Guide to DVD Codes & PAL vs NTSC Formats on Atari 2600

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Guide to DVD Codes & PAL vs NTSC Formats on Atari 2600
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So What's This PAL-Thing Then ?

The video world has been ruined by a plethora of non-compatible Television/Video standards. As always the Americans wanted their own system and named it NTSC, after the National Television Standards (or system) Committee (of the Electronics Industries Association) (or never the same colour twice). It's also used in Canada, Mexico and Japan. The system has a variant, NTSC 4.43.

Most West-European and Latin Countries carry the PAL which stands for Phase Alternating Lines (or phase alternation by lines or even picture always lousy - which is Bull of course). This used to be split up in PAL-A and PAL-B ( with the UK having PAL-A). The sound modulation of these systems is not the same. If you play a PAL-B video tape on a PAL-A (UK) video you wont get sound. There still is N-PAL (used in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and M-PAL (used in Brazil) which is almost exactly the same as NTSC. Australia also has PAL.

Yet France, Poland, Russia and some other East-European Countries have SECAM ( Sequentiel Coleur A Memoire / Sequential colour and Memory) and some other MESECAM (used where SECAM is used, and in Greece). The difference between these is only the colour signal frequency. For games of the Atari 2600 VCS there is no difference at all with the PAL versions (i.e. no separate SECAM games were produced).
The difference between all these confusing systems lies in the frames per second rate (FPS), Colour Signal, Field Frequency and the Horizontal (Scan) Lines. NTSC uses 30 FPS and 525 Lines, PAL 25 FPS and 625 Lines (PAL-A has 25 FPS and 405 Lines), and SECAM 25 FPS and 819 Lines, plus uses a different system to encode it's colours (the colour signal frequency again). For those of you that are not confused yet:  Film runs at 24 FPS (except for 8mm, this runs at 18 FPS). But no one plays their 2600 from film I hope!

 Why The Different Systems ?

Historically, the different systems (in Europe) owe a lot to political considerations. Basically, many countries didn't want their citizens to be able to pick up broadcasts from neighbouring countries, so they adopted different standards, The PAL-A and SECAM story is very good example of this. There are also technical reasons - different standards were adopted to minimise the risk of interference between broadcast signals.

The fragmentation into separate markets became an issue in the late 1970s when home video recorders came onto the scene, long after the standards had been set. For now, the standards wont merge mostly because of money. Different systems keep the markets separated, and the more markets, the more money there is to earn. The rise of the DVD (Digital Versatile Disc), DTV (Digital Television) and HDTV (High Definition TV) is not changing a thing. DVDs are produced for different standards and different areas. To make sure the movie-studios are making huge profits, a special code with the release date for that specific area is imprinted, so that the DVD will not play until that date.

What Are Regional DVD Codes ?
DVDs ( Digital Versatile Discs) Contain Regional codes which can be used to prevent the playback of certain discs depending upon the geographical area it is played in. The various studios and home video companies lobbied to make sure this coding system was a required part of the current DVD standards. In the same way video games and movie videos are produced on different formats these companies wish to control how their DVD titles are exported to other countries. The region code is usually specified on the back of the individual DVD packages, either with a regional coding logo of a globe with the region number superimposed over it, or specifically spelled out.

  • Region 1 - The U.S., U.S. territories and Canada
  • Region 2 - Europe, Japan, Middle East, Egypt, South Africa, Greenland
  • Region 3 - Taiwan, Korea, The Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong
  • Region 4 - Mexico, South America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Caribbean
  • Region 5 - Russia (former USSR), Eastern Europe, India, Most of Africa, North Korea
  • Region 6 - China
The NTSC standard was devised in the 1940's and the only major update since then has been the addition of colour in 1953. NHK of Japan ( a state owned broadcasting company), who adapted the American standard was the first to develop a more sophisticated follow-up of a higher quality. While U.S. corporations were sitting on their butts, Japan and Europe were gathering money for further research. The companies in the States finally caught on as well. However, the process of discussions, proposals and counter-proposals took untill 1993, when Grand Alliance reached a compromise for HDTV. As for now, 18 new (HD) TV formats have been submitted (by various companies) to the U.S (Federal Communications Commission, who issue broadcast licences and provides the bandwith).
So whatever region your're in. It's really only going to get worse. No doubt that this will influence the future of the game industry in a bad way.

So What Does All This Mean For Me ?

This means that all the video related markets differ, whether we're talking about videogames, cassettes (if you still have some!), DVDs, CD-Vs and LaserDiscs, VCRs or camcorders... Which means that marketing strategies differ and products have always been different because straight imports aren't always possible.

Looking at the Atari 2600 (and other video game systems), we see that there are indeed different labels, cartridges, boxes and games like KLAX and Jumping Jack were only released in Europe. Games from the BIT Corporation, Sancho and Bomb seemed to be more available here than in the U.S., but SEARS and Twentieth Century Fox games are rarities here.

So can we play U.S. games on our PAL 2600 Systems and vice versa? Sure, no problem. The games are perfectly compatible and interchangable. Only colours will vary (playing AcTiVision's TENNIS on a blue court is actually pretty awsome). It's your TV set that could cause trouble. If you have an old big television it doesn't care at all. Some newer TVs will cause the screen to roll when other standard games are played. If your TV has Vertical (for PAL ppl) or a Horizontal (for NTSC ppl) PotHolder/Meter, you can adjust this until the rolling and flashing stops.

Well I hope you found this guide interesting and Thankyou for taking the time to read it!
If it helped you in any way I would very much appreciate knowing by clicking the box below,Thankyou!

Best Regards - Danny

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