Here's something I got from about.com
Despite advances in communication and transportation that bring the World together, there are still technology differences in video standards that keep us apart.
Since my site reaches all over the world, I get many questions on the topic of differing video standards that prevent viewing of video tape recorded in the U.S., for instance, on a VCR in Eastern Europe. Or, in another case, a person from the U.K. is traveling in the U.S., shooting video on their camcorder, but cannot view their recordings on a U.S. TV or copy them onto a U.S. VCR. This also affects DVDs purchased in other countries as well, although DVD standards also include a factor called region coding, which is a whole other "can-of-worms". This is in addition to the video standards issue addressed here, and will be addressed in another article.
Why is this? Is there a solution to this and other problems associated with differing video standards?
While radio transmission, for instance, enjoys standards that are in use everywhere in the World, television is not so fortunate.
In the current state of analog television, the World is divided into three Standards that are basically incompatible: NTSC, PAL, and SECAM.
Why three standards or systems? Basically, television was "invented" at different times in various parts of the world (U.S., U.K., and France). Politics pretty much dictated at the time which system would be employed as the national standard in these countries. Also, you have to remember that there was no consideration given at the time these TV Broadcast Systems were put in place, to the rise of the "Global" age we live in today, where information can be exchanged electronically as easily as having a conversation with one's neighbor.
NTSC is the U.S. standard that was adopted in the early thirties and debuted at the World's Fair in New York in 1939 as the first viable consumer video format. NTSC stands for National Television Standards Committee and was approved by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) as the standard for television broadcasting in the U.S.
NTSC is based on a 525-line, 60 fields/30 frames-per-second at 60Hz system for transmission and display of video images. This is an interlaced system in which each frame is scanned in two fields of 262 lines, which is then combined to display a frame of video with 525 scan lines.
This system works fine, but one drawback is that color TV broadcasting and display was not part of the equation when the system was approved. The implementation of color into the NTSC format has been a weakness of the system, thus the term for NTSC became known by many professionals as "Never Twice The Same Color". Ever notice that color quality and consistency varies quite a bit between stations?
NTSC is the official analog video standard in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, some parts of Central and South America, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. For more info on other countries, click here.
PAL is the dominant format in the World for analog television broadcasting and video display (sorry U.S.) and is based on a 625 line, 50 field/25 frames a second, 50HZ system. The signal is interlaced, like NTSC into two fields, composed of 312 lines each. Several distinguishing features are one: a better overall picture than NTSC because of the increased amount of scan lines. Two: since color was part of the standard from the beginning, color consistency between stations and TVs are much better. There is a down side to PAL however, since there are fewer frames (25) displayed per second, sometimes you can notice a slight flicker in the image, much like the flicker seen on projected film.
Since PAL and it variations, have such world domination, it has been nicknamed "Peace At Last", by those in the video professions. Countries on the PAL system include the U.K., Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, China, India, most of Africa and the Middle East. For a more extensive listing click here.
SECAM is the "outlaw" of analog video standards. Developed in France (the French are always different when it comes to issues like this--no offense!) SECAM, while superior to NTSC, is not necessarily superior to PAL (in fact many countries that have adopted SECAM are either converting to PAL or have dual-system broadcasting in both PAL and SECAM).
Like PAL, it is a 625 line, 50 field/25 frame per second interlaced system, but the color component is implemented differently than either PAL or NTSC. In fact, SECAM stands for (in English) Sequential Color With Memory. In the video profession, it has been dubbed "Something Contrary To American Methods", due to its different color management system. Countries on the SECAM system include France, Russia, Eastern Europe, and some parts of the Middle East. For a more detailed listing, click here.
Ok, so now you are thoroughly confused, right?
Stripping off all the technical jargon, the existence of these TV formats means that video HERE may not be the same as video THERE (wherever or HERE or THERE might be). The main reason that each system is incompatible is that they are based on different frame rates and bandwidth, which prevents such things as Video Tapes and DVDs recorded in one system from being played in the other systems.
However, there are solutions to these conflicting technologies already in place in the consumer market. In Europe, for instance, many TVs and VCRs sold are multi-system capable. In the U.S., this problem is address by Retailers that specialize in international electronics products. Some excellent online sites include Asmara Overseas Eelctronics and MsMart.com, and World Import.
Also, if you need to have video tape converted to another system, there are services in every major city that can do this. Just check in the local phone book under Video Production or Video Editing Services. The cost of converting a single tape is not very expensive.
In addition, if you would like to do the conversion yourself, there are several excellent multi-system VCRs available such as the Aiwa HV-MX100, several models by JVC, and Samsung.
Lastly, Hitachi makes Hi8 and Digital8 camcorders in the U.S. market that, even though record in the NTSC system, can play your tape back on either an NTSC or PAL TV, giving the international traveler more flexibility.
For more information on Multi-System Video products and conversion Click Here.
For a more technical explanantion of the NTSC System, and further comparisions between NTSC, PAL, and SECAM, Click Here
For information on the controversy surrounding the establishment of a World Standard for Digital TV, Click Here.
You are invited to post any comments you may have concerning this article on my Who's Your PAL Forum.