If you have ever owned a video game system, you have probably heard the terms NTSC, PAL and SECAM. These are the video/television standards that are used throughout the world. Note: these standards only apply to colour televisions.
NTSC came about with the development of the first colour television on December 17th,1953 (although broadcasting didn't start until January 23rd,1954). It stands for National Television System Committee and originated in the United States of America. Although in NTSC the frame rate is 60 per second (fps), it has the lowest resolution when compared to PAL and SECAM. You can tell the frame rate is fast by playing a fast video game, such as Tekken, or watching a Japanese cartoon (Pokemon?)
Here are some countries that use this system:
United States of America, Japan, Mexico, Jamaica, South Korea,Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Burmuda.
PAL was developed in 1967 as a result of Europe having evaluted various other systems over the previous 24 years. It stands for the Phase Alternation Line, and is slower than its NTSC counterpart, working at 50 frames per second. "Why is it called The Phase Alternation Line?" I hear you say, and the reason is this: it has borders on the screen, which are only very noticable to the trained eye.
If you own a PlayStation, and have lived (or are living, as the case may be) in Europe, you might have heard of the mod-chip that can allow gamers to play NTSC games on thier PAL PlayStation. There are two reasons why people do this: To play the games before they hit the shores, probably making them the envy of their friends, and because they are faster (as is the case in many fighting and racing games).
Countries where PAL is used: United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, China, Belgium, Romania, Australia, Cyprus.
SECAM stands for Seqentiel Couleur Avec Memoire (translated as Sequential Color with Memory )and it started broadcasting in 1967. SECAM shares many simlarities with PAL, like its frame rate, which is the same. It has, however, the highest resolution of all the standards, but many countries with SECAM are hoping to switch to PAL, since PAL is a more popular choice, therefore having more equipment.
Countries that use SECAM: France, Greece, Iraq, Vietnam, Hungary, Poland, Russia.
When using some thing like a PlayStation with a mod-chip (for NTSC games), it would be best to play all games on a PAL television. If they are played on an NTSC television, the display will be black and white for all games, however PAL games will form black borders around the television.
For more information, check out the book "Video Demystified: A handbook for the Digital Engineer" by Keith Jack. This book contains the technical details and equations to do with colour lines, frequencies and input/output signals.