PALplus (or PAL+) is an analogue television broadcasting system aimed to improve and enhance the PAL format while remaining compatible with existing television receivers. It followed experiences with the HD-MAC and D2-MAC, hybrid analogue-digital formats that were incompatible with PAL receivers. It was developed at the University of Dortmund in Germany, in cooperation with German terrestrial broadcasters and European and Japanese manufacturers.
In the 1980s, a new high definition broadcasting standard, HD-MAC, was created, offering twice the number of available scanning lines compared to PAL. As a transitional standard, D2-MAC was established. It had the same number of lines as PAL, but like HD-MAC it was designed for widescreen content. The MAC family of standards was adopted in Europe in 1983, primarily for Direct Broadcasting by Satellite (DBS) services.
European terrestrial broadcasters felt the need to better position themselves in order to compete with satellite and cable operators. PALplus was the name of a strategy group founded in 1989 to develop an enhanced system for terrestrial transmission compatible with PAL. While not attempting to produce HDTV standards of quality, the new format was meant to improve PAL in the following areas:
- Wider aspect radio, but with acceptable effects on the traditional 4:3 screen;
- Reduced level of artefacts, such as cross-color;
- Better sound system;
- Improved resolution;
- Compatibility with existing receivers.
In the beginning, the task group consisted of the public broadcasting corporations of Germany (ARD and ZDF), Austria (ORF), Switzerland (SRG) and the United Kingdom (BBC and UKIB, United Kingdom Independent Broadcasters) together with the consumer electronics manufacturers Grundig, Nokia, Philips and Thomson. Sony as well as the Spanish and Portuguese broadcasters joined the group later on.
At the 1993 International Consumer Electronics Exhibition in Berlin, the first experimental PALplus broadcasts began. At the same year, the European Union approved a plan to support the production and broadcast of 16:9 programs.
In 1994 broadcasts began adopting the format and Nokia launched the first PALplus TV set in Germany.
Evaluations, performed by ITU and EBU engineers in 1995-1998 concluded that the use of down-converted HDTV source material, as well as high-quality widescreen standard definition content, could be a significant benefit to the PALplus picture quality. Moreover, the experts felt that PALplus would not be out of place in an HDTV environment at viewing distances equal or farther to four heights of a television set.
It was presumed that the standard method of display of a PALplus signal would be in 625-line interlaced (50 Hz) form, although other display formats (for example, 50 Hz progressive, 100 Hz interlace, or 100 Hz progressive) could be receiver options.
Originally, the PALplus consortium included the following manufacturers: Philips, Grundig, Thomson, Nokia and Sony. In 1995 one of the four big Korean electronics manufacturers, Samsung, joined the PALplus consortium.
VCR manufacturers associated with the PALplus consortium were expected to launch updated VHS and S-VHS home recorders in 1995. The cost increasment compared to conventional PAL VCRs was expected to be small.
On January 1996, the PALplus board published the specifications of the standard in order to support the further dissemination of this standard for wide-screen transmissions. After German broadcasters started to broadcast some of their programmes in PAL+, the PALplus board ended its work at the end of that same year.
At the beginning of 1998, PALplus programmes were broadcast on a regular basis in nine European countries, which made PALplus the mostly used standard for widescreen transmissions in Europe at that time.
A standard PAL receiver will display the 16:9 image in letterbox format with 432 active lines. This reproduces noticeably less detail than the 576 lines used for 4:3 broadcasts. A PALplus receiver can use extra information hidden in the black bars above and below the image to fully recover the 576 lines of vertical resolution.
For compatibility reasons, the horizontal bandwidth remains at 5.0 MHz. This means that a PALplus signal provides no extra horizontal resolution to compensate for the image being stretched across a wider screen. The result is a horizontal resolution that is 73% of the vertical resolution, or 51% when the Kell factor is ignored.
A special signal tells the receiver when PALplus is in use, and also whether the original content was interlaced ("Camera mode" 576i50) or progressive scanned ("Film mode" 576p25). An additional signal can enable a "Ghost Cancellation" feature.
A broadcaster creates a PALplus signal by scaling an anamorphic 16:9 picture with 576 lines down to 432 lines, so that the picture appears letterboxed on a regular PAL TV set. For luminance, the scaling is done using a pair of matching low-pass and high-pass filters, with the low-pass result appearing in the broadcast. One out of every 4 lines of the high-pass result is then hidden in the remaining 144 black lines at the top and bottom of the picture, using the U colour subcarrier. The filtering is such that this is enough to restore the complete 576 line resolution. The use of the colour subcarrier means the signals sometimes appear as blue and yellow patterns on a regular PAL TV set. The 16:9 PAL-plus receiver combines 432 visible lines plus 144 helper lines into 576 new visible lines.
Colour-plus (or Clean PAL)
The PAL colour carrier is modulated making use of correlation between 2 fields, in order to give a cleaner Y/C separation in the PAL-plus receiver. It is used with signals with high horizontal luminance frequencies (3 MHz) that share the spectrum with the chrominance signals. Colour pictures on both standard and PAL Plus receivers are enhanced.
For progressive "Film mode" material, "Fixed" Colour-Plus is used, as there is no motion between the image fields. For camera based images, "Motion Adaptive Color-Plus" (MACP) is used based on movement.
A special WSS signal tells the receiver whether 4:3/16:9/PALplus is in use, and also whether the original content was interlaced ("Camera mode") or progressive scanned ("Film mode"). An additional signal can enable a "Ghost Cancellation" feature. The bandwidth of these bits is low enough to be recorded on VHS and allow the receiver to switch to the proper format.
PAL-plus compatible sets
The standard permits using the mark "PAL-plus" if just the vertical helper reconstruction implemented, with Colour-plus being optional.
- Grundig: MFW82-710/9, MFW82-720/9, MFW82-730/9 DVD
- Philips: 28PW9525, 32PW9525, 36PW9525
- Schneider: Scinema 28-100T, Scinema 2810, Scinema 3000
Most widescreen sets without any PAL-plus processing will switch the display format automatically between 4:3 and 16:9, based on the signaling bits. These sets will display only the centre 432 lines of the 4:3 image, to fill all of the 16:9 frame.
PALplus was used in the following European countries:
In Belgium, the Flemish public broadcasting service VRT had a policy that all of its self-created TV programmes are broadcast in PALplus. The commercial TV station VTM used to broadcast a lot in PALplus. Even the third broadcasting organisation SBS Belgium with its stations VT4 and VijfTV used to broadcast in PALplus for all of their new productions.
The Walloon public broadcasting service RTBF used to broadcast 16:9 programmes that it purchased in PALplus, but preferred creating their own programmes in 4:3. Walloon commercial TV station RTL-TVI used to broadcast almost all its shows in PALPlus.
In Germany all public broadcasters (ARD, ZDF, etc) complied with this standard. However, private broadcasters (RTL, Pro Sieben, etc) have shown no interest in either this standard or in the 16:9 format. Pay-per-view channels such as those on Sky often broadcast in 16:9, but use a different standard that requires another kind of decoder.
In the Netherlands the public broadcasters used PALplus until 2005 but have stopped using it because they preferred digital television (anamorphic widescreen) over PALplus. The public broadcasters and all the major commercial stations have a policy of broadcasting their own and new shows in widescreen, this isn't converted to PALplus on the analogue signal of the cable operators. As cable is the most widespread form of receiving television in the Netherlands the system isn't used anymore. Terrestrial analogue signals stopped in November 2006 in this country.
The public broadcaster RTP started using the format on December 5, 1997. The system was used to broadcast selected programs (about five programs each day) and some widescreen movies on analog terrestrial broadcasts. Cable distributors occasionally strip the signal of the WSS bits, rendering the system inoperative. Also, when Digital Terrestrial Television broadcasts started, there was no dedicated anamorphic simulcast for the digital channels. Therefore, PALPlus over terrestrial analog PAL broadcasts remained the only source of 576 lines widescreen TV in Portugal for many years.
Since the middle of 2010 PALPlus was dropped in favor of regular 16:9 letterbox, because the system caused considerable image degradation (with an effective horizontal resolution of only about ~400px compared to 720px of a digital SDTV image) when used on digital transmissions. After that, with the end of analog broadcasts by 2012, the system became officially obsolete.
In Greece, there used to be sporadic PALplus broadcasts, on the national television (E.R.T. - Hellenic Radio Television). Throughout the '90s, there were a few attempts from commercial broadcasters to adopt the system, but they all failed to gain popularity.
Because of the nature of ERT's broadcasting equipment, events and documentaries shot by ERT in PALPlus used to be broadcast as such, as they left control room to be distributed. However, PALplus reaching audiences is a different story. PALplus is not preserved when content is distributed via NOVA, due to heavy MPEG encoding since WSS signaling and additional information embedded in PALplus are seriously degraded to the extent that renders them no longer decodable. As some of the repeaters of ERT's channels are fed via OTE (Greek public telecom provider) in uncompressed form over terrestrial links, and others are fed via NOVA (Greece's only satellite platform) it depends on each repeater's feed source whether the content terrestrially broadcast (VHF - UHF) is PALplus or not.
In Spain, the Catalan public television, TV3, trialled the PALplus format in the late 1990s, with a weekly broadcast of a film in this format. Other public regional stations (like Galicia's TVG) tested the format too, but after these trials the technology was dropped and 16:9 digital broadcasts were not introduced until 2007.
In the United Kingdom, Channel 4 used to broadcast selected films as PALplus during the late 1990s. Some programmes, including Fifteen to One and the omnibus edition of Brookside were also broadcast this way. All of the six main broadcasters, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Sky and Virgin Media, now all broadcast in digital.
- Gordon M. Drury, Garik Markarian, Keith Pickavance. Coding and Modulation for Digital Television.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- EUR-Lex - 31993D0424 - EN
- "RECOMMENDATION ITU-R BT.1197-1: Enhanced wide-screen PAL TV transmission system (the PALplus system)".
- "Belgium completes analogue switchover".
- "Nearly 50 countries switch off TV".
- Porquê 16:9?
- "Landmark in TV history as analogue signal ends".
- All You Ever Wanted to Know About PALplus but were Afraid to Ask
- TV Express (in Spanish)
- PALPlus overview
- Vom Kupferstich zu PALplus (German)
- Fernsehen mit Format - 4:3 contra 16:9 (German)
- PALPlus test cards
- SCADplus: 16:9 Action plan for the television in the 16:9 screen format - European Union