NTSC vs PAL: What are they and which one do I use?

NTSC vs PAL: What are they and which one do I use?

What is NTSC Format?

Shanghai TV tower

NTSC format is the color encoding system used by DVD players and until recently by broadcast television in North America, Japan, and most of South America.

As color televison began to replace black and white, companies in the United States were using a number of different methods for encoding color to be broadcast to people’s homes. However, these methods conflicted both with each other and with older black and white television sets, which weren’t able to interpret the color signals being sent to them. In 1953, the National Television System Committee, after which the NTSC standard is named, developed and enforced a single method that could be used across the nation and be compatible with as many different TV sets as possible.

Though modern television sets don’t strictly use the NTSC format any longer, the timing and type of signal used carry over, so the format they use is usually called NTSC.

What is PAL Format?

PAL format is the color encoding system used by DVD players and broadcast television in Europe, most of Asia and Oceania, most of Africa, and parts of South America.

PAL formatting, along with a third common standard called SECAM (A French acronym that translates as Sequential Color with Memory) was developed in the late 1950s to deal with certain shortcomings of the NTSC system as it became more widely used. The way NTSC encodes color meant the signal lost clarity under poor conditions, so early NTSC systems were vulnerable to bad weather, large buildings, especially rough terrain, and other factors. To solve this problem, the PAL video format reverses every second line in the signal, effectively cancelling out errors. Unlike NTSC, PAL encoding is still often used for over the air broadcasting in the regions in which it was adopted.

NTSC vs PAL: Which one should I use?

The short answer for most people will be NTSC. Many video editing programs such as VideoStudio let you choose whether to output your work as NTSC- or PAL-formatted videos when burning to a DVD.

NTSCvsPAL

Which format you should use mostly depends on your location and that of your viewers, as you can see in the map below. If you’re producing videos that will be viewed globally, NTSC is a safer choice by default – most PAL VCRs and DVD players can play NTSC video, whereas NTSC players generally can’t play PAL video.

NTSC vs PAL World Map

Why are these formats still used?

The short answer is that they aren’t, at least not in the same way that they were originally intended to be. As you might imagine, the technical challenges these encoding systems were created to solve in the 1950’s don’t really apply to the modern world. However, DVDs are still labelled NTSC or PAL, and the timings, resolutions, and refresh rates established in these systems are still used in modern televisions and monitors.

The main reason for this is content regionalization. Using different video formats acts as a layer of physical protection to reinforce national copyright laws and prevent movies and television from being distributed in countries without permission. In fact, this use of the formats as a legal enforcement method is so well-established that the distribution regions for video games and other interactive electronic media are often called the NTSC and PAL regions, even though that kind of software runs perfectly on either type of display.

But what’s the technical difference between PAL and NTSC?

If you’re interested in more technical information about NTSC vs PAL and their history, here’s a brief explanation:

TVs draw their images line by line, and create the illusion of movement by displaying these images, slightly changed, many times per second. The broadcast signal for black and white television simply specified a level of brightness at each point along the line, so each frame was simply a signal with brightness information for each line. Originally, North American televisions displayed 30 frames per second (FPS), or one frame for every full alternation of a 60hz household alternating current outlet. However, when color was added to these broadcasts, the black and white TV sets weren’t able to distinguish the color information from brightness information, so they tried to display the color signal as part of the picture, adding nonsense to the image. To display color without causing this problem, the broadcast needed to have a second chrominance signal added in between the oscillations of the luminance signal, which the black and white TVs would ignore, and the color TVs would look for and display using an adapter called a Colorplexer. Because this extra signal was added in between each frame refresh, it lengthened the amount of time each frame took to transfer, and the actual FPS of the display was reduced, which is why NTSC TV plays at 29.97 frames per second instead of an even 30.

NTSC or PAL

In PAL regions, the standard household outlet uses a 50Hz current, so the default FPS rate was 25. The other primary difference in the two signals is that PAL signal uses 625 signal lines, of which 576 (known as 576i signal) appear as visible lines on the television set, whereas NTSC formatted signal uses 525 lines, of which 480 appear visibly (480i). In PAL video, every second line has the phase of the color signal reversed, which leads to the signals flattening out the frequency between the lines. Effectively what this means is that damage to the signal appears as errors in saturation (level of color) rather than hue (shade of color) as it would appear in NTSC video, leading to a higher-fidelity picture of the original studio version. In exchange, PAL signal loses some vertical color resolution, making colors on lines directly above and beneath one another blur together more, though this effect isn’t visible to the naked human eye.

On a DVD, the signal isn’t encoded based on a carrier wave, so the frequency and phase differences between the two formats don’t exist; the only real difference is the resolution and the frame rate at which the video plays.

So there you have it! More information on NTSC vs PAL than you can shake a stick at! Be sure to check back regularly for more great content here on the Discovery Center.

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Comments (23)

  • Javed awan Reply

    I buy sony bravia from USA and i live in Pakistan here is PAL system but in TV NTSC. Cable not working on this what i do to convert NTSC to PAL

    November 28, 2018 at 9:25 pm
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Javed,

      The first thing to do is check the TV’s manual! Some televisions are able to read both signals and just need a change in their settings. Otherwise, you would need a PAL to NTSC converter in between the wall and your TV.

      Hope this helps!
      Discovery Center Team

      November 30, 2018 at 7:21 pm
  • michele ravara Reply

    COULD SOMEONE HELP ON THIS? Is there any smart tv (4k or not) sold currently in the US that supports also PAL and will work also in Europe?

    November 27, 2018 at 2:31 pm
  • Fabiana Cuggionni Reply

    Hello ! I’m moving from the us to Malaysia, would I be bale to use my TVs there? My understanding is that they have a different system in malayos

    November 25, 2018 at 11:12 pm
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Fabiana,

      Malaysia uses PAL formatting, so the first thing to do is check the TV’s manual! Some televisions are able to read both signals and just need a change in their settings. Otherwise, you would need a PAL to NTSC converter in between the wall and your TV.

      Hope this helps!
      Discovery Center Team

      November 30, 2018 at 7:39 pm
  • Confusing Reply

    I don’t get it… so when they were shooting TV series in the old days in USA, did they use two parallel cameras so they could also show it in european countries? So one camera would film everything in NTSC and the other in PAL? Otherwise there would be errors in the TV show in europe (such as light flickering in indoor scenes)?

    October 11, 2018 at 12:47 pm
  • Clare Turner Reply

    Hi

    I live in the UK and recently purchased a Panasonic 4K Smart TV to take to Jamaica. The TV won’t power on at all?? Can you advise me please. I was also told I need a PaL to NTSC converter ? As the UK use PaL. Hope U can help me

    September 11, 2018 at 11:33 pm
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Clare,

      By default, video signals are encoded in NTSC in Jamaica. Before you buy a converter, we would suggest checking your television’s manual or settings, as many modern HD and 4K TVs have the ability to switch between PAL and NTSC. As for not powering on, that may be a wall power issue! Wall power in Jamaica is 110V, as opposed to the 230V you’ll get out of an outlet in the UK. Check to see if your television has an input voltage toggle or a listing that it accepts 110-240V. If it is only rated for 230V, you would need a step-up transformer to power it.

      Hope this helps!
      Discovery Center Team

      September 12, 2018 at 9:09 pm
  • Alex Reply

    Hello and thank you for such a detailed explanation.

    I have to choose between two seinfeld editions on DVD. NTSC and PAL. If I understood you correctly, the PAL version will be better than the NTSC ?

    right ?

    May 10, 2018 at 4:32 am
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Alex,

      When it comes to DVDs, it all boils down to your region! The difference in quality was more to do with the different encoding methods’ vulnerability to signal degradation over a wireless broadcast. When in doubt, we would suggest NTSC. Most PAL and SECAM players will play an NTSC DVD, but NTSC players often don’t play well with others.

      Hope this helps!

      Discovery Center Team

      May 10, 2018 at 11:02 pm
  • Brian Reply

    I just moved from overseas back to the USA. While overseas, I purchased a high-end Sony UHD TV. It works fine with all my devices here at home, but for the life of me, I can’t get my over-the-air broadcast TV stations when I plug my antenna into it. Unless I’m doing something wrong, it seems like the TV just can’t find the signals. Please help! Thanks!

    February 3, 2018 at 5:42 am
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Brian,

      There are a few things to consider with over the air broadcasting. Are you in or near any apartment buildings? All that concrete is a very common source of signal issues. Second, is this a VHF or a UHF antenna? An increasing number of channels re switching to UHF, so an older VHF antenna may not see all of the available channels. Finally, check the TV manual to make sure it has an ATSC tuner built in. Not all televisions bother since cable and internet content are more common than ever before, and without an ATSC tuner your TV wont be able to handle digital over air signals – broadcasting went from analogue to digital in 2009.

      Hope this helps!
      Discovery Center Team

      February 3, 2018 at 1:56 pm
      • Brian Reply

        Thanks for responding, Adam, but an older HDTV purchased here in the U.S.A. in 2007 gets all the signals with no issue off of the same antenna, while the new high-end Sony UHD TV purchased overseas doesn’t get a single digital signal. I’m thinking either the signals broadcast overseas are different in some way.

        February 4, 2018 at 7:54 am
        • Adam Reply

          Hello Brian,

          Where did you purchase the television? We did a little more digging, and you are right – in addition to everything we mentioned before, there are also some regional differences in encoding. You may need to switch the TV to analogue input (if it has that setting, not all of them do!) and use an external digital decoder in order to view US content on the television.

          Discovery Center Team

          February 4, 2018 at 11:12 am
          • Brian

            Thank you very much for the information, Adam. It was purchased in Saudi Arabia.

            February 5, 2018 at 3:24 pm
  • Keldino Yini Reply

    I live in Liberia, Africa which do I use

    January 14, 2018 at 3:59 am
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Keldino,

      Liberia primarily uses PAL as a standard, although it is possible to encounter a less common third format (SECAM) there!

      Hope this helps,
      Corel Discovery Center Team

      January 14, 2018 at 11:43 pm
  • harmo Reply

    i live in uk what should I use please.confuesed still

    September 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Harmo,

      In the UK, the most standard format is PAL. Depending on the device you are playing back a given video in, it may be able to recognize and play NTSC as well. That said, when in the UK and in doubt, use PAL.

      Hope this helps!
      Corel Discovery Center Team

      November 14, 2017 at 9:02 pm
  • Van Reply

    I installed Photo Video suite X6 Corel with PAL format. Please show me how to create a DVD video with NTSC format.
    Thank you

    July 7, 2016 at 6:12 am
    • Adam Reply

      Hello Van,

      You can change VideoStudio’s default format between PAL and NTSC by opening Settings > Preferences, and opening the General tab. At the bottom of that tab there is a PAL/NTSC toggle.

      Hope this helps!
      Corel Discovery Center Team

      July 7, 2016 at 2:51 pm
      • Mirza Ali Reply

        hey i live in dubai which one should i use ?
        pls tell and thanks for reply

        November 17, 2017 at 9:31 am
        • Adam Reply

          Hello Mirza,

          Not a problem! The default standard in the UAE is PAL.

          Hope this helps,
          Corel Discovery Center Team

          November 19, 2017 at 8:25 pm

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