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Andy's DV tip #3


That is the question for many independent filmmakers these days.

I'm often asked "what do I recommend" - well, there's no real cut and dried answer, but there are some guidelines that I hope to answer in this article.

First, let's look at the two formats. (we'll talk about the DV versions of these formats)

NTSC is the video standard we all live with day to day in the US. It runs at 30 frames per second (actually, 29.97002997... to be precise, but we'll round to 30 for the purposes of our discussion). DV NTSC has a resolution of 720 by 480 pixels. The 30 frames per second are further divided to make 60 fields per second. Each field is needed together to make a full resolution image, but each field is different in that each is displaced in time, and so a moving object moves between fields. It is this interfield motion that makes it so difficult to make a clean still image from a frame of video.

PAL is the video standard that much of the rest of the world uses. It runs at 25 frames per second, and has a resolution of 720 by 576. PAL is also divided into fields, in this case, 50 per second.

It's important to note that both PAL and NTSC have the same aspect ratio of 4x3 or 1.33:1. How can this be when they have different numbers of pixels? Well, the pixels are non-square. Instead of lots of little squares, there's lots of little rectangles making up your image. NTSC and PAL use differently sized rectangles.

How does this affect you?

First, let's assume a few things. We'll assume you want your project either to be printed to film, or at least to look like film when viewed on a standard NTSC television. Even if you are shooting PAL, we'll assume you want to show it to people in NTSC as a final product.

Based on these assumptions, here are some thoughts:

Benefits of shooting PAL (for an NTSC or FILM finish):

1) If you shoot in PAL we'll have a much easier time of getting a good transfer to film.

2) PAL gives you about 20% more resolution. For a film blowup this makes a huge difference.

3) Since PAL is so much closer to film speed (25 fps vs 24), we can slow it down just 4% and have a one to one frame relationship with none of the motion artifacts associated with NTSC.

4) If you shoot PAL and 16x9 mode, you can take advantage of our proprietary, and very inexpensive, BBGUN process. Instead of more expensive methods, BBGUN will give you an NTSC master that looks very much like film. Jaques' Dogwalker was processed using BBGUN, and the results were quite impressive.

Problems with shooting in PAL:

1) Since there is a 4% slowdown as part of the conversion process, you need to take into consideration music, and sequences with very fast cuts, as these may seem to drag in the NTSC or FILM version. The usual trick is to first speed up your music by 4% while working in PAL, then when it all gets slowed down at the final stages, the music will then be at the correct speed and pitch.

Do note that a 4% slow down is generally inperceptible with action. For proof of this, watch the film "Peachmaker" with George Clooney - half of that film was shot at 25 FPS. (The first person to write me with the correct answer as to which shots were shot at 25 fps and which at 24 will win a free DVCAM transfer! :)

2) Unless you have a PAL monitor, you'll need to use only the computer monitor for viewing your cut while editing.

3) Some places that do sound may have issues working with PAL.

Benefits of shooting NTSC:

1) You can view it at anytime on any regular TV in America/Canada.

2) You want to have a very "video" look, as opposed to a "film" look.

3) There is no significant speed change when doing any process or transfer to film or Magic Bullet for a film-look. This can be critical - if for instance you are making a film about discos, and you can't convince the DJ to spin everything 4% faster - the music may seem too slow with a PAL to Film/NTSC conversion. (I am consulting on a film about dance clubs, and this is the only time I have recommended shooting NTSC!).

Problems with shooting in NTSC:

1) Any attempt to transfer to FILM, or a 24P format will result in more "judder" especially on camera moves like Pans. Even Magic Bullet's advanced de-interlace and de-artifacting cannot completely remove the judder component.

2) You can make a smooth 30P version, but that will not transfer to film. However, you'll have a video only version that has a more film -like look and nice smooth motion.

3) NTSC has 20% less resolution than PAL. While this is not an issue if you are ending up on NTSC, it certainly is an issue when you are finishing on FILM.

As a quick general guide:

  • If you want to look like film on NTSC video, then shoot and edit in PAL.

  • If you want to transfer to FILM or HDTV 24P, shoot PAL 16x9 (see DV tip #2)

  • If you want to end up in NTSC, and are not concerned about looking like film, or transferring to film, then shoot NTSC.

In summary:

As you can see, there is no cut-and-dried answer here - It depends on your requirements. But I hope this is illustrative and helpful in assisting you in making that decision!

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Till next time - happy shooting!

Andrew Somers is an editor, member of the Motion Pictures Editor's Guild,and is the Filmmakers Alliance Director of Technology, you can contact him viaGeneral Titles & Visual Effects

Andrew Somers has been at the forefront of the digital filmmaking revolution. These pages have some archives for memories sake of some of the early days and trials of digital cinema technology.