One of the hot topics in any expat group revolves around television and videos because nearly everyone wants to watch TV and movies at home, no matter where they may be living.
Last week someone wanted to know about multisystem TVs, which seems to be confusing more than a few folks. Moving abroad always brings the opportunity to flex the mind a lot, since what you took for granted as “normal” at home turns out to be absent or different in the new country.
Television is no exception. There are weird abbreviations and odd numbers that are just as confusing as a new language. Just as with the language, you need a dictionary or a translator in order to get by, or in this case, in order to buy what you need.
A little digging around brought us to this multisystem TV primer for enjoying television and at-home movies across the globe.
1. How can I find out what TV standard my country uses?
Each country adopts a television standard for the display of lines of resolution which are identified by an abbreviation which is standard across the planet. (The political and technical reasons are too vast to go into here.)
NTSC stands for National Television Standards Committee and is the standard for North America and Japan as well has half of Brazil. This standard enables the display of up to 525 lines of resolution.
PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line, and it is the standard employed almost everywhere else in the world. It can display 625 lines of resolution. Most of the world that uses PAL uses just plain old PAL. However, half of Brazil uses PAL-M, and its neighbors, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay use PAL-N.
SECAM is the abbreviation for Sequential Color Memory, which is hardly used. You can find it in France, parts of Greece, Africa, Russia, and Eastern Europe, and some other hidden corners of the world. Any SECAN country’s system allows you to play PAL tapes in full color on a VCR, but PAL countries work fully only with true SECAM tapes and not MESECAM tapes.
If you are not sure what standard your current country uses, contact a local cable company or a shop that sells home electronics.
2. How do I find out what standard my videotape is?
If you are not sure what standard your commercial videotaped movie is, just look on the back—it should be listed right there.
If you are going to record on a blank tape, no problem! When you buy a blank tape, it is just that—blank. You can record any video standard on it. Then that tape has that standard. You might want to jot that on the label for future reference if you tend to move a lot!
3. What if I want to watch a videotape from some other country?
This is where it gets tricky since those tapes come in all of the above mentioned standards, and all are incompatible with each other for the most part. If you want to watch videos from abroad that do not match the same standard as your own, you will need to have a set up that will convert it. In simple terms, you need a multisystem VCR and a multisystem TV. Alternatively, you could use a Digital Video Standards Converter and a VCR with a built-in converter.
What it boils down to is this: Having a multisystem VCR and a multisystem TV is like having a totally reliable translator on hand all the time. When you already have to deal with translating human language at the office or in shops, it’s good to know that you can go home and relax with your entertainment system and let it do all that work!