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PAL, NTSC and SECAM: What's the Difference?

pal ntsc and secam differenceWhen TV was first designed, there was a set of standards used to control how the information was sent from the broadcasting station to the TV, and how the TV interpreted this information into a picture on the TV screen. In North America, this standard is known as NTSC which stands for National Television Systems Committee. There are also two other types of standards used around the world; PAL (Phase Altering Line) and SECAM (Sequential Color with Memory).
 
The systems used vary by country and/or region, but they all use one of the three standards: PAL, NTSC, or Secam. Digital cable, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray also adhere to these color information standards. PAL TVs are only compatible with a PAL signal or other Pal components. The same is true for NTSC and SECAM. It's not possible to use a PAL TV with a NTSC Blu-ray Player or vice-versa. If you wanted to use your NTSC player to watch movies on a PAL or SECAM TV, you'd need to use an external video converter. Let's take a look at the differences betwen these three systems.
 

NTSC

This American Standard was the first ever used. It was developed in 1941 and re-engineered to include color in 1953. It utilizes 525 scan lines at 30 frames per second. Only 486 of the actual lines are visible on the screen while the remaining are used for synchronizing and balancing the image. NTSC's refresh rate is 60hz. NTSC is also the only system that requires a tint control on the TV
 

PAL

This color system uses 576 scan lines and 25 frames per second to produce the finished picture. Introduced in Europe in the 1960's, PAL was an attempt to improve on the NTSC standard and it has remained the European standard (in most cases) up until this very day. PAL has varying versions including PAL B/G and PAL I. This system has a 50hz refresh rate.
 

SECAM

The newest of the three color systems, SECAM was developed and released in the 60's. Mostly used in Russia, eastern Europe and Africa, SECAM utilizes the same resolution as PAL at 576 lines and 25 frames per second. This color system is the only one to use FM frequency modulation which allows it to transmit over a longer range. Like PAL, SECAM also has a 50hz refresh rate.
 
Clearly there are differences (and similarities) between the three standard systems. Thanks to a higher frame rate, NTSC enjoys a smoother image. PAL and SECAM both use an extra scan lines and therefor have better resolution.
 

Does it Really Matter?

Overall, it does matter. The three systems are not compatible, which means you need to be sure your audio/video components use the same standard to be compatible with your TV and with the satellite and/or digital cable signal. There is, of course, a couple exceptions. Multisystem TVs are able of decoding all three color systems and feature tuners for each. In addition, Region Free Blu-ray & DVD Players usually come equipped with internal PAL/NTSC conversion, which allows them to be used with any TV.
 
If you're living in the same region and using locally purchased audio/video components and accessories, there's really no need to even think about PAL, NTSC and SECAM. However, it's always nice to have a slight knowledge of how the three differ and why.