MHz|
- NTSC and PAL have marginally divergent color spaces.
- The increased visible (resolution) lines with PAL mean a 20 percent higher resolution compared to NTSC.
- NTSC offers better refresh rates than PAL. PAL, however, outscores NTSC on the color stability front.
- PAL’s 25 FPS refresh number is closer to the 24 FPS used in the movie industry. Films usually use the PAL system after doing some tweaks.
Are NTSC and PAL Still in Use?
NTSC and PAL systems may not be used for broadcasting but remain available for video or filming.
The primary reason they continue to be in use is the frequency or refresh rate requirements they meet in certain regions.
Shooting with NTSC and PAL Settings
If you plan on filming indoors with different artificial sources of light that operate at 50 Hz, change the video setting to PAL to mitigate anti-flickering.
If, however, you’re in America or regions that use the 60 Hz frequency, use the NTSC system. The video system used doesn’t matter if filming outdoors with natural lights.
The power system in Europe and UK functions on the 50 Hz frequency. In America, the power setup employs 60 Hz. Though you cannot see the flickering or discrepancies in frequency, your video camera can.
The two video systems avoided flickering by using frame rates, which were the power system frequency’s multiples.
Since the U.S. power setup was operating at 60 Hz, the FPS used are all divisible elements of the number 60—such as 30, 60, and 120. Likewise, PAL used 100, 50, or 25 FPS—which are dividable factors of 50.
NTSC and PAL Format for YouTube
Since YouTube accepts 24, 30, 60, and all other basic frame rates, the NTSC and PAL video formats used for the video-sharing platform are not a matter of concern.
YouTube, Facebook, and other online video content sites needn’t conform to TV standards or cinematic frame rates.
In its guidelines, YouTube only asserts the content uploaded after encoding must match the frame rate used during recording.
The frame rate you use for YouTube will vary with the content type. For example, travel vlogs with cinematic shots run the best with 25 or 24 FPS. For recording fast-paced stuff, consider using a higher frame rate to negate any possible slower frame rate-induced blur.
Gaming with NTSC and PAL
NTSC and PAL systems and retro video gaming go hand in hand.
Older gaming consoles utilized analog video output. They, therefore, require pairing with a TV that belongs to their region.
For instance, a Super Nintendo (PAL) won’t work on a U.S. (NTSC) TV, thanks to the encoding conflict. You’ll require a converter device that takes the console’s analog input and links to the TV using HDMI to pair the two.
When analog consoles were widespread, certain games worked differently in PAL and NTSC regions. To mitigate problems with frame rate-based timings, game developers used to decelerate games to make up for PAL’s slower frame rate.
The difference was particularly noticeable in fast-paced titles. The slowdown was a significant reason gaming enthusiasts preferred NTSC.
Fortunately, existing gaming consoles are mostly region-agnostic, meaning you can play a Japanese title on an American console without needing conversion.
NTSC and PAL may not be as relevant as they were several years ago. They perhaps could even be completely extinct in most regions.
But if you’re a video geek, it’s worth taking a short trip down history lane to understand the foundations of current video standards.
NTSC and PAL were widely used across the globe. Despite digital TV broadcasting being widely adopted, NTSC and PAL’s legacy continues to be present in several older video equipment and recordings.
Understanding those differences could be vital for those using older video tools or content, besides gaining insights into the evolution of TVs and video production over the decades.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.