Video Standards

For the last 50 years, there have been two major signal types recorded on videotape: NTSC and PAL. With the emergence of new high definition (HD) video formats, NTSC and PAL formats are now referred to as standard definition (SD) video formats.

Standard Definition Video

National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) is the television and video standard used in most of the Americas, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. Phase Alternating Line (PAL) is the television and video standard used in most of Europe, Australia, India, Brazil, China, and many African countries. There are several variations of both NTSC and PAL used in different parts of the world, but these variations are not described here.

Standard
Lines per frame
Frame rates
Scanning method
NTSC
525
29.97 fps
Interlaced
PAL
625
25 fps
Interlaced

SECAM is a video standard based on PAL. It is used in France, Poland, Haiti, and Vietnam. SECAM is strictly an analog composite video standard, so it is not used in digital video editing. Post-production work for SECAM broadcast is usually done in PAL and later converted to SECAM.

Note: SECAM is not supported by Final Cut Pro.

SD formats almost always have an aspect ratio of 4:3 (1.33:1).

High Definition Video

In the late 1990s, HD video formats were standardized in the United States by the Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC). These HD video formats are the next generation of broadcast and recording video formats. Unlike SD formats, which are restricted to fixed frame rates and numbers of lines per frame, HD video provides several options per format. Although the increased flexibility is convenient, it also makes format interchange more complicated. Simply saying “HD video” is not enough; you need to define the frame size, frame rate, and scanning method of your HD format.

Standard
Frame size
Frame rates (fps)
Scanning method
720p
1280 x 720
23.98, 29.97, 59.94
24, 30, 601
25, 50
Progressive
1080p
1920 x 1080
23.98, 29.97
24, 30
25
Progressive
1080i
1920 x 1080
25 (50i), 29.97 (59.94i), 30 (60i)
Interlaced

720p footage recorded at 24, 30, and 60 fps is rare. The 29.97 fps rates are more common because they are compatible with NTSC equipment.

There are an increasing number of HD tape and file-based formats available. Most HD formats support only a subset of the options shown in the table above, and most camcorders and video decks do not support every combination.