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NTSC and PAL: The analog Standard Definition (SD) systems

NTSC was established in the United States in 1940; PAL was established in Germany in 1963

Understanding the terms NTSC and PAL entails technical explanations. This article aims to explain these two systems in the simplest terms possible for you to understand the basic information about them. While the explanations still require mentioning some technical terms, the article focuses more on the visual and logical facets of these two formats.

NTSC and PAL are the most widely used analog formats in showing videos. For over half a century, these two standards have been used in various parts of the world.

From television broadcast to DVD movies, concerns on compatibility and required conversion systems have been consistently addressed when using these two most popular standards in transmission and display of video images. However, with the advent of digital systems and high definition (HD) productions, many countries are now advancing to the HD TV broadcast system. In fact, the over-the-air NTSC transmissions in the United States were already replaced by the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) since June 12, 2009. There are countries that are already set to adapt the ATSC system of the United States. There are also those set to adapt the Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting (ISDB) of Japan, and the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) of Europe.


NTSC (National Television System Committee) is a standard analog/standard definition (SD) television system widely used in most parts of North America, some parts of Central and South America, some parts of Asia including Myanmar, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, and some Pacific island nations and territories. It is based on a 525-line, 60 fields/30 fps (frames per second) format using a 60Hz system for transmitting and displaying video images. It follows an interlaced system where each frame is scanned in two fields of 262 lines each, then they are combined to display one video frame containing a total of 525 scan lines.


PAL (Phase Alternate Line) is a dominant format for analog television broadcasting and video display used in a number of European countries including U.K., Germany, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, most parts of Africa and the Middle East, India, and China. It is based on a 625-line, 50 field/25fps format using a 50Hz system for transmitting and displaying video images. Like NTSC, it follows an interlaced system. For PAL, each frame is scanned in two fields of 312 lines each, then they are combined to display one video frame containing a total of 625 scan lines.

Comparing NTSC and PAL

Technically, PAL provides a better overall picture than NTSC because of the increased amount of scan lines used in it. Unlike with NTSC which started out in a black-and-white system, color was part of the PAL standard from the very beginning; thus, resulting to better color consistency in what PAL-based stations can provide to PAL-based TV sets. PAL’s frame rate is also closer to that of film. Film has a frame rate of 24fps; while PAL has a frame rate of 25fps. This makes PAL productions look more similar to film.

Additional Sources:

“A Simplified Guide to the NTSC Video Signal,” SEANET Corp.
“What is the Difference Between NTSC and PAL?” Wisegeek.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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