An Overview of Worldwide Analog Video Standards

Video Standards Aren't The Same Everywhere

Since my site reaches all over the World, I get many questions on the topic of differing video standards that prevent viewing of video tape recorded in the U.S., for instance, on a VCR in Eastern Europe. Or, in another case, a person from the U.K. is traveling in the U.S., shooting video on their camcorder, but cannot view their recordings on a U.S. TV or copy them onto a U.S. VCR. This also affects DVDs purchased in other countries as well, although DVD standards also include a factor called Region Coding, which is a whole other "can-of-worms".

This is in addition to the video standards issue addressed here, and is further explained in my additional article "Region Codes: DVDs Dirty Secret".

Why is this? Is there a solution to this and other problems associated with differing video standards?

While radio transmission, for instance, enjoys standards that are in use everywhere in the World, television is not so fortunate.

In the current state of analog television, the World is divided into three Standards that are basically incompatible: NTSC, PAL, and SECAM.

Why three standards or systems? Basically, television was "invented" at different times in various parts of the world (U.S., U.K., and France). Politics pretty much dictated at the time which system would be employed as the national standard in these countries. Also, you have to remember that there was no consideration given at the time these TV Broadcast Systems were put in place, to the rise of the "Global" age we live in today, where information can be exchanged electronically as easily as having a conversation with one's neighbor.

Overview: NTSC, PAL, SECAM


NTSC is the U.S. standard that was adopted in 1941 as the first standardized television broadcasting and video format that is still in use. NTSC stands for National Television Standards Committee and was approved by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) as the standard for television broadcasting in the U.S.

NTSC is based on a 525-line, 60 fields/30 frames-per-second at 60Hz system for transmission and display of video images. This is an interlaced system in which each frame is scanned in two fields of 262 lines, which is then combined to display a frame of video with 525 scan lines.

This system works fine, but one drawback is that color TV broadcasting and display was not part of the equation when the system was first approved. A dilemma arose as to how to incorporate Color with NTSC without making the millions of B/W televisions in use by the early 1950's obsolete. Finally, a standardization for adding Color to the NTSC system was adopted in 1953. However, the implementation of color into the NTSC format has been a weakness of the system, thus the term for NTSC became known by many professionals as "Never Twice The Same Color". Ever notice that color quality and consistency varies quite a bit between stations?

NTSC is the official analog video standard in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, some parts of Central and South America, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. For more info on other countries.


PAL is the dominant format in the World for analog television broadcasting and video display (sorry U.S.) and is based on a 625 line, 50 field/25 frames a second, 50HZ system.

The signal is interlaced, like NTSC into two fields, composed of 312 lines each. Several distinguishing features are one: a better overall picture than NTSC because of the increased amount of scan lines. Two: since color was part of the standard from the beginning, color consistency between stations and TVs are much better. There is a down side to PAL however, since there are fewer frames (25) displayed per second, sometimes you can notice a slight flicker in the image, much like the flicker seen on projected film.

Note: Brazil uses a variant of PAL, which is referred to as PAL-M. PAL-M uses 525 lines/60 HZ. PAL-M is compatible with B/W only playback on NTSC format devices.

Since PAL and its variations have such world domination, it has been nicknamed "Peace At Last", by those in the video professions. Countries on the PAL system include the U.K., Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, China, India, most of Africa, and the Middle East. 


SECAM is the "outlaw" of analog video standards. Developed in France (It seems that the French are different even with technical issues), SECAM, while superior to NTSC, is not necessarily superior to PAL (in fact many countries that have adopted SECAM are either converting to PAL or have dual-system broadcasting in both PAL and SECAM).

Like PAL, it is a 625 line, 50 field/25 frame per second interlaced system, but the color component is implemented differently than either PAL or NTSC. In fact, SECAM stands for (in English) Sequential Color With Memory. In the video profession, it has been dubbed "Something Contrary To American Methods", due to its different color management system. Countries on the SECAM system include France, Russia, Eastern Europe, and some parts of the Middle East.

However, one important thing to point out about SECAM is that it is a television broadcast transmission format (and also a VHS recording format for SECAM transmissions) - but it is not a DVD playback format. DVDs are mastered in either NTSC or PAL and coded for specific geographical regions, with regards to playback compatibility. In countries that use the SECAM broadcast standard, DVDs are mastered in the PAL video format.

In other words, people that live in countries that use the SECAM television broadcast format, also use the PAL format when it comes to DVD video playback. All consumer-based SECAM televisions can view both a SECAM broadcast signal or a PAL direct video signal, such as from a source, such as DVD player, VCR, DVR, etc...

Continue on to Page 2: Multi-system Solutions and Digital TV

Stripping off all the technical jargon regarding NTSC, PAL, and SECAM, the existence of these TV formats simply means that video HERE may not be the same as video THERE (wherever or HERE or THERE might be). The main reason that each system is incompatible is that they are based on different frame rates and bandwidth, which prevents such things as video tapes and DVDs recorded in one system from being played in the other systems.

Multi-System Solutions

However, there are solutions to these conflicting technologies already in place in the consumer market. In Europe, for instance, many TVs, VCRs, and DVD players sold are both NTSC and PAL capable. In the U.S., this problem is addressed by retailers that specialize in international electronics products. Some excellent online sites include International Electronics, and World Import.

In addition, if you happen to live in a major city, such as New York, Los Angeles, or the Miami, Florida area, some major and independent retailers sometimes carry multi-system VCRs. So, if you have relatives or friends overseas you can make and copy camcorder or videos you've recorded off TV and send copies to them and you can play PAL or SECAM videotapes they send you.

However, if you don't have an on going need to own a multi-system VCR but still need to have an occasional video tape converted to another system, there are services in every major city that can do this.

Just check in the local phone book under Video Production or Video Editing Services. The cost of converting a single tape is not very expensive.

Worldwide Standards For Digital Television

Lastly, you would think that the Worldwide implementation of Digital TV and HDTV would solve the issue of incompatible video systems, but that is not the case.

There is a "world" of controversy surrounding the adoption of a universal standard for digital television broadcasting and play back video high definition video systems.

The US and several North American and Asian countries have adopted the ATSC (Advanced Television Standards Committee standard, Europe has adopted the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) standard, and Japan is opting for its own system, ISDB (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting) . For additional information on the state of Worldwide Digital TV/HDTV standards, check out reports from EE Times.

In addition, Although there are obvious differences between HD and analog video, the frame rate difference still remains in PAL and NTSC countries.

In countries that have been on the NTSC analog television/video system, so far, the HD broadcasting standards and recorded HD standards (such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD) still adhere to the NTSC frame rate of 30 frames per second, while the HD standards in countries that have been on the PAL broadcast/video standard or the SECAM broadcast standard adhere the PAL frame rate of 25 frames per second.

Fortunately, a growing number of high definition televisions becoming available Worldwide, as well as almost all video projectors, are able to display both 25 frame and 30 frame per second HD format signals.

Leaving out all the technical jargon regarding the various types of Digital/HDTV broadcast standards, this means, in terms of broadcast, cable, and satellite television in the digital age, there will still be incompatibility between the world's nations. However, with the implementation of video processing and conversion chips in more video products, the issue of playing back recorded video will become less of an issue as time moves on.

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