How do I convert a PAL DVD to NTSC?

Arnaldo writes, “My relatives in Italy mailed me a Region 2 DVD that does not play on my Region 1 NTSC player (it’s also PAL format). What do you suggest to watch the DVD as cheaply as possible? I assume that in my case removing the code for personal use would be perfectly legal, then what?”

Without knowing where you are writing from I can’t speak to the legalities of removing the CSS code. It is never legal to DeCSS a DVD in the United States, even if the content of the DVD is public domain or you have permission from the copyright holder because you violate the DMCA by doing so (whether you would actually get charged if caught in the case of public domain content is hard to say). There are solutions to the PAL to NTSC issue, some in the legal grey area and some legal methods available for under $100.

Legalities aside, the process of converting a PAL format DVD to NTSC involves a convoluted series of steps using free software tools or an investment of about $200 or more in software specifically designed for converting PAL to NTSC. Unless your time is of very little value, the investment in a software app designed specifically for the conversion process starts to seem very affordable after you’ve wasted several hours on the conversion process.

One easy method I’ve found for converting PAL DVD to NTSC is using VLC Player. The player plays the DVD file and writes it to a file on your hard drive. You can read about how to convert a PAL DVD to an MPG file here. Additional directions for converting the MPG file to an NTSC file are available at the end of the article on converting PAL DVD to MPG. This is currently the most effective path to converting PAL DVD video with free software.

Some other video editing applications are capable of converting PAL to NTSC, but before you can process the video, you would need to convert it from the VOB files following a procedure similar to the one I describe for converting DVDs for Pocket PC playback. Using a video editing app is not without its flaws in the process. Video editing tools typically use one of two methods for conversion: frame skip or frame repeat. A frame skip method results in video with intermittent jumps where the software didn’t know what to do in making the 25fps data fit in the NTSC format. A frame repeat method doubles certain frames to make the frame count match NTSC video at either 24fps or 30fps, which looks better until you get to high motion sequences and then it looks like you did a double take.

If you invest in a region-free DVD player with onboard PAL-to-NTSC conversion you can eliminate most of the hassle. Yet another twist on this is to purchase a second DVD drive for your PC, at a cost of under $50. Set this new drive to a region with PAL support and use it exclusively for playing back PAL format DVDs. while this might take up extra space in your PC, you get the best of both worlds in being able to play disks from more parts of the world with relative ease.