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The SECAM System Explained and Compared with NTSC and PAL

Last updated on January 23rd, 2024 at 02:30 am

SECAM System Introduction

SECAM stands for Systeme Electronique couleur avec memoir or Sequential Color and Memory.

SECAM is a TV broadcast system invented by French engineer Henri de France and his team attached to Compagnie Française de Télévision.

The whole idea behind SECAM was to rectify the shortcomings of NTSC developed by the USA. That could be why SECAM has been jokingly called System Essentially Contrary to American Method. NTSC, incidentally, is often called Never Twice the Same Colour.

PAL wasn’t spared either – from Peace At Last, to Picture Always Lousy.

Broadcast services started in France in 1967. The Soviet Union followed soon after. Before long, many other countries were adopting this broadcast standard.

Some, however, switched to PAL, in the ensuing years.

SECAM broadcast ended in France on Nov. 29, 2011, after the switch to digital broadcasting, ending the analog color TV format’s 44-year run.

Some countries are still using the SECAM system while waiting to switch to digital broadcasting.

How Does SECAM Work?

SECAM takes each line of color and interlaces it sequentially with a line of luminance.

In other words,  one line of R-Y with the next line being B-Y, both lines representing color difference signals.

SECAM Bandwidth

According to the Broadcast Engineer’s Reference Book, the SECAM system used in the Middle East, North Africa and Mediterranean region has a bandwidth of 5MHz.

The SECAM system used in Eastern Europe has its bandwidth set at 6MHz.

The SECAM L system used in France and Luxembourg uses a bandwidth of 6MHz.

SECAM Regions

Among the countries that support SECAM include :

Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Bulgaria, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Czechoslovakia, Djibouti, Egypt, France, French Guiana, Gabon, Greece, Guadalupe, Guinea, Cyprus, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Martinique, Mauritius, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco, Niger, North Korea, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Syria, Togo, Tunisia, Vietnam, Western Samoa, and Zaire.

Difference Between SECAM and PAL : SECAM vs PAL

PAL and SECAM have a similarity. Both consist of 625 interlaced lines at 50 fields per second and displayed at 25 frames per second. Video resolution is 720 x 576.

The difference between SECAM and PAL lies in the manner of how SECAM processes the color information of a broadcast signal.

The PAL and NTSC systems are designed to send and receive two chrominance (color) signals at the same time.

SECAM, as explained earlier, took each line of color and interlaced it sequentially with a line of luminance.

The two systems are compatible with each other though, in black-and-white mode only. A PAL TV receives a SECAM broadcast but displays only black-and-white pictures. The reverse is also true.

India which has the PAL system receives Russian channels broadcast in SECAM. But pictures are displayed in black-and-white.


As has been explained, SECAM consists of 625 interlaced lines at 50 fields per second and a frame rate of 25 frames per second with a video resolution of 720 x 576.

NTSC has 525 interlaced lines at 60 fields per second with a frame rate of 30 frames per second with a video resolution of 720 x 480.

SECAM Advantages and Disadvantages


As explained earlier, SECAM was driven by the need to improve on NTSC. It delivered on its promise of TV broadcast with superior color reproduction.

SECAM addresses the color-related problems found in NTSC and PAL. NTSC is susceptible to hue issues. PAL fell prey to color saturation issues.

SECAM did an excellent job when it came to hue and saturation.


The SECAM system was comparatively more expensive and difficult to maintain compared to NTSC and PAL.

Editing on SECAM was virtually impossible. In France, where SECAM originated, PAL recorders were used first before recorded programs are transcoded to SECAM before broadcast took place.

SECAM to NTSC Converter

What do you do if you have a SECAM tape and need to play it over an older NTSC VCR to an NTSC TV? As seen in the video below, you’ll see only jumping lines and hear only audio.

You don’t have to watch the whole video. You can stop after the first tape stops playing if you wish.

To solve the problem you can use a SECAM to NTSC converter. This converter accepts the input of a PAL or SECAM signal and converts it to an NTSC signal.

This will be useful if you would like to convert a video recorded on a SECAM VHS tape to digital.

Check out the SECAM/PAL to NTSC converter.

Can You Record over a SECAM Tape with an NTSC VCR?

Yes, you can. The part with the NTSC recording will play well on an NTSC TV.

Is there a VCR that Can Play PAL, SECAM and NTSC Tapes?

Yes, there is a type of VCRs that can play all three formats. It’s called a Worldwide VCR. If you can’t get hold of one, go for a SECAM/PAL to NTSC converter.

Is there a PAL-SECAM-NTSC DVD Player?

Yes, most DVD players support PAL and NTSC. There’s no separate digital version of SECAM as with VHS. A SECAM DVD is essentially a PAL DVD that should play on a modern TV that supports NTSC and PAL.


Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital By Leo Douglas Graham Enticknap

TV & Video Engineer’s Reference Book edited by KG Jackson, G B Townsend

Broadcast Engineer’s Reference Book edited by EPJ Tozer

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