What’s the Difference Between PAL and NTSC?

Have you ever heard the terms PAL and NTSC and wondered what they actually mean? NTSC stands for the National Television Standards Committee and PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line, and there are some big differences between the two, which might surprise you, given that outwardly there seems very little difference from one VHS to another.


You’ve probably seen them in relation to VHS, and in its most basic, if slightly inaccurate terms, you could consider PAL and NTSC almost like regions on a DVD. You know how region 1 DVDs can only be played in American DVD players? Well NTSC is sort of the VHS equivalent – it’s used in the Americas and other places like Japan. PAL, on the other hand, was popular in Europe and Australia.


So why the difference?


It’s all down to the electrical outputs. See, in America the AC current runs at 60Hz; countries using PAL have 50Hz currents. This determines how images are broadcast. Video images need to be transmitted at a corresponding Hz level – 30 ‘fields’ per second for even lines; 30 ‘fields’ for odd lines equals a complete picture running at 30 frames per second on an NTSC video. And, naturally, PAL videos run at 25 frames per second, given its 50Hz electrical output.


In this sense, NTSC is the superior format, since more frames per second means a more natural-looking picture, with less flickering. Having said that, PAL allows a lot more picture detail due to the 625 interlaced lines that make up the overall image (NTSC uses just 525 lines). Pros and cons, swings and roundabouts.


Are there any more differences?


Yep. For starters, there’s the automated colour correction offered by PAL, which is non-existent on NTSC tapes. Back when NTSC was created, in the 1940s, colour TV was sci-fi fantasy stuff, so no-one really took it in to consideration, meaning that once colour TVs were no longer dreamland equipment, NTSC wasn’t quite capable of dealing with it effectively. So when the colour seems off, the broadcast can’t sort it out itself. PAL came after the advent of colour technology, so it was built with this in mind.

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And then there’s the differing aspect ratios; PAL operates at 720×576 and NTSC opts for 720×480. And then there’s the variance in sound, with NTSC using 4.5MHz and PAL preferring 5.5MHz for increased sound quality. And then there’s…


Bet you never realised there were so many differences between a single format. But if you’re looking for an easy, PAL-based medium fit for the HD world, why not get your VHS transferred to DVD and see things the way they should be? Just get in contact and let us know what you need – we’d love to help.