NTSC, named after the National Television System Committee, is the analog television system that is used in North America, and until digital conversion was used in most of the Americas (except Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and French Guiana); Myanmar; South Korea; Taiwan; Philippines, Japan; and some Pacific island nations and territories (see map).
The first NTSC standard was developed in 1941 and had no provision for color. In 1953 a second NTSC standard was adopted, which allowed for color television broadcasting which was compatible with the existing stock of black-and-white receivers. NTSC was the first widely adopted broadcast color system and remained dominant until the 2000s, when it started to be replaced with different digital standards such as ATSC and others.
Most countries using the NTSC standard, as well as those using other analog television standards, have switched to, or are in process of switching to newer digital television standards, there being at least four different standards in use around the world. North America, parts of Central America, and South Korea are adopting or have adopted the ATSC standards, while other countries (such as Japan) are adopting or have adopted other standards instead of ATSC. After nearly 70 years, the majority of over-the-air NTSC transmissions in the United States ceased on January 1, 2010, and by August 31, 2011 in Canada and most other NTSC markets. The majority of NTSC transmissions ended in Japan on July 24, 2011, with the Japanese prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima ending the next year. After a pilot program in 2013, most full-power analog stations in Mexico left the air on ten dates in 2015, with some 500 low-power and repeater stations allowed to remain in analog until the end of 2016. Digital broadcasting allows higher-resolution television, but digital standard definition television continues to use the frame rate and number of lines of resolution established by the analog NTSC standard.
Unlike PAL, with its many varied underlying broadcast television systems in use throughout the world, NTSC color encoding is almost invariably used with broadcast system M, giving NTSC-M.
NTSC-N/NTSC50 is an unofficial system combining 625-line video with 3.58 MHz NTSC color. PAL software running on an NTSC Atari ST displays using this system as it cannot display PAL color. Television sets and monitors with a V-Hold knob can display this system after adjusting the vertical hold.
Only Japan’s variant “NTSC-J” is slightly different: in Japan, black level and blanking level of the signal are identical (at 0 IRE), as they are in PAL, while in American NTSC, black level is slightly higher (7.5 IRE) than blanking level. Since the difference is quite small, a slight turn of the brightness knob is all that is required to correctly show the “other” variant of NTSC on any set as it is supposed to be; most watchers might not even notice the difference in the first place. The channel encoding on NTSC-J differs slightly from NTSC-M. In particular, the Japanese VHF band runs from channels 1-12 (located on frequencies directly above the 76-90 MHz Japanese FM radio band) while the North American VHF TV band uses channels 2-13 (54-72 MHz, 76-88 MHz and 174-216 MHz) with 88-108 MHz allocated to FM radio broadcasting. Japan’s UHF TV channels are therefore numbered from 13 up and not 14 up, but otherwise uses the same UHF broadcasting frequencies as those in North America.
The Brazilian PAL-M system, introduced in 1972, uses the same lines/field as NTSC (525/60), and almost the same broadcast bandwidth and scan frequency (15.750 vs. 15.734 kHz). Prior to the introduction of color, Brazil broadcast in standard black-and-white NTSC. As a result, PAL-M signals are near identical to North American NTSC signals, except for the encoding of the color subcarrier (3.575611 MHz for PAL-M and 3.579545 MHz for NTSC). As a consequence of these close specs, PAL-M will display in monochrome with sound on NTSC sets and vice versa.
PAL-M (PAL=Phase Alternating Line) specs are:
Transmission band UHF/VHF,
Frame rate 30
Horizontal freq. 15.750 kHz
Vertical freq. 60 Hz
Color sub carrier 3.575611 MHz
Video bandwidth 4.2 MHz
Sound carrier frequency 4.5 MHz
Channel bandwidth 6 MHz
NTSC (National Television System Committee) specs are:
Transmission band UHF/VHF
Horizontal frequency 15.734 kHz
Vertical frequency 59.939 Hz
Color subcarrier frequency 3.579545 MHz
Video bandwidth 4.2 MHz
Sound carrier frequency 4.5 MHz
This is used in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. This is very similar to PAL-M (used in Brazil).
The similarities of NTSC-M and NTSC-N can be seen on the ITU identification scheme table, which is reproduced here:
|System||Lines||Frame rate||Channel b/w||Visual b/w||Sound offset||Vestigial sideband||Vision mod.||Sound mod.||Notes|
|M||525||29.97||6||4.2||+4.5||0.75||Neg.||FM||Most of the Americas and Caribbean, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines (all NTSC-M) and Brazil (PAL-M). Greater frame rate results in higher quality.|
|N||625||25||6||4.2||+4.5||0.75||Neg.||FM||Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay (all PAL-N). Greater number of lines results in higher quality.|
As it is shown, aside from the number of lines and frames per second, the systems are identical. NTSC-N/PAL-N are compatible with sources such as game consoles, VHS/Betamax VCRs, and DVD players. However, they are not compatible with baseband broadcasts (which are received over an antenna), though some newer sets come with baseband NTSC 3.58 support (NTSC 3.58 being the frequency for color modulation in NTSC: 3.58 MHz).
In what can be considered an opposite of PAL-60, NTSC 4.43 is a pseudo color system that transmits NTSC encoding (525/29.97) with a color subcarrier of 4.43 MHz instead of 3.58 MHz. The resulting output is only viewable by TVs that support the resulting pseudo-system (usually multi-standard TVs). Using a native NTSC TV to decode the signal yields no color, while using a PAL TV to decode the system yields erratic colors (observed to be lacking red and flickering randomly). The format was used by the USAF TV based in Germany during the Cold War. It was also found as an optional output on some LaserDisc players and some game consoles sold in markets where the PAL system is used.
The NTSC 4.43 system, while not a broadcast format, appears most often as a playback function of PAL cassette format VCRs, beginning with the Sony 3/4″ U-Matic format and then following onto Betamax and VHS format machines. As Hollywood has the claim of providing the most cassette software (movies and television series) for VCRs for the world’s viewers, and as not all cassette releases were made available in PAL formats, a means of playing NTSC format cassettes was highly desired.
Multi-standard video monitors were already in use in Europe to accommodate broadcast sources in PAL, SECAM, and NTSC video formats. The heterodyne color-under process of U-Matic, Betamax & VHS lent itself to minor modification of VCR players to accommodate NTSC format cassettes. The color-under format of VHS uses a 629 kHz subcarrier while U-Matic & Betamax use a 688 kHz subcarrier to carry an amplitude modulated chroma signal for both NTSC and PAL formats. Since the VCR was ready to play the color portion of the NTSC recording using PAL color mode, the PAL scanner and capstan speeds had to be adjusted from PAL’s 50 Hz field rate to NTSC’s 59.94 Hz field rate, and faster linear tape speed.
The changes to the PAL VCR are minor thanks to the existing VCR recording formats. The output of the VCR when playing an NTSC cassette in NTSC 4.43 mode is 525 lines/29.97 frames per second with PAL compatible heterodyned color. The multi-standard receiver is already set to support the NTSC H & V frequencies; it just needs to do so while receiving PAL color.
The existence of those multi-standard receivers was probably part of the drive for region coding of DVDs. As the color signals are component on disc for all display formats, almost no changes would be required for PAL DVD players to play NTSC (525/29.97) discs as long as the display was frame-rate compatible.
In January 1960 (7 years prior to adoption of the modified SECAM version) the experimental TV studio in Moscow started broadcasting using OSKM system. OSKM abbreviation means “Simultaneous system with quadrature modulation” (Russian Одновременная Система с Квадратурной Модуляцией). It used the color coding scheme that was later used in PAL (U and V instead of I and Q), because it was based on D/K monochrome standard, 625/50.
The color subcarrier frequency was 4.4296875 MHz and the bandwidth of U and V signals was near 1.5 MHz. Only circa 4000 TV sets of 4 models (Raduga, Temp-22, Izumrud-201 and Izumrud-203) were produced for studying the real quality of TV reception. These TV’s were not commercially available, despite being included in the goods catalog for trade network of the USSR.
The broadcasting with this system lasted about 3 years and was ceased well before SECAM transmissions started in the USSR. None of the current multi-standard TV receivers can support this TV system.
Film content commonly shot at 24 frames/s can be converted to 30 frames/s through the telecine process to duplicate frames as needed.
Mathematically for NTSC this is relatively simple as you need only to duplicate every 4th frame. Various techniques are employed. NTSC with an actual frame rate of 24⁄1.001 (approximately 23.976) frames/s is often defined as NTSC-film. A process known as pullup, also known as pulldown, generates the duplicated frames upon playback. This method is common for H.262/MPEG-2 Part 2 digital video so the original content is preserved and played back on equipment that can display it or can be converted for equipment that cannot.
Canada/US video game region
Sometimes NTSC-US or NTSC-U/C is used to describe the video gaming region of North America (the U/C refers to US + Canada), as regional lockout usually restricts games released within a region to that region.
The SMPTE color bars, an example of a test pattern
Reception problems can degrade an NTSC picture by changing the phase of the color signal (actually differential phase distortion), so the color balance of the picture will be altered unless a compensation is made in the receiver. The vacuum-tube electronics used in televisions through the 1960s led to various technical problems. Among other things, the color burst phase would often drift when channels were changed, which is why NTSC televisions were equipped with a tint control. PAL and SECAM televisions had no need of one, and although it is still found on NTSC TVs, color drifting generally ceased to be a problem for more modern circuitry by the 1970s. When compared to PAL in particular, NTSC color accuracy and consistency is sometimes considered inferior, leading to video professionals and television engineers jokingly referring to NTSC as Never The Same Color, Never Twice the Same Color, or No True Skin Colors, while for the more expensive PAL system it was necessary to Pay for Additional Luxury. PAL has also been referred to as Peace At Last, Perfection At Last or Pictures Always Lovely in the color war. This mostly applied to vacuum tube-based TVs, however, and later-model solid state sets using Vertical Interval Reference signals have less of a difference in quality between NTSC and PAL. This color phase, “tint”, or “hue” control allows for anyone skilled in the art to easily calibrate a monitor with SMPTE color bars, even with a set that has drifted in its color representation, allowing the proper colors to be displayed. Older PAL television sets did not come with a user accessible “hue” control (it was set at the factory), which contributed to its reputation for reproducible colors.
The use of NTSC coded color in S-Video systems completely eliminates the phase distortions. As a consequence, the use of NTSC color encoding gives the highest resolution picture quality (on the horizontal axis & frame rate) of the three color systems when used with this scheme. (The NTSC resolution on the vertical axis is lower than the European standards, 525 lines against 625.) However, it uses too much bandwidth for over-the-air transmission. The Atari 800 and Commodore 64 home computers generate S-video, but only when used with specially designed monitors as no TV at the time supported the separate chroma and luma on standard RCA jacks. In 1987, a standardized 4-pin mini-DIN socket was introduced for S-video input with the introduction of S-VHS players, which were the first device produced to use the 4-pin plugs. However, S-VHS never became very popular. Video game consoles in the 1990s began offering S-video output as well.
The mismatch between NTSC’s 30 frames per second and film’s 24 frames is overcome by a process that capitalizes on the field rate of the interlaced NTSC signal, thus avoiding the film playback speedup used for 576i systems at 25 frames per second (which causes the accompanying audio to increase in pitch slightly, sometimes rectified with the use of a pitch shifter) at the price of some jerkiness in the video. See Frame rate conversion above.
Vertical interval reference
The standard NTSC video image contains some lines (lines 1–21 of each field) that are not visible (this is known as the Vertical Blanking Interval, or VBI); all are beyond the edge of the viewable image, but only lines 1–9 are used for the vertical-sync and equalizing pulses. The remaining lines were deliberately blanked in the original NTSC specification to provide time for the electron beam in CRT-based screens to return to the top of the display.
VIR (or Vertical interval reference), widely adopted in the 1980s, attempts to correct some of the color problems with NTSC video by adding studio-inserted reference data for luminance and chrominance levels on line 19. Suitably equipped television sets could then employ these data in order to adjust the display to a closer match of the original studio image. The actual VIR signal contains three sections, the first having 70 percent luminance and the same chrominance as the color burst signal, and the other two having 50 percent and 7.5 percent luminance respectively.
A less-used successor to VIR, GCR, also added ghost (multipath interference) removal capabilities.
The remaining vertical blanking interval lines are typically used for datacasting or ancillary data such as video editing timestamps (vertical interval timecodes or SMPTE timecodes on lines 12–14), test data on lines 17–18, a network source code on line 20 and closed captioning, XDS, and V-chip data on line 21. Early teletext applications also used vertical blanking interval lines 14–18 and 20, but teletext over NTSC was never widely adopted by viewers.
Many stations transmit TV Guide On Screen (TVGOS) data for an electronic program guide on VBI lines. The primary station in a market will broadcast 4 lines of data, and backup stations will broadcast 1 line. In most markets the PBS station is the primary host. TVGOS data can occupy any line from 10-25, but in practice its limited to 11-18, 20 and line 22. Line 22 is only used for 2 broadcast, DirecTV and CFPL-TV.
TiVo data is also transmitted on some commercials and program advertisements so customers can autorecord the program being advertised, and is also used in weekly half-hour paid programs on Ion Television and the Discovery Channel which highlight TiVo promotions and advertisers.
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