The PAL region (PAL being short for Phase Alternating Line) is a television publication territory that covers most of Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania. It is so named because of the PAL television standard traditionally used in those regions, as opposed to the NTSC standard traditionally used in Japan and the United States, which both produce a large portion of the world's televisions.
Most video games designated as part of the region will not play on NTSC-U/C or NTSC-J region consoles because of regional lockout. While this is the most common occurrence, some Xbox and Xbox 360 games are region-free encoded, since Microsoft's policy is for publishers to decide. Sony has a similar policy for the PlayStation Portable, but most publishers choose not to encode a region on their UMD games. With the exception of Persona 4 Arena, PlayStation 3 Blu-ray Disc games are region-free. The PlayStation 4 will be completely region free allowing usage in all standards regions. The Xbox One was originally announced to include region locking, but this was one of several policies that Microsoft reversed after consumer outcry. All Nintendo home consoles have region locking either by software encoding or physical differences in media and consoles.
In contrast, most Nintendo handhelds are not region-locked, along with most other historical systems (Neo Geo Pocket, Sega Game Gear, etc.), except partially for the Nintendo DSi and fully for the Nintendo 3DS which features region locking for the DSi and 3DS specific software respectively (for example, DSiWare games and apps).
Australia uses PAL version games only for the Wii, PlayStation 3 and sometimes the Xbox 360. Nintendo DS games in Australia use either their own localisations or localisations from North America to reduce release date delays on games, but some distributors use European versions as they are fully aligned to a certain European subsidiary e.g. Konami and Capcom of Europe for unknown reasons.
As most hand-held consoles use their own proprietary display system, incompatibilities of differing TV systems are not relevant. However, the same regions often exist for localisation and distribution purposes.
The scope of the PAL region varies with systems and publishers. The following countries and areas are normally included in a PAL region release:
60 Hz operation
During the mid-1990s, the practice of modifying consoles such as the Super NES and Mega Drive to allow 60 Hz operation became somewhat common among PAL gamers, due to the rise in NTSC/60 Hz capable PAL TVs and the relatively simple nature of the modifications. Beginning with the fifth generation of consoles, which introduced more powerful hardware and 3D graphics, developers had the ability to output at full PAL resolution without borders or stretching, although games still typically ran slower and all ran at 50 Hz. Beginning with the Dreamcast and continuing through the sixth generation of consoles, developers began including PAL60 modes in their games. Games that run at PAL60 are produced with the same colour encoding system as 50 Hz PAL signals, but with the NTSC resolution and field rate of 60 Hz, providing an identical gaming experience to their NTSC counterparts.
Criticism of PAL region video games
Games ported to PAL have historically been known for having game speed and frame rates inferior to their NTSC counterparts. Since the NTSC standard is 60 fields/30 frames per second but PAL is 50 fields/25 frames per second, games were typically slowed down by approximately 16.7% in order to avoid timing problems or unfeasible code changes. FMV rendered and encoded at 30 frames per second by the Japanese/US (NTSC) developers was often down-sampled to 25 frames per second for PAL release—usually by means of 3:2 pull-down, resulting in motion judder. In addition to this, PAL's increased resolution was not utilised during conversion, creating a pseudo letterbox effect with borders top and bottom, leaving the graphics with a slightly squashed look due to an incorrect aspect ratio caused by the borders. This was especially prevalent during previous generations when 2D graphics were used almost exclusively. The gameplay of many games with an emphasis on speed, such as the original Sonic The Hedgehog for the Mega Drive, suffered in their PAL incarnations.
Despite the possibility and popularity of 60 Hz PAL games, many high profile games, particularly for the PS1 and PS2 console, were released in 50 Hz-only versions. Square Enix have long been criticised by PAL gamers for their poor PAL conversions. Final Fantasy X runs in 50 Hz mode only, and 16.7% slower and bordered that while prevalent in previous generations was considered inexcusable at the time of release. In stark contrast, the Xbox featured a system-wide PAL60 option in the Dashboard and the overwhelming majority of PAL games offered 50 and 60 Hz modes with no slowdown. Current generation PAL consoles such as the Xbox 360 and Wii also feature system-wide 60 Hz support.