Moving Between PAL, NTSC, and HD

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the November, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Over the last four months, Pia Sawhney and I had a long email chat about video formats. Here are the highlights. Pia writes:

My cinematographer filmed in Africa two weeks ago on a Canon XHA1 using the 1080 setting at 30 frames. This is still considered progressive on Canon, which I didn’t realize at the time, but from what I’ve been reading – the capture and edit still uses a 60i setting for the most part – am I right about this? Which codec would you suggest using for capture in this circumstance?

Larry replies: With this camera, try an Easy Setup of HDV 1080p/30 FireWire Basic first, if that doesn’t work, use HDV 1080i/60.

ASSUMING the following are true, working with native HDV is fine:

1. You are capturing HDV natively using FireWire and you do not plan to recapture it
2. You are not planning to deliver this program to broadcast
3. You are not planning on major effects.

If true, keep your sequence settings set to HDV 1080i/60.

If you plan to integrate other video formats, it would be better to convert the HDV to ProRes 422 during capture. Faster rendering, higher quality output, and ability to output to multiple tape formats. I would recommend this option. The easy setup is HDV to ProRes 422.

Pia continues:

I do want to have the option of delivering this project to broadcasters; and so, perhaps an upgrade to ProRes 422 is, in fact, the right option. The film will have effects, and additionally, there’s a chance I may have to get additional footage from the field which would mean integrating other formats.

Larry replies: With HDV, ProRes 422 should be fine.

If you are outputting for broadcast, I don’t know any broadcaster that accepts HDV tape – you’ll need to find out what tape formats they support.

The conversion between ProRes and your ultimate format is generally done either during final compression or during ingest using the capture card.

AS ALWAYS, test your entire workflow before committing.

Pia continues:

I’m capturing footage on ProRes 422 and it looks great. But I’ve been trying to output to DVD, and I’m getting all tangled up in compression. Any clues on how I might send ProRes footage to DVD? Once I master this workflow, I’ll be ready to start -good news, for sure.

Larry replies: You have several options. Keep in mind that DVDs are ALL SD, not HD. This means that you need to down-convert your HD footage to SD before burning to a DVD. Blu-ray Discs are HD, but can’t be created in DVD Studio Pro.

If all you need to do is burn ONE sequence to DVD, without any fancy menus, use File > Share > DVD from within Final Cut Pro.

If you need to create a DVD with menus:

  1. Use File > Export > QuickTime movie.
  2. Create a self-contained movie using your ProRes format.
  3. Bring that ProRes file into Compressor and apply the DVD Best Quality setting that most closely matches the TOTAL length of all your videos. This process will down-convert your HD footage to SD.
  4. Bring the now-compressed MPEG files into DVD Studio Pro and author your DVD as normal.

Pia then sent another question:

You’re quickly becoming my spiritual master as I move forward on this documentary production. 🙂 Given budget constraints, we have had to shoot on DV and are now going to possibly have to shoot on PAL. I had a question — is it possible to shoot on HD in PAL and then convert the footage back to NTSC, and keep HD quality? I am still editing in ProRes on HD — and that looks just spectacular so I’m probably going to just up-res DV if need be. its fine with the story because I’m co-producing these segments with African artists. (Actually PAL may be shot in Copenhagen next week, so there’s really no excuse not to have these pictures in HD, which is why I certainly welcome any suggestions! :))

Larry concludes: Thanks for your gracious words!

You about to give yourself some very tricky problems in your edit.

1. Can you shoot PAL and keep HD quality? No. PAL is an SD format.

2. Can you shoot PAL and convert to NTSC? Yes, however, the quality and smoothness of movement will not be as good as if you shot NTSC directly.

3. Can you convert PAL to NTSC? Yes, however unless you spend a lot of money, the conversion takes a lot of time – 4-8 times longer than real time.

4. Can you shoot HD at 50 frames a second and edit it with HD shot at 60 frames per second? Yes, though transcoding to ProRes at the same frame rate before editing will save a lot of headache.

The key thing is to be SURE of your terms, and the terms your remote crews are using. PAL is standard-def. NTSC is standard-def. HD is high-def. Be sure they are shooting the same image size you are – 1080 or 720. Frame rates can be converted more easily than image size. It is easy to go from HD to SD, it is NOT easy to go from SD to HD.

UPDATE – Dec. 28, 2009

Matt Davis writes:

I think the questioner actually meant shooting HD at PAL frame rates (25p or 50i) then shifting frame rates to NTSC (24, 29.97 and so on).


its the start of a workflow I’ve been experimenting with for creating the best NTSC experience from a PAL project (even if it was filmed in HD), to whit:


  • Film at 25fps at choice of resolution
  • Edit at native rate, export master edit as Audio and Video files
  • Change the header information to make the 25fps movie 24fps (actually 23.97) and cleanly scale to SD
  • Change the audio to fit the new timebase (4%) either accepting slight pitch shift or processing it to achieve time without pitch shift
  • Encode to multplexed format of choice (in other words, reunite video and audio into one file

Therefore using the 3:2 pulldown technique to get HD at PAL rates onto an NTSC screen in such a way that someone used to seeing 3:2 pulldown would not feel anything untoward has been done to the frame rate.

Larry replies: Thanks, Matt.


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7 Responses to Moving Between PAL, NTSC, and HD

  1. Mike Kessler says:

    I received video shot in Greece that is PAL MPEG-4 files.
    MY FCP is set to NTSC for use here in the US.
    Do I simply do a new set up that is set to PAL standards when starting a new project? There seems to be more to it than that. It’s not importing files.

  2. Giuseppe says:

    I am looking for the solution to my problem.
    I shot a video mode 1080i50 with Panasonic 171E but I have to make a bluray for america. I sent a bluray in america but the client tells me that he sees it.
    How can I turn my bluray from pal to ntsc?
    Thank you.

  3. I am looking for the solution to my problem

    MY FCP is set to NTSC for use here in the US.
    Do I simply do a new set up that is set to PAL standards when starting a new project? There seems to be more to it than that. It’s not importing files.

  4. says:

    I recently purchased a Sony MC2000u, which records NTSC video files, i am based in Kenya and the video format here is PAL. what advice would you give if i want to use the camera, record in NTSC and produce HD DVDs in PAL? is it possible?

    • prasad says:

      hi sir.i have a dv pal 25 frames video 720/576 framing.when im exporting quicktime .mov format i am not getting original quality.[using final cut pro 7…ram 4gb] is there any problem with ram.

      2nd question. how to export mpeg 2 format. i am not getting this option while using quick time convertion.

      3rd question.compressor will give best qwality in mpeg 2 format.

      4th to get mpeg 2 best quality in final cut pro 7.

  5. Geoff says:

    Hi Larry. I receive an NTSC HD program that I need to send to a PAL SD station after making a few edits. I am using FCPx with Compressor to do the render. Currently the station reports that the pixel aspect ratio appears to be incorrect in the SD file they receive, the image looking flattened. Can you recommend the correct settings in COMpressor to overcome this issue? Thanks!

    • Larry Jordan says:


      Make your edits in NTSC. Export that project as NTSC. Make sure that your NTSC master file looks as good as possible.

      Then, convert to PAL using Compressor as a separate step. That SHOULD be OK. Use the SD PAL settings in Compressor to get the aspect ratio correct.

      If you have problems with the conversion, there is other software out there that can be used – though prices range wildly – but the key is to make your edits in a project matching the settings of the original master.


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