DVD Regions/Formats/NTSC/PAL. What do they mean?

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What Are They?

PAL/SEACM and NTSC are two different television formats. These formats precede the introduction of the DVD. They actually even precede the introduction of the videocassette (Phillips produced the first VCR in 1972).

What Do They Mean?

NTSC stands for "National Television Standards Committee" and was created in 1953. It is the standard format used for televisions in most of North and Central America, and Japan. In techno-speak it mandates 525 lines of resolution at 60 half frames per second.

PAL stands for "Phase Altering Line." Adopted in 1967, it is the standard format used for televisions in most of the world (other than the US, Canada, and Japan). In techno-speak it mandates 625 lines of resolution at 50 half frames per second. PAL TVs are said to give a more consistant hue than NTSC TVs. Brazil uses PAL-M, which differs slightly (525 lines of resolution with 60 half frames per second). PAL is, for all intents and purposes, identical to SEACAM.

SEACAM stands for "Systeme Electronique Couleur Avec Memoire." Like PAL, it was adopted in 1967. The technical specification are the same as for PAL

How Do They Affect Me?

Because PAL & NTSC are television formats, this issue is only relevant for DVD players that hook up to a television set. Computer DVD players hooked up to computer display devices (which are commonly neither NTSC or PAL/SEACAM) will display the content of the DVD irrespective of PAL/SEACAM or NTSC format. The same goes for a VCR.

DVD players may be constructed to play on televisions that accommdate NTSC format, PAL format or on both. There is no legal restriction on producing or owning a player that plays on both TV formats. However, because televisions in a particular region tend only to be either PAL or NTSC, DVD/VCR players tend only to display on a single TV format.


What is it?

The regional coding system divides the countries of the world up into 6 regions (with 2 codings more used for non-geographically specific uses). The general regions are listed below

Where is it?



Why is it?

This system was intended to give producers of films more flexibility in how they manage the distribution of their films. Because the content of DVD with a particular coding may only be displayed by a player specifically produced for that regional coding (and most often sold only in that region), this system allows the distributor/holder of the copyright to better control pricing, to stagger the release of films, and, ostensibly, to deliver different versions of films to different areas based on specific regional or cultural sensitivities (nudity, language, religious or cultural taboos, etc.).

How Does it Affect Me?

As producers are not required to assign their products a regional coding, currently many DVDs available have a "0" [zero] regional coding (and may, thus, be played on any machine). Likewise, the CSS [Content Scramble System] law does not prohibit the selling of any particular device in any region. The result being that one may legally obtain a player that plays DVDs coded for any region. Computer DVD players are somewhat more flexible in their ability to access the content of DVD with various regional codings. Most allow for the user to alter the regional settings, but only a limited number of times.

Ideally, every new title would be simultaneously released in all 6 regions. In reality though, there is a gap from a few months to years between the release of titles in one region compared to the others. This problem, for consumers, is compounded by the lack of standard pricing across various regions, and to a lesser extent, the lack of certain DVD features (subtitles, additional footage, PAL/NTSC format, etc.). Regional settings generally interest most US consumers little, as the major feature films generally debut in the US. For those interested in foreign films, however, especially those without subtitles, the regional coding issue is a real one.

Things to Remember When Purchasing Films on DVD

When purchasing DVD remember to double check on the regional coding, the format (PAL/NTSC), whether or not it has subtitles (or other added features: extra scenes, interviews, etc.), and, if appropriate, if the version differs from those being sold in other regions. (For example, Chukhrai's 1998 Oscar winner The Thief/Bop differs greatly in its US and Russian releases. This is the case with many films, which were released separately in the West).

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