NTSC Vs. PAL: Breaking Down The Two Video Standards

ntsc vs palOver the past 20 years, the ability to make, edit, and share great videos has become easier than ever for amateur filmmakers. That’s in large part due to the technological innovations that have swept the film industry. Not only that, the digital revolution has reduced the overall cost of making movies by a large amount. On top of that, the equipment necessary to film a movie or video has become both cheaper and smaller. There are loads of camera options available to the consumer interested in making their own movie, all with different features based on their design.

Whether you’re an artist, you’re looking to make personal films, or you want to make videos for your business – something that you can learn more about in this video production course – there are a lot of technical details that you’ll need to know. Regardless of which camera a consumer buys, they all come with one of two video standards that dictate how they work to record the visual data captured. Those formats are: NTSC and PAL. Knowing the difference between the two is essential if you plan on making, editing, and sharing your videos.

What are NTSC and PAL?

Understanding the two formats means you’ll need to know how video works. Be sure to sign up for this course, or any of the other great courses on Udemy, if you would like to learn more. NTSC and PAL specifications are a holdover from older technology. Before DVDs and computers, most videos were recorded and shown on VHS format. That VHS formatting was the same throughout the world. However, the way that that visual data was recorded onto the cassette varied from country to country. Even though you could put an American VHS tape in a Chinese player, and vice versa, it would not play correctly if the format standards of the tape were different than the player.

At their most basic, NTSC and PAL represent the way in which the electronic signal was recorded onto the tape. This is expressed through frame rates, or how many frames (individual pictures) move through the camera in a second. In other words, a film-based movie camera takes a certain number of pictures per second that, when run through the camera (or projector), create motion from picture to picture. Video equipment was designed to simulate that experience and NTSC and PAL are the two frame rates originally designed for video recording. NTSC runs at 30 frames per second and PAL runs at 25 frames per second. On top of that, the amount of information recorded in either is different as well. Each frame in NTSC has 525 scan lines and each frame in PAL has 625 scan lines.

Besides these basic differences there are also discrepancies between the video bandwidth (NTSC: 4.2 MHz, PAL: 5.0 MHz), sound carriers (NTSC: 4.5 MHz, PAL: 5.5 MHz), and various frequencies (vertical, horizontal, color). These are all variable elements that came into creation with the advent of video technology, when the conversion from actual picture taking to electronic recording happened.

Digital cameras of today are designed with these standards in mind. But what sets them apart is that you can select which standard you want to shoot in. If you are planning to make a movie you will need to be sure to select the correct standard of NTSC or PAL. If you select incorrectly you might find that your editing software, DVD player, or computer is unable to read and play the movie.

Different Formats For Different Countries 

Generally, NTSC (which stands for National Television System Committee) is used in North America, Central America, parts of South America, Japan, and Korea. PAL (which stands for Phase Alternating Line) is used in most of Europe, Asia, Australia, and parts of Africa. It is very important that you know the standard that your country uses. If you don’t you will have problems playing your video on home entertainment systems.

Color Differences 

Another major difference between the two standard formats is how they encode color. NTSC receivers have a tint control that allows for the filmmaker to actively control color correction. Here the colors that the receivers pick up will be more natural. They will also be brighter and have greater contrast, however they will need to be adjusted after the fact to find the right balance. PAL is designed to remove hues automatically. It does the work of color balancing ‘in camera’ making tint control unnecessary. Though this removes a large step in the video editing process, the changing of color information in PAL can lead to phase errors in the system of which a video maker needs to be aware of.

Conversion From NTSC To PAL (and Vice Versa) 

If you accidentally film in the wrong format, there’s no reason to worry. It is possible to convert from one standard to the other. There are many different software programs available to do this. Bear in mind, however, that the process is slow and that some information may be lost in the transfer. Generally, converting from one format to the other means adding or subtracting 5 frames per second to match the format. Without those 5 frames the images playing in PAL on NTSC will seem jerky, and with those 5 frames playing in NTSC on PAL those images will seem unnaturally sluggish.

Sharing Video Online

There are many factors you need to know and take into account when you’re looking to share your videos online with both NTSC and PAL formats. Video compression, which you can learn more about in Udemy’s Video Compression 101 course, is the process by which all the information you have shot and edited is packed into a smaller format. Because NTSC and PAL greatly affect the way that information is taken into the camera, compression rates will be affected as well.

Whether you are a novice or experienced filmmaker, you need to learn the ins and outs of making videos as well as understanding the technical aspects such as NTSC and PAL. Knowing about their differences and what to expect will save you loads of time and stress once you are ready to start editing your video. With such accessible equipment there is nothing stopping you from an exciting career or hobby in shooting, editing, sharing videos. Check out these, or many of the other great video production courses on Udemy if you’re ready to get started.