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Home /Science / How Do I Tell if My Video Tapes Are Pal? The History of Pal Format

How Do I Tell if My Video Tapes Are Pal? The History of Pal Format

By Elaine Elliott

Do you think you might have a PAL tape in your possession? If you ever lived or travelled overseas when VHS tapes were popular, then there’s a good chance your tapes are PAL formatted.

PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line. PAL tapes were patented in Germany in 1962 nearly a decade after NTSC tapes were invented in 1954. Even though NTSC tapes are the standard format in America, PAL has more “visible lines” in the tape which means the resolution is 20% higher compared to NTSC tapes. The tape speed and loading techniques are also slightly different for each format.

When European nations started introducing color TV, PAL videos were made to fix some of the color and technical weaknesses in the NTSC format (hence the better quality resolution). By 1967, PAL was being used on broadcast television in the United Kingdom and West Germany.

PAL and NTSC are the two standard VHS formats. Each country in the world chooses which standard to use and based on their choice, either PAL or NTSC VHS tapes and VCRs are the commonplace format used in that country.

Even if you bought a VHS tape overseas, it isn’t a guarantee that it’s a PAL tape. A lot of countries outside of the United States used the NTSC format that’s commonplace in the States (such as Liberia, South Korea, and Japan). PAL videos are used in most of Europe, Asia, Africa, parts of South America, and Oceania. NTSC is used in North America and parts of South America and Asia.

While VHS tapes reigned supreme in the media years ago, this confusion proved to be difficult for people who bought tapes overseas or lived in another country for a while. Because even though PAL and NTSC tapes look identical, they are not compatible with every VCR format. Households either own a NTSC compatible VCR or a PAL compatible VCR.

So how do you tell if you have a PAL tape? First, check to see if PAL or NTSC is labeled somewhere on the VHS. Most tapes will typically have the format listed. Another way to tell is putting the tape in your VCR. If you have a NTSC formatted VCR then a PAL tape will have distorted video imagery.

If you find yourself with a VHS tape that isn’t working with your VCR, we recommend digitizing your tapes so you can watch the videos on your computer or digital device. Southtree can digitize them for you! 

Regardless, VHS tapes do not last forever! It’s a good idea to digitize these tapes so you can preserve your favorite films and family videos.

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