TV/Video Formats 

Just in case you were not aware there are a several TV standards in operation around the world.  

The PAL system, and variations within it , is basically a British system using 625 lines, 25 frames a second, and gives reasonable definition with regard to small detail and colour. Other countries that adopted the PAL system tend either to be in Europe or those that have had (on the whole) friendly relations with Britain. Although there are some variants within the PAL system (the UK uses PAL-I) my understanding is that they all record onto VHS tape in the same way, and encode back out to the appropriate UHF variant when playing back. So far I have not had any adverse reports from the tapes used in Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Spain or Germany.  

America, and it's post ww2 spheres of influence such as Japan use variants of NTSC, 30 frames a second and 525 lines. The "coding" of the waveform is different to PAL and it is traditional for NTSC to have a problem with rendering the correct shade of red. In the heyday of VHS tapes it was unusual for an NTSC videotape player to support PAL playback though there were a few models that could do so. I you have an average "mass market" NTSC videotape player it is unlikely that it will cope with PAL tapes.

Given the vast quantities with which video recorders and televisions are produced these days, and the relative cheapness of mass produced electronics from the far east, it is not unusual for manufacturers to make equipment that is multi standard, one model for worldwide consumption, even if they then deliberately disable some of the multi standard features in the cause of market segregation. If you do not live in one of the PAL areas listed above it is still possible that your equipment can play these tapes in a satisfactory manner, some video recorders can play back “foreign” tape formats even if they have to take shortcuts with regard to clipping some lines from the picture and relying on the TV set to be able to switch to a different frame rate. If you still have the user manual relating to your video recorder then it might list out the specific formats it will replay. 

For those with the French SECAM format TV system, which has the same number of lines and frame rate as the PAL system, my understanding is that all video recorders should be able to provide a monochrome rather than colour picture without any guarantee regarding sound. With the advent of PAL format satellite TV covering most, if not all of Europe, I understand that most SECAM recorders that are on the market now have a proper PAL (with colour and sound) playback facility. 

If you fall in to a category other than PAL then in the first instance try finding someone who has at some point bought a videotape back from Britain or one of the other PAL countries and see if you can borrow it, it is after all the most reliable test. If not then either try and find your video and TV manuals or jot down the makes and model numbers of your video equipment and ask your TV/video dealer if your system should work with PAL format tapes. If not then sadly you will probably need one of the special order tapes.

Tapes can now be supplied in SECAM (including ME-SECAM) and the less common PAL and NTSC formats, but there will be a loss of colour and definition quality because of the format transfer. If you can play back normal PAL tapes then I suggest that those are the ones to go for.