TESOL Matters, 7(4), 11, 1997.

Giving a Video Presentation Abroad?  Check the Format First

Johanna E. Katchen


Imagine this scenario.  You are going to present a paper at an international conference outside your home country.  You decide some of your ideas could be presented most clearly on video, so you check “video” on the conference equipment request form.  You arrive at the conference, go your session, put in the video, and you get a blurred, black and white image with no sound.  Your presentation is a disaster.  What happened?

The cause of the problem lies in the fact that there are three video systems in use throughout the world, and each system uses different standards of speed and resolution.   The US, Canada, many other countries in the Western Hemisphere, and also some East Asian countries such as Japan and the Philippines use a format called NTSC.  France and francophone nations use SECAM. The rest of Europe and Asia use PAL.  Most of the former communist nations of Central Europe used SECAM; some, such as the Czech Republic, have since switched to PAL.  If you put a video made in one format in a machine made for another, your tape will not be destroyed.  It will play, but the picture and sound will be greatly distorted or not perceptible at all.

What can you do to ensure you do not encounter these problems?  First, find out what system is used in your country and in the country where you are going.  If the systems are different, then I recommend the following procedure, based on my own experience giving video presentations.

I live in an NTSC area (Taiwan), so when I give a video presentation in a PAL country, I first copy the excerpts I plan to use on a clean videotape.  I take this NTSC video to our audiovisual center along with another blank tape and ask them to make a PAL copy.  Although this second copy will not be as clear as the original, I know it will play on any PAL VCR.  I then check the PAL copy on our multi-system machine and write down the times where my excerpts start and stop; because the speed is different, the counter will register slightly different numbers.

If your school cannot make copies in different formats, you can ask the conference organizers if they have a multi-system VCR.  These will play videos of any format and are useful for foreign language videos bought abroad.  However, I do not recommend this option because most ELT conference venues will not have a multi-system VCR, and even if  they do promise you one, it may suddenly  disappear on the day of your presentation.

There is one more option—if  you cannot prepare a video in the common format of the conference country, then plan your presentation without the video and save yourself embarrassment.

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