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Home /Science / What Does PAL Stand For?

What Does PAL Stand For?

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By Christian Roemer

PAL might be the most friendly-named video-encoding format of all. It just reads like something pleasant, doesn’t it? “Let’s go grab our PAL and watch a movie tonight!”

See? Fun!

Unfortunately, PAL is like your best friend in high school; you were super close at the time, but you’ve grown apart over the years and you’re slowly phasing each other out of your lives. You shouldn’t be sad that it’s falling apart. You should be happy that it happened.

 

So what is PAL? The answer is a little bit technical, but here we go. PAL is a form of color-encoding that broadcast television used for about 65 years or so. Mostly only European countries used it, and they’re all in the process of converting to different systems. Our PAL will one day be a distant memory.


What does color-encoding system mean? I honestly wish you wouldn’t have asked. It’s incredibly complicated, but we can think of it this way: when networks broadcast their signals, they have to convert the picture from the TV into invisible waves that travel in the air, then convert them back into pictures on the TV. That way, you see the Brady Bunch on your screen and not magical squigglies. It separates the colors into different frequencies within a band, then the signal receiver puts it all back together when it arrives at your home.


What really separates PAL from other formats is the frequency. Because Europe has such a unique landscape, the popular encoding system at the time didn’t work well. Colors were getting scrambled and picture quality suffered. Imagine turning on Leave it Beaver and everyone was green. That would be exciting!


Some industrious Germans invented the PAL encoding system and found it to be a wonderful solution to the problems they were experiencing. Some countries around the world still use PAL, but it’s being phased out for DVB-T.


The interesting thing is that, even though PAL was invented as a way for Europeans to broadcast television, it impacted other technologies too. Since TVs were built and equipped to receive PAL encoding, VCRs had to accommodate the format also. That means videos from the USA wouldn’t work across the pond and vice versa.


So, in the off chance that your parents were married in 1976 in Krickenbach, Germany, and home videos existed of the ceremony, there’s a decent chance you wouldn’t be able to watch them in the USA. Just, hypothetically. Not that I’d know because my parents were married in Krickenbach in 1976 and no surviving home videos exist or anything. Definitely not.


Since broadcast TV is going the way of all analog technology, PAL is on its way out too. DIgital encoding is taking over basically everything. The good news is that it’s all mostly universal, meaning you’re not locked out of watching your tapes because they were filmed in a different country. The bad news is that it doesn’t help resurrect videos of your parents being married in Krickenbach in 1976.


More bad news: nothing will sound as nice and friendly as PAL.

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