Debates about format, resolution and image quality have long been associated with film, photography, televisions and the like. It’s an age old picture quality war that’s still waged today with the latest cameras and TV models – 4K, Ultra HD, HDR, OLED, QLED … it’s tough to keep up on all of it.
Like, for real though.
NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) vs. PAL (Phase Alternating Line)
The name itself just sounds thrilling, right? Basically, NTSC is the standard for broadcast in the United States. And it can be best described as region-locking DVD players and televisions the U.S.
You see, if you’ve ever tried to insert a movie from Europe into an American DVD player, you’re probably familiar with the scrambled, pixelated picture and horrendously flat audio. It’s because that specific DVD was mostly likely made for PAL (or Phase Alternating Line, which by the way sounds WAAYYY cooler than National Television Standards Committee) broadcast format, which is the broadcast format for Europe, Australia and various parts of Asia. The problem is the vast majority of DVD players manufactured in the U.S. aren’t backwards compatible with PAL, and vice versa due to the differing electrical components. It’s why conversion kits have been made to help make backwards compatibility more tolerable, but even still, the picture is never as great as it can be compared to using each region’s specific format.
So, let’s dig into the electrical differences of each.
To avoid the endless spree of technical jargon, let’s break it down like this. In the U.S., the electrical power generated for TVs is 60 hertz – that’s 60 fields per second for NTSC broadcast. But the NTSC system breaks up those 60 fields so that 30 lines of an image appear first, followed by another 30 alternating lines, giving you a rate of 30 frames per second.
Still with me? Good.
In Europe and the other countries stated above that use the PAL format, the electrical power generated is 50 hertz – 10 fields less. As a result, the PAL broadcast format only produces 25 frames per second. As you can see, those numbers don’t equal each other, and that 5 frames per second difference can have a big impact on backwards compatibility, giving picture that jerky or slow motion look that no one wants.
So, NTSC resolution is better than PAL, right? Not so fast.
We’ve already discussed the main difference between the two, but while PAL produces fewer frames per second than NTSC, it actually produces more lines overall. NTSC televisions broadcast 525 lines of resolution, while PAL televisions broadcast 625 lines of resolution.
So, if we’re speaking technically, which we are, PAL’s 100 additional lines amount to more visual information on screen and an overall better picture quality and screen resolution. NTSC makes up for this line shortage by adding black bars to compensate for the smaller screen aspect, similar to what you see in widescreen (letterbox) formatting.
However, with that said, most of the specific resolution science behind this debate can’t even be discerned naturally by the human eye. So, whether you’ve got a NTSC format or a PAL format, both look great … just don’t try to interchange them because they’re not backwards compatible. Unless terrible resolution and audio is your thing, then by all means, go for it.