Daily LifeTV Standards
By Brad Smith
The TV standard used in the U.S. is called NTSC. Western Europe uses PAL, but France & and Eastern Europe use SECAM. The three standards are all incompatible, so your American TV will not be able to receive French TV. It is possible, however, to use an American TV with American VCRs, DVD players, and video games while living in France.
While these standards are all different, it is fairly easy to find a TV that can handle multiple formats. Most TVs we've seen for sale here can handle PAL & SECAM, and several can also handle NTSC. If you want to display output from your American stuff (e.g., VCR, DVD player, video game), you'll need to either bring an American TV with you, or to buy an NTSC-compatible TV in France.
We have found that at least some Nintendo Gamecube games contain their own video info, and so are either PAL or NTSC format. Thus, you cannot play a PAL-formatted game on your American (NTSC-formatted) Gamecube. Vice-versa, if you buy a Gamecube in Europe, you will not be able to play American (NTSC) games.
NTSC uses a 60Hz refresh rate, while PAL and SECAM are both 50Hz. This, of course, corresponds to the power frequencies used in those countries as well. See the Power section. NTSC has the lowest resolution of the standards with 525 lines/screen. PAL & SECAM both have 625 lines/screen. However, NTSC has a slightly higher refresh rate, so it has slightly less flicker.
NTSC stands for National Television Standards Committee. Developed in the U.S. but is used in many other interestingly diverse places (Antarctica, Bahamas, Bolivia, Samoa, Trinidad, Galapagos Islands, ...). Only one flavor exists.
PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line. Developed in the U.K. and also used by most of Western Europe, including all the countries surrounding France (Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland). Many flavors exist, which are generally not compatible.
SECAM stands for Système Électronique pour Couleur Avec Mémoire. Developed in France, supposedly to be different from the other standards (and thus protect domestic manufacturing), and is sometimes referred to as "Something Essentially Contrary to the American Method". Also adopted by much of Eastern Europe to discourage compatibility with Western transmissions. Many flavors exist, which are generally not compatible.
A good reference for technical details: http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Contrib/WorldTV/. I found several good references on Google by searching for "tv standards".