German TV standards

Will your foreign TV work in Germany?

German TV standards

Television standards around the world differ from country to country. NTSC is the standard used in North America whilst DVB is slowly becoming the television standard across the whole of Europe. The issue is, these two standards are not compatible with one another.

Why such a confusing state of television in the world? Well, it’s really a matter of two nations and national pride. The Germans demonstrated one of the first TV productions in 1928 in Berlin, but the Americans were the first to develop a broadcast TV standard and later a color television standard that was also compatible with existing black-and-white sets. The price the US paid for being first was that the other systems, developed later, could learn from and improve on NTSC — which some wags call “Never (Twice) The Same Color.” Although the NTSC color standard is inconsistent and technologically inferior to systems developed later (except for a faster frame-per-second rate), many technical developments have improved the NTSC picture over the years.


DVB (previously PAL), is Germany’s digital TV system which is different from ATSC in North America. In Germany, most radio and television has a mix of public, fee-funded broadcasters and private, commercial radio and television networks. Every household in Germany with an internet connection, a radio or a TV is required to pay a monthly “broadcast fee” that funds the public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

Around 25 digital television channels can be received over the air. Very few Germans watch terrestrial TV as 90% have cable and/or satellite. Even if you want to watch television over the air, it isn’t free.

If you want to bring your TV set or display from the USA or Canada, German channels won’t work. This is due to the fact that the colour systems and frame rates are very different (50HZ, 25 per second in Germany and 60 HZ, 30 per second in the US).

Possible Solutions

For an American or Canadian going to German-speaking Europe or vice versa, there are several possible solutions to the TV dilemma, most of them expensive.

  1. The simplest solution: Buy a DVB TV set before or when you arrive in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland. DVB sets can be expensive but they are very good, and you automatically get such features as Bildschirmtext, the videotext service available in all three German-speaking countries. That brings you all sorts of information, including news and even airplane departures and arrivals.
  2. The best answer (and the most expensive): Buy a multi-system television that handles all three TV systems. Then you don't have to worry about which system you're using, or even where you are. The disadvantages are mostly financial. A multi-system TV costs two to three times more than a normal TV. And it may or may not display the German Bildschirmtext.
  3. A multi-system DVD/Blu-Ray player: If you are primarily concerned about viewing DVDs, a cheaper solution is to buy a multi-system DVD/Blu-ray player. Although this solution will usually not allow you to view German TV unless you also have a DVB TV set, the advantage is that most multi-system DVD/Blu-ray players will work on any TV monitor — DVB, NTSC, or SECAM. This allows you to play DVDs/Blu-Ray from the States as well as purchased DVDs from Germany.
  4. DVB-ATSC converter: This is an extremely cheap option but you will also need to buy a step down voltage transformer. This allows you to watch both German TV and US DVDs on your American television set and therefore you don’t have to buy a new TV.
  5. TV on your computer: If you use your laptop with a TV tuner card or an external USB device, you can watch and record TV on your computer. You will need to make sure that you have a card or plug-in device that works in Germany.
  6. Streaming TV services: You can always use a VPN to stream TV but these are often susceptible to viruses and are slightly dodgy legally. Apple TV, Slingbox and Roku are credible streaming services to use.

The solution you choose will depend on your goals and your financial situation. No one setup is going to be right for everyone.

If you want more information about living and moving to Germany, visit . Here you will find useful tips and advice to make your move as easy as possible.

Further reading

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