Both of these terms surely sound familiar to you on TVs and game consoles of yesteryear, where even the latter often included some sort of adapter that had to be connected to the TV in order to be able to choose whether we wanted the signal to be of a type. Or other. However, it goes much deeper and then we’ll tell you about it, including its impact on the modern world.
Definition of NTSC and PAL
NTSC and PAL are color code for analog displays, mainly used in the days before digital broadcasting became the norm. NTSC stands for National Television Standards Committee, while PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line.
Before screens moved widely to digital broadcasting, NTSC or PAL were used depending on your location in the world. NTSC was used in North America, Japan, South Korea, and several countries in western South America, while PAL was used almost everywhere else in the world, especially in Europe and Oceania.
There is a third standard called SECAM, an abbreviation of French for “color sequential with memory”. SECAM has been used primarily in France, the Soviet Union (and post-Soviet states) and some African countries; it is similar to PAL, but treats color differently.
Introduction to analog CRT displays
To understand the NTSC and PAL standards, you must first have a rough understanding of how analog CRTs work, also known as “cathode ray” or simply “tube” displays.
The first screens were CRT, which flashed very quickly to produce images on the screen. A low refresh rate (the speed at which images update on the screen) caused this characteristic flicker, which was annoying and even generated symptoms of discomfort in many people, so they were obviously not ideal. .
Since the bandwidth was very limited at the time, it was not possible to output TV signals at a refresh rate high enough to avoid these flickering issues while maintaining the image at a resolution high enough to to be visible. To work around this problem, TV signals used a technique called interlacing to effectively double the frame rate per second without using additional bandwidth.
Interlacing consists of dividing the video into two distinct “fields” and displaying them one after the other. All even lines in the video are displayed in one field, while odd lines are in the second. The video changes between odd and even lines so quickly that the human eye does not realize that you can have a good viewing experience.
Interlaced scanning contrasts with progressive scanning, where each line of a video is drawn in a normal sequence. This results in better quality video (this is what is used today), but was not feasible in the past again due to bandwidth limitations.
Now that you are familiar with the interlacing process, let’s take a look at how the NTSC and PAL standards handle this process differently. We have already explained frame rates and refresh rates on this website, so we recommend that you check out these articles if you are unfamiliar with them.
History of NTSC
In the United States, the FCC created the National Television System Committee in 2940 to standardize television broadcasting, as manufacturers at the time were inconsistent on this. The NTSC standard came into effect in 1941, but it was not until 1953 that it was revised for color broadcasting. It’s important to note that NTSC has continued to support black and white screens since then, as color data was easy to filter out on older grayscale screens. The committee chose to use 525 scan lines (of which 480 are visible) divided into two interlaced fields of 262.5 lines each.
Meanwhile, the NTSC refresh rate was initially 60Hz, as this is what electric current works in the United States, as choosing a refresh rate not synchronized with the power grid would have produced interference. . So, due to interlacing, NTSC actually has an effective frame rate of 30 FPS… or so.
However, when the color video signal was introduced, the standard refresh rate was reduced by 0.1% to account for the differences with the added color information. So technically NTSC Color operates at a refresh rate of 59.94Hz and 29.97 FPS.
History of PAL encoding
PAL emerged when European countries were ready to introduce color video transmission. However, they didn’t like the NTSC standard due to some of its weaknesses, such as color change in bad we ather. These European countries waited for technology to improve, and in 1963 West German engineers introduced the PAL format to the European Broadcasting Union. It was first used for color broadcasts in the UK in 1967, and its name refers to how certain color information is inverted on each row, by averaging any color errors that might have been occur during a transmission.
PAL operates at a higher resolution than NTSC; consists of 625 interlaced lines of which 576 are visible. Additionally, in most areas where PAL is implemented, the power grid operates at 50Hz, so PAL displays operate at 25 FPS due to interlacing.
NTSC and PAL in the gaming world
Despite the fact that they are no longer used for television transmission (which has not much to do with this site but we had to talk to you about it for the future), the NTSC and PAL standards are still relevant today. in certain fields today, and one of them is that of video games, in particular those called “retro”.
Since older game consoles used an analog video output, we had to pair them with a TV or monitor in the same region for this to work properly. For example, if you have a Super Nintendo compare in Europe (PAL), it will not work on an analog TV in the United States (NTSC) due to the difference in encoding, as we have already commented, and it would be necessary to acquire a signal converter between the two or an analog-to-digital converter to connect to an HDMI TV.
In the days of analog consoles, some games performed differently on consoles in PAL regions than in NTSC countries. To avoid frame rate-based sync issues, developers have often intentionally slowed down games to compensate for the lower frame rate per second in PAL regions. This was especially noticeable in fast-paced games, like SEGA’s Sonic series, and this slowdown is why the speed runners video game players prefer to play in NTFS mode than in PAL.
NTSC and PAL are still used colloquially today to refer to the differences in refresh rates between regions. For example, someone might tell you that they cannot play an “NTSC disc” on their “PAL player”, even though this is technically incorrect because NTSC and PAL are strictly analog color coding standards, like us. explained it at the beginning.
However, due to regional (unrelated) restrictions on media such as DVDs and video games that still exist, these terms are an easy way to refer to media from different countries. Fortunately, most current video game consoles no longer have a defined region (except in some cases Japan) which means you can, for example, buy a Japanese game and run it on a US console.