NTSC/PAL - Recording Guide

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Normally, you can play a video game and listen to its music without second thought. However, in the 1980s, this was different. Home computers and video game consoles were connected to analog color television sets, and depending on the continent (sometimes the country), they worked in different ways, at different screen refresh rates:

  • North America and Asia: NTSC at 60 Hz
  • Europe, Australia and most of South America: PAL at 50 Hz
  • France and the USSR: SECAM at 50 Hz

If a hardware company wanted to ship a platform to both regions (namely NTSC and PAL/SECAM), they had to produce two versions of the same platform. The PAL/SECAM ones have a much slower screen refresh rate as seen above, and as a side effect, also a slightly slower CPU and sound chip. This in turn means that the very same song would sound lower (mostly by a semitone) and slower on PAL than on NTSC. On games, it would actually be worse: To work best around technical limits, games almost always synchronized audio to the screen refresh rate, so on PAL, the same song would be not just slightly slower, but much slower.

Reactions of developers to this problem were mixed. If for example NTSC developers wanted to ship a game to PAL/SECAM, they usually did one of the following:

  1. Rise the tempo and the pitches on the PAL version's music, so overseas, it sounds as close to home as it gets.
  2. Rise the tempo only.
  3. Nothing, and risk that the games sound different (if not wrong) overseas. Today, various comments on YouTube videos reveal that some gamers like the wrong versions better.

So, when you want to record a soundtrack from a such platform, see where the game was available:

  • If the game only works in only one region, set up your favorite emulator or player to use that region and record then.
  • If the game was published in both regions and really sound different, record the soundtrack twice: once for each region, and each with a different disc number (see Terminator 2: Judgement Day (NES) for an example). The first disc number should go to the region which the game was primarily made for or in.

Region-dependent platforms

Region-independent platforms

On handhelds, the problem did not exist, unless you played on a television set adapter. On later platforms, the problem was getting solved in hardware.