Friday, October 09, 2009 3:36 PM
PAL vs. NTSC In the ears of a Pitch perfectionist
Living in Israel, for years I’ve been living a lie. As you may or may not know, the broadcasting standard here is the same as Europe: PAL.
PAL is a broadcasting standard for analogue European televisions, VCRs, DVDs, game consoles, etc. ‘Broadcasting Standard’ is the definition of the analogue stream which is translated to the color separation method, the resolution, and the frame rate used by the broadcaster or device.
Most of the content in Israel comes from America, which uses NTSC – a different (and some would say inferior) broadcasting format. But you see, NTSC broadcasts at 23.976 frames per second, while PAL broadcasts at 25 frames per second. To broadcast American shows in Israel (or Europe for that matter), the content has to be converted from NTSC to PAL – which means the frame rate has to be accelerated. In that process, a most peculiar thing happens: the content is not only a tad bit faster, but the audio is also a bit higher-pitched.
Most people never even notice it, but I’ve always felt something was off. In later years, as I bought or downloaded soundtracks to shows I watched a lot and had memorized by heart, the show tunes had suddenly become strange and unfamiliar. I thought I was just imagining it, but after listening to the soundtracks for a while, I was certain that it was different than the aired version. At first I thought the show runners were simply ‘speeding things up’ by small percentages to gain more air time and squeeze more content in, but I didn’t give it much thought.
It wasn’t until online content became more wide-spread and shows started being available for download that I noticed it was something global. All shows sounded different on American television. People’s voices were lower, show tunes were on a different key altogether, and it seemed as if everything was in a much slower, lower-pitch.
It was especially noticeable on shows where the theme is played over and over again, like in Two and a Half Men or Scrubs. Two and a Half Men especially is a show that repeatedly plays the show’s main tune over and over again, and it’s harmony is almost a trademark. After watching 6 seasons of the show on television, I downloaded the first episode of the 7th season and thought to myself “That’s strange, they changed the tune – it’s lower pitched”. But it was too strange – it wasn’t just a different pitch, it was different altogether, but somehow the same.
It was then that it hit me – that every single show tune I’ve ever heard on television, every single song, every piece of music – it was all a lie! It was all converted from NTSC, which meant it was sped up a bit to fit PAL’s faster frame rate! All the show tunes, all the soundtracks, even characters’ voices – they were all off! They were higher than they originally were supposed to be!
I bet a lot of people noticed it too, but never knew to put their finger on it. Or maybe they did, and didn’t know why it was so. Now that I know, I surely do feel stupid. But hey, not everybody knows the difference between PAL and NTSC also comes into play in speed. I wonder if that’s why “45 minute shows” take only 42 minutes. We’ve been time robbed!
תגים:OFFTOPIC, TECH, PAL, Frame Rate, TV, NTSC, Music, Two and a Half Men
But at least we have less flickering.