Your FPS and Utility Frequencies

Power Utility Frequencies led the way to frames per second

Steve Smith talks about how NTSC and PAL got their frames per second, and how it relates in part to gaming.

Episode #6-04 released on September 28, 2015

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Modern computers, televisions, and clocks are perfectly capable in handling time, video, and even variable refresh rates. Many can operate in parts of the world where NSTC is the standard, and then if we move to an environment where PAL is the common standard, our equipment will continue to function, but did you know, that was not always the case.

For a large part of the world, the utility frequency is 50hz, except in the Americas, and some parts of Asia, where it is 60hz. And, while it would take a long episode in itself to explain why power has a specific frequency, we must hold on to fact the America/Asia has 60hz, and the most of the world, including a large part of Europe uses electricity tuned to 50hz, mostly. At least they did, we now have moved to variable utility power which mostly respects those norms.

Now, if you took a map of all the zones of the world that use the NTSC and PAL transmission norms, you would see a correlation with the power utility. This is easily explained by technology. When NTSC and PAL was devised, the framerate was derived from the power utility frequency which makes timing easier to do. In America, the power frequency is 60, videos from the 60s, and onward where broadcast at 30 frames per second interlaced, which means 60 half frames per second where transmitted, coming out to every other line in the image. In Europe, and the rest of the world, where PAL is the norm, and where power is 50hz, the framerate was locked to 25 frames per second, or 50 half frames per second, equal to the power grid frequency.

The reason is that is a simple to time the framerate when tying it to the utility frequency, especially in the 60s, where devices did not come with built in timers. What they did, is base the framerate on the utility powering the system, and provided the television was plugged into the correct power source, it would, correctly without issue. If the utility for some reason, changed the frequency, these older devices would not emit the frames on time, whether too fast or slow, based on the type of frequency issue.

Now, with high definition being a thing, and interlace imaging not being great for bigger, clearer images, we continue to use the same kinds of frame rates, only each image of the video is being processed in a single piece when we received 720P, 1080P, 1440P, 4K, etc. However, for video, these standards are still at 25 or 30 frames per second, based on whether we are talking about the NTSC or PAL standard of each type.

That only really answers the question of why our videos have the same framerate since the 60s, but what a lot of you may be more concerned about, is the FPS your game has, what we call the norm, at least in America, 60FPS. Thing is, the history is kind of lost online. However, we can defer to the standards that push 60 partial frames per second, suddenly only having to put out 30, and because our technology is much more advanced, we are able to fill in the rest of the signal with 30 other complete frames.

Keep in mind, we have been able to play video games at 60 FPS for a long time, and while HDMI technically pushes out 30 FPS, VGA, Display Port, and DVI can all push out 60 frames per second, especially with the signal is progressive. This explains why your television console only has 30 FPS, while the same game on your computer can have access to 60 FPS or more. Since, a computer is not tied to a frame per rate as strictly as your television once was, it can show any frame rate it can. Keeping in mind, that a computer's framerate is tied directly to the performance of your computer, and the graphics card. A more modest build will experience fewer frames per second, while more elaborate builds may experience higher frames per second.

The benefits of 60 FPS, especially over 30, is that we have more information allowing for better reaction time, and more information to show an event. When applied to fast paced action like sports, it may mean the difference between seeing a goal, or not. In gaming, it's the difference between us losing, or our opponent.

Host : Steve Smith | Music : Jonny Lee Hart | Editor : Steve Smith | Producer : Zed Axis Productions

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