homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

Vintage TV Test Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

It’s hard to believe now, but television didn’t used to be a 24/7/365 affair. TV stations stopped broadcasting late at night and when they were off the air, they would commonly display a test pattern until programming resumed in the morning.

Used since the earliest TV broadcasts, test cards were originally physical cards at which a television camera was pointed, and such cards are still often used for calibration, alignment, and matching of cameras and camcorders.

From Wikimedia Commons and Present & Correct, here are some vintage test patterns:

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

As you might expect, the BBC test card with the girl and clown has both a backstory and a cult following.

One of the most-used test images was RCA’s “Indian-head” test pattern:

TV Test Patterns

As this annotated version shows, each of the card’s elements had a specific testing purpose:

TV Test Patterns

If you’re feeling extra nostalgic, here’s 36 minutes of vintage test patterns from all around the world: