Video Format Basics

Most video formats are described by the following characteristics:

For a more thorough explanation of video formats, see Video Formats.

Video Standards

A number of video standards have emerged over the years. Standard definition (SD) video formats have been used for broadcast television from the 1950s to the present. These include NTSC, PAL, and SECAM regional video standards, with each used in certain countries and regions of the world.

  • NTSC (National Television Systems Committee): The television and video standard used in most of the Americas, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.
  • PAL (Phase Alternating Line): The television and video standard used in most of Europe, Brazil, Algeria, and China.
  • SECAM: A video standard that is based on PAL and used in countries such as France, Poland, Haiti, and Vietnam. SECAM is not supported by Final Cut Pro. However, editing work is usually done in PAL and converted to SECAM for broadcasting.

Important: When you are specifying your initial settings, make sure you choose an Easy Setup that corresponds to your country‚Äôs video standard. (An Easy Setup is a collection of settings that determines how Final Cut Pro works with your editing system.) For more information, see Opening Final Cut Pro and Choosing Your Initial Settings.

Originally, all these formats were analog. Analog video uses a signal that consists of a constantly varying voltage level, called a waveform, that represents video and audio information. Analog signals must be digitized, or captured, for use by Final Cut Pro. VHS and Betacam SP are both analog tape formats.

More recently, digital SD video formats were introduced, as well as digital high definition (HD) video formats. Most consumer camcorders today record SD digital video (such as DV), and professional cameras may record SD, HD, or digital cinema video.

Image Dimensions and Aspect Ratio

The horizontal and vertical pixel dimensions of your format determine the frame size and aspect ratio. For example, SD NTSC video is 720 pixels wide and 486 pixels tall. HD video is either 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080, and is usually referred to by the vertical dimension (for example, 720 or 1080) and the frame rate. In addition, Final Cut Pro refers to interlaced HD formats according to their field rate rather than frame rate; for example, 1080i60 (59.94 fields per second) rather than 1080i30 (29.97 frames per second). Digital cinema formats are generally referred to using their horizontal dimension as either 2K, 3K, or 4K, shorthand for at least 2,000 pixels, 3,000 pixels, or 4,000 pixels wide.

The aspect ratio of a video frame is the width with respect to the height. SD video has an aspect ratio of 4:3, while HD video uses 16:9. Digital cinema formats use the 16:9 aspect ratio as well as closely related film-based aspect ratios.

Note: You may notice that 1280/720 or 1920/1080 is equivalent to 16:9, while 720/480 is not equivalent to 4:3. This is because SD digital video uses pixels that are rectangular, not square. For more information, see Video Formats.

Frame Rate

The frame rate of your video determines how quickly frames are recorded and played back. The higher the number of frames per second (fps), the less noticeably the image flickers on screen. There are several common frame rates in use:

  • 24 fps: Film, certain HD formats, and certain SD formats use this frame rate. This may also be 23.98 fps for compatibility with NTSC video.
  • 25 fps: SD PAL, HD PAL
  • 29.97 fps: SD NTSC, HD NTSC (720p30, 1080p30, and 1080i60)
  • 50 fps: 720p HD
  • 59.94 fps: 720p HD
  • 60 fps: 720p HD

For more information, see Frame Rate and Timecode.

Scanning Method

Video frames are composed of individual lines, scanned from the top of the screen to the bottom. Lines may be scanned progressively (one line at a time), or interlaced (every other line during one scan, and then the alternate lines on a subsequent scan). For more information, see Video Formats.