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What is the Difference Between NTSC and PAL?

Germany and other European countries use the PAL broadcasting format.
Mexico and other countries in North and South America broadcast using NTSC format.
An HD television made for use in the US will likely not be able to display the PAL format.
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  • Originally Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Revised By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2014
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Most countries in North and South America, including the US and Canada, utilize the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) format, while Europe, Australia and parts of Asia use a competing format called Phase Alternating Line (PAL). The major distinction between these two formats is the rate at which a broadcast is displayed on a TV screen: NTSC displays at 30 frames per second (fps), while PAL provides 25 fps. Each format also uses a different number of lines on an old analog TV display when showing the signal, creating two different resolutions. The widespread adoption of High-Definition Televisions (HDTVs) by many consumers has not eliminated this difference, however, since older broadcasting methods have influenced digital signal playback.

Primary Difference

The differences between these formats really start with the electrical power system behind the transmissions viewed on a TV. In the US and countries like Canada and Mexico, electrical power is generated at 60 hertz, so for technical reasons the NTSC signal is also sent out at 60 "fields" per second. The first field accounts for all of the odd-numbered lines on a screen, while the second one includes the even-numbered lines. Since most analog televisions use an interlaced system, this means that 30 fields of one type are sent out, along with 30 fields of the other type each second.

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This line alternation happens so fast that it is undetectable to the human eye, much like a film running through a projector. The result for an NTSC television is 30 frames of a complete image, made up of two fields for each frame, appearing every second. Since countries in Europe and Asia often use a 50 hertz power supply, the equivalent PAL lines go out at 50 fields per second. This means that a PAL signal displays at 25 fps, consisting of two sets of 25 alternating lines.

Resolution Differences

Another difference between NTSC and PAL formats is resolution quality. While PAL may have fewer frames per second, it displays more lines than NTSC. PAL television broadcasts contain 625 lines of resolution, from top to bottom, compared to NTSC's 525. More lines usually means more visual information, which results in better picture quality and resolution. When an NTSC videotape is converted to PAL, black bars are often used to compensate for the smaller screen aspect, much like the bars at the top and bottom of a letterbox or "widescreen" movie.

Issues with Color Signals

When the NTSC format was first adopted in 1941, there was little discussion of color transmissions. As technology for color television developed, however, engineers had to create a broadcast method that would still allow owners of monochrome television sets to receive a picture. The PAL system, on the other hand, was created after the advent of color broadcasting, so color signals are much truer to the original image. This distinction often means that an unconverted signal being played on a TV of the other format might appear black and white, rather than in color.

Conversion Options

A European television might not work properly in the United States and an NTSC-formatted video typically will not play on a PAL device. To address this issue, there are a number of companies that offer conversion kits from one format to the other. Some of these conversion methods can be time-consuming and vary in quality, though there are companies that provide conversion services for a fee.

If a PAL movie is converted to an NTSC tape, 5 extra frames must be added per second or the action seems "jerky." The opposite is true for an NTSC movie converted to PAL; five frames must be removed per second or movement can become unnaturally slow. Since audio and video data are often connected, the audio signal may also need to be sped up or slowed down to sound correct during playback.

Differences Moving Forward

While the transition from analog to digital and HD televisions presented an opportunity to move away from the older formats, some limitations have remained. TVs still have to display an image based on a certain number of frames each second, and so many HDTVs in the US or Europe continue to show in either 30 or 25 fps. The improvement, however, is that these devices are often customizable, and one HDTV might be able to broadcast in either format and function properly in any area. This all depends on the features of a particular TV model and what options are available in its setup menu.

New Media and Region Coding

Video Home System (VHS) tapes were restricted to either NTSC or PAL playback in the past, while newer digital formats such as DVD and Blu-ray™ do not have this limitation. More often, newer media player hardware is designed to function with one format or the other to work properly with various TVs, although it may technically be able to use both. DVDs and Blu-rays™, however, are usually region coded, which means they only work with players from a certain area. A DVD coded for Region 1, which includes the US and Canada, usually will not work in a DVD player from Germany, which is in Region 2. "Region free" media and players can eliminate this issue, though these devices and discs are not commonly available.

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Discuss this Article

bclewis68
Post 57

I am moving to Singapore from the US and am looking to buy a 4K TV prior to leaving. I prefer the Sony XBR65X9000B, but am not sure if there will be issues with the color signal NTSC/PAL. How can I tell?

anon955377
Post 56

How do I set NTSC on an LG flat screen TV using the remote setting?

anon947375
Post 55

We are getting married in the US, and we are recording the wedding on a Nikkon 5200D. We want to send the video to India for family to see. What format does the recording have to be done in, to be compatible with the televisions in India? Is there someone who would convert it to the right format?

anon357795
Post 54

Here in Australia all my TV's will play PAL and NTSC and 24P, 25P, 30P, 50P and 60P without any problems. I have had a few CRT tv's that played PAL and NTSC and I have still got a NTSC laserdisc player that I brought here in Australia. It' voltage is 230V 50/60 HZ power supply.

A lot of blu-ray discs here in Australia have 480i or p as extras on the discs. I have an old JVC Super VHS video machine that will record in NTSC. You could hear the drum head speed up faster then in PAL. I did use the NTSC standard a lot in my house.

Most dvd players here in Australia are region unlocked. You just have to look for on the box in a store but the machines are unlocked here in Australia. The sticker said it has been opened here in Australia to check con tense. That said, it's been unlocked by someone who knows what they're looking for and the sticker is white over the packing tape.

To unlock a machine, you would have to put in a code with the remote with the tray open and put the code in and region is 0 or 9 normally it's a 0 instead from 1 to 6. You just have to look it up with the model number. To anyone in the USA, look at the unlock codes for players in Australia and if your machine is the exact model number as the Australian version it should be very easy to unlock the machine.

Some machines will play PAL dvds and blu-ray discs and the machine will convert to NTSC. I used to leave my machine in NTSC to stop screen flicker.

anon330459
Post 53

I want to buy a LCD or LED tv from UK and want to use it in India. I would like to know if it will work in India.

joshcooper
Post 52

If you are burning a DVD, what are you supposed to use? NTSC or PAL?

anon292957
Post 50

I have ab LED TV with 100Hrz PAL /NTSC (AV only)

/SECAM, bought in Germany. Will it operate in the Philippines?

anon238579
Post 49

If it's ntsc or pal, as long as you have an up to date system they will both play fine in the uk.

Up to date meaning a player maybe five years old or less, but not ten.

If you research pal versus ntsc, it also shows you what countries are compatible with which.

Unfortunately, most people think it's Hong Kong's fault and the discs are coming from them. Wrong. Hong Kong discs are compatible with the same as us in the uk and that was originally pal. A very old player system can't work with ntsc.

anon230421
Post 48

Its ok to send a PAL console from the UK and all work perfect on their power and most appliances now have our 3 pin plug.

I sent four original box consoles by Balikbayan in the box in 2008 with about 80 PAL games and they are still working perfect. They are very cheap here in the UK as are PS2 consoles. I have just sent one for my grandson for Xmas with 15 games.

They will also modify them there which will convert the game acceptance.

PS 3 consoles without a HD TV can be set up using the 3 coloured plugs and play without the quality you would get. These people really don't care because it's the gaming they love.

Some consoles are donated to charity shops now and PS2 are just cheap as nuts because they are all obsolete, as are most game titles.

anon222811
Post 46

@anon16452: Not all PS2 games are on DVD; some few games were small enough to be on CDs. Most games are not "region coded" like DVDs, but some games expect to output in PAL or NTSC (Jackie Chan Adventures for PS2 is one, it comes up in PAL, rolling across my screen, then lets me switch to NTSC and works just fine).

clark96
Post 45

I bought a game from the united kingdom and my wii says that the game disk can't be read. do I need to buy a new tv change my country maybe or try to sell it to someone else I need an answer, please. I really want to play this game!

anon191964
Post 43

Here in Australia, 98 percent of tv's since the early 1990's can play ntsc by av leads and i know by experience. i had an ntsc laser disc player and i had a number of dvd players that can play pal and ntsc dvd's and the same with all blu-ray players playing dvd's will play ntsc dvd's and there are quite a number of music dvd's that are ntsc that are sold here in Australia that are region free. blu-ray discs come in 24 p, 50 p, 60 p, 50 i, 60 i.

anon175512
Post 41

I am from Singapore, and i intend to buy a DVD from a US site, it says "NTSC and PAL (format shipped automatically)" which means it will work in my country as well?

kevinboyden
Post 40

I have just moved to Canada and Have been informed that my sons PS3 and Wii that we bought with us from the UK will not work on a Canadian Television unless I purchase an International Television! what is an international Television and where do I get one that will work?

anon169080
Post 38

DVDs actually store the video in MPEG format - a digital format that has nothing to do with frame rates or sync rates. The reason a DVD won't play in another player is that in order to fight duplication and control release dates, the studios encrypt the DVDs with a key that varies by region (google for region code for more). There exist DVD players that will play any region, and of course squirt out the video in the same format regardless of what region the disk is from. (i.e. NTSC if the player is for the US market)

NTSC and PAL are both dying animals as HDTV is replacing them in both the U.S. and Europe.

anon152121
Post 37

Well, i set my xbox 360 as sweden, as i am part swedish, so perhaps that´s why i can play PAL games on it. NTSC games work as well, yes. I am from the usa. Thus far, i have rise of the argonauts and halo 3 odst in PAL. works fine.

anon135760
Post 35

i want to buy an ntsc nes console and games and use it in australia on a modern television. will this be a problem?

please answer.

anon135663
Post 34

my ps3 is ntsc while my tv is PAL, and my screen when playing is black and white. how can I fix it?

anon130246
Post 33

if i buy a tv that says made in china, will it work in other country, or only work in china? thanks

anon127956
Post 32

I have a ps2 problem. it says its pal but i see it works with all the games till now. So when i go to washington you mean it's useless there?

anon119970
Post 30

I recently lost the batteries for the remote and now it won't work. please help!

anon116398
Post 28

I recently had a Wii sent over from Australia, and now I would like to buy games from Egypt or Dubai. Will they work? Can anyone help? -Nancy

anon113312
Post 27

I am sure this is a really dumb question, but here it is I have a Samsung HD camcorder. I can view my videos on the computer but I cannot burn them. I was wondering if it has anything to to with the NTCS, PAL setting. Does anyone have any suggestions or do I have to buy a certain kind of expensive software just to burn my home movies. Please help!

anon111372
Post 26

i've recently brought a playstation 3 from UK (pal) format. Will it work in Bangladesh? Will it play or am i messed up with a gaming console i can't even play?

anon109308
Post 25

i am buying a ps3 gaming console from dubai. Will it work in pakistan? Please answer.

anon108762
Post 24

I just bought a ntsc dvd off ebay, and put it in my philips dvd player, and it seems to play fine. would this be because my dvd player can play ntsc format discs? I'm a little confused!

anon108711
Post 23

I have purchased a sony VCR/DVD combo whilst in the US and wish to use it in Australia. I was not aware of the vast changes in power and format between both countries. It has no inbuilt tuner. Is it able to be used in Australia for viewing DVD/VHS playing CD and possibly record TV shows?

anon97059
Post 22

I've bought a Wii game online named "Wipeout". It's shipped from America though the description notes then it's shipped worldwide. I have a Wii bought in the UK.

I'm waiting for the game to be delivered. Will it play or am i screwed with a game i can't even play? Ruth

anon95667
Post 21

is there a matter of sound compatibility between the ''pal'' and the ''ntsc''formats?

anon78096
Post 20

with homebrew (wii) you are able to force pal to ntsc, or ntsc to pal, and it works perfectly.

anon70090
Post 18

i bought a game for the ps2 online from someone that lives in UK. would i be able to play it on my system here?

anon69227
Post 17

The 99 percent of the TVs in North America do not do PAL.

TVs are much less expensive in the US due to the highly competitive market place. TV manufacturers wish to maintain their higher overseas TV prices. In order to prevent price errosion the export of cheap US market TV sets is simply eliminated by not including the ability of US TV sets to display PAL or 50HZ HD video.

anon58925
Post 16

Does this whole NTSC vs. PAL systems affect hard drive media players? I purchased a hard drive media player in Hong Kong (PAL system and uses 220 voltage for power) and brought it back to North America (NTSC system and uses 110 voltage for power). The image that came out on my HD LCD tv was black and white and somewhat staggered. I got the same result when using it on an older CRT tv set and another LCD tv.

Of course, when I was testing the player in Hong Kong, everything was crystal clear. Any idea if this has anything to do with PAL vs. NTSC?

anon57744
Post 15

I have a Panasonic camera which can be set to PAL or NTSC. However what I do not understand is that this setting is not when I record a film, but when I download it to computer (or DVD). After the film is already recorded. The same recording can be displayed in two standards?

anon55838
Post 14

In Australia, newer TVs are capable of handling PAL and NTSC signals (I have both HD LCD and analogue CRT sets that do PAL and NTSC), as are the majority of DVD players. Format (in)compatibility is no longer the massive issue it used to be. I switch between NTSC and PAL movies without even thinking about it, they "just work" with the gear setup the way I have it.

I have read that a greater percentage of DVD players in the US can't handle PAL DVDs, but I wonder if a lot of that is improper configuration of the DVD player.

As for the questions about game consoles, the video generation is usually done at a relatively late stage, and the main issue would be whether the TV can handle the video format that the game console outputs. Modern plasma and LCD TVs (being digital devices capable of multiple resolution settings) should be OK in this regard.

Newer CRT sets may or may not work with a foreign format. Older sets will have a problem with foreign formats.

Note that if the game console uses an RF modulator (as opposed to A/V connections), you will have additional problems due to different channel frequencies and different vision/sound carrier spacing.

This can cause problems even between countries that use the same video format (e.g. UK and Australia, where the video/sound spacing is 6.0 MHz in the UK, vs 5.5 MHz in Oz).

Hope this helps.

anon47333
Post 13

Read your DVD player manual; I had trouble playing a NTSC disc on my PAL machine until I found out that the operator's manual describes how to change the setup to play either!

sitetrekker
Post 12

My sister in Madrid bought an LCD TV and is planning to bring it home to the Philippines by December. I'm sure that because of the difference in color frequency between Europe and the Philippines, she won't be able to use it there. Is there any converter that can solve this matter, and where can i find it?

aortiz3
Post 11

I am thinking of bringing the LCD TV sets I bought last year in Singapore to the Philippines. Will there be a problem viewing the channels in the Philippines given that Singapore uses PAL while Philippines uses NTSC? Will it be worth bringing them over?

anon29163
Post 10

If I have a PS3 in PAL format will it work in a NTSC HDTV?

anon23357
Post 8

It isn't how modern the dvd player is, and it is not the quality in terms of cost. It is the compatibility of the player. You can spend as little as 30 dollars and it plays absolutely everything. Phillips is a good inexpensive machine and plays both pal and nstc also plays divx mpeg vob you name it.

anon22841
Post 7

I was considering a purchase of game, Shadow of the colossus" in NTSC format. My TV has PAL but my PS2 has both. Are these problems includes only transmission of TV or PS2 may also cause them (if it has PAL system only, for example?)

anon21561
Post 6

If i want to get a NTSC Nintendo wii system, but i will like to use it on a pal hdtv, is this going to be a problem? Will it work or will i have compatibility issues?

It won't/shouldn't be a problem, although the picture won't be the best since the Wii doesn't output HD, but your HDTV should accept both signals theoretically. Its mainly the old analog TVs that will cause problems and then it usually only results in the TV vertical hold getting messed up and the game showing in black and white.

anon16452
Post 5

"If i want to get a NTSC Nintendo wii system, but i will like to use it on a pal hdtv, is this going to be a problem?"

Of course it won't work. Did you not read the article? PAL and NTSC are behind different electrical systems.

For DVDs (PS2 games are DVD) it depends if they are region coded or not. This comes down to the individual DVD (be it game or movie).

anon15287
Post 4

If i want to get a NTSC Nintendo wii system, but i will like to use it on a pal hdtv, is this going to be a problem? Will it work or will i have compatibility issues?

anon14229
Post 3

Perhaps it can go a bit further. I recently purchased a playstation 2 highschool musical game for a girlfriend's child in Australia. I didn't know of the different formats (pal vs ntsc). Is there some way to convert the game from ntsc to pal? --radx133

habura
Post 2

Wait, NTSC and PAL apply to VHS *and* DVD? I thought it was only VHS. I recently brought a US DVD to Europe and it worked fine in a European DVD player. I wonder if more modern DVD players actually accommodate both systems? Is that possible? Would the people that determine these things be so kind?!

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