Editorial by Sandy Ross
Make NTSC your PAL, and SECAM too†
“To Import or Not to Import” should have motivated legions of people to start snapping up import games, but some questions have been raised about NTSC compatibility with other video signal systems. Unless you live in North America or Japan, your television may not be capable of displaying NTSC video; but fear not, gentle gamers, for I bring you tidings of great joy. There are ways to solve this problem, even if you have a television that’s as old as your parents.
There are three main video signals types in use on planet Earth: PAL, SECAM / MESECAM and NTSC.†† PAL, or Phase Alternating Line, is common in South America and some regions of Europe. PAL-M and PAL-N are used in South America, while Australia and most Scandinavian countries use the PAL system. PAL-M, PAL-N and PAL differ in their colour subcarrier frequency and vertical frequency. The colour subcarrier frequency carries colour (chroma) information along with the main transmission signal, in other words, not something you need to worry about unless you’re an engineer. PAL-M has a vertical frequency of 60, which is higher than that of PAL and PAL-N. This means that the image is updated a little more frequently on a PAL-M television than on a PAL or PAL-N screen.
SECAM, or Sequential Colour with Memory (Sequential Couleur Avec Mémoire) is a product of French engineering. This system dominates in Europe and former French colonies. Featuring the highest resolution rate of the three video signals, SECAM has 819 lines of resolution per second. Like PAL, SECAM stores colour information, and display colours are more consistent. MESECAM is a variation of SECAM used in the Middle East. Finding information about the technical specifications of MESECAM was rather difficult, but it seems that for the purposes of buying a SECAM to NTSC converter, MESECAM is interchangeable with SECAM.
National Television Systems Committee, or NTSC, does not have the same colour accuracy as SECAM or the PAL systems and it has fewer lines of resolution; however, this format has a vertical frequency of 60. Known among engineers as “Never Twice the Same Colour”, NTSC is notorious for poor consistency in colour registration. This system is used in Canada, the United States and Japan, which means that you need NTSC compatibility to play Japanese or North American games.
For European gamers, the best option is the buy a PAL to NTSC converter, which isn’t prohibitively expensive. There are a few questions one should ask before buying. Find out if the device needs electricity or batteries, and what electrical current and voltage the converter requires, as many of these devices aren’t made in Europe. A simple line-in / line-out box converter is the best option. If you’re planning on going in the other direction, from NTSC to PAL, there are converters available for this as well.
Import gaming stores aren’t your only option for buying converters. Online electronics merchants sell high-end converters designed for converting and dubbing tapes or burning DVDs from one video system to another. Ordinarily this isn’t isn’t the kind of equipment necessary to play games, but if you’re looking for SECAM conversion, this seems to be the only way to go.