Television Test Cards, Tuning Signals, Idents and Clocks


Background information and pictures of cards used in the UK and elsewhere

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Test Card History

Not just a pretty face

Non-UK Test Cards

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Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card

The birth of the test card


TEST CARDS have all but disappeared from tv screens in the twenty-first century, certainly on old-fashioned analogue terrestrial stations, where twenty-four hour programming is the order of the day.

Even when there is a substantial break in the schedules the gap is often filled with headache-inducing trailers, a simple caption or selected pages from a teletext service. On satellite, however, where channels come and go apparently at random, there's often the odd test card or pattern to be seen - always electronically generated - and these introductory paragraphs are illustrated by some that I found knocking about recently in the Clarke Belt.

Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card
Satellite test card

So what is the purpose of test cards and why are they so rarely used these days?

Today there's hardly room in tv schedules to squeeze a test card in sideways, and we are quite used to pressing a few buttons on a remote control to receive any number of programmes instantly. But sixty-odd years ago things were very different.

For a start there was only one channel, and that only broadcast for a few hours in the afternoon and evening. Most people couldn't afford a telly, and they were hardly going to be persuaded to save up for one if the sets in the shops had blank screens. Even when you bought one, it wouldn't work straight out of the box. The dealer would have to install it for you, erect an aerial, and perform a complicated series of adjustments before you received your first picture.

Because sets relied on thermionic valves in those days and ran very hot, it was necessary to allow the circuitry to 'warm up' properly before your programme was due to start. Since this would most likely be the first show of the evening there had to be something on the screen to assure you that the set was going to work properly.

A simple caption would suffice, but how much better to have a display that would allow the viewer to tweak the user controls - brightness, contrast, horizontal hold, etc, that because of the poor stability of the electronic components inside the set required frequent adjustment.

The broadcasters too needed a test signal that would tell them that the network was functioning properly.

Of course special test generators were available that could be used to make accurate measurements of the performance of every aspect of the studio and distribution equipment, but again, how useful it would be to have a pattern that could give a rough indication of performance (or lack of it) from camera to screen.

And so two siblings were born - the test card and the tuning signal. The tuning signal was a 'cut-down' test card that looked quite technical but not too frightening, and included identification and simple tests for brightness and contrast setting on the tv set. Thus it could be radiated prior to the start of programmes giving the viewer the confidence that his set was working, was tuned to the correct channel, and that the programmes were about to start.

The test cards on the other hand contained a more rigorous selection of patterns that were of use all the way through the broadcasting chain. The geometrical patterns allowed receivers, monitors and cameras to be adjusted to give a picture of the correct size and shape, while greyscales allowed the brightness, contrast and (in the case of cameras) gamma to be set correctly.

Gratings of fine lines enabled the focus of cameras and receivers to be checked, and fine tuning to be optimised. Larger black and white patches and needle pulses allowed aerials to be adjusted to obviate ghosting, and also showed up defects in transmission lines and vision circuitry. For a full technical description of the function of the various elements of some of the many UK test cards that have been used over the past sixty-odd years, see Not just a pretty face...

All-in-all test cards were an invaluable toolbox for everyone involved in providing a television service at a time when test equipment was very expensive and programmes were few and far between. This altruistic approach has had its day though. As far back as the nineteen-seventies, when energy and cash were suddenly at a premium, the BBC used to turn off its transmitters altogether when no programmes were scheduled and countered complaints from dealers and aerial installers by saying they were not in the business of providing test signals at licence-payers' expense, though they never went on to explain how one could install an aerial without a working transmitter to aim at.

The BBC's test cards are undoubtedly aesthetically as well as technically excellent. Each new one has had the same look to it, and all have been adopted by many other broadcasters in the world, starting of course with the UK's commercial independent television stations that began to appear in 1955. And it was a joy to see colour television sets tuned to Test Card F on BBC1, BBC2 and ITV in a dealer's showroom giving displays of almost identical quality.

Other countries had their own designs, of course; some taken up by several broadcasters, others unique to their own. The nineteen-sixties and -seventies were a golden era for receiving, identifying and photographing foreign test cards for those with such a disposition.

There are examples of long-distance reception on the Non-UK Test Cards page.

So how are test cards generated and transmitted?

There are basically three methods of making a test pattern. The obvious one - suggested by the name - is to draw or print the design onto a card and mount it in front of a television camera. A variation is to make a transparency and mount it in a slide scanner.

Whilst that technique is essential for testing the camera or scanner in question, it can lead to errors when the intention is to test the circuit or receiver.

A second way that was used early in the days of monochrome television was the 'monoscope'. That was a kind of camera tube that had the test pattern printed in carbon onto an aluminium plate that formed the anode of the tube. That produced much better signals for day-in day-out test card duty.

Thirdly there are the electronically generated patterns. Using simple electronic circuitry it's possible to generate a range of useful signals for testing circuits and receivers and such were in use by broadcasters and dealers from the start. But to make a comprehensive test card was a lot more difficult and it was not until the mid and late nineteen-sixties that they began to appear. The earliest was probably the Phillips PM5540 pattern generator as used by NOS in The Netherlands, and by others.

This was followed in the colour era by the Phillips PM5544, the IBA's ETP1 and the Telefunken FuBK pattern, amongst others.

Nevertheless, a few optical colour cards were used, notably of course the BBC/ITA/BREMA Test Card F, and that continued until the end of the century (from 1984 generated from a digital memory rather than a sandwich of mono and colour tranparencies mounted in a 35mm slide) until two revamped versions were introduced - the electronically generated Test Card J (4:3) and Test Card W (16:9) that included almost all the features of Test Card F, had the central colour picture digitally remastered from the original colour reversal transparency, and had additional tests required for digital operations. A high-definition version of Test Card W followed that was suitable for the 1080 line standard.



Test Card Music

I have not mentioned in any great detail the music that accompanies test cards and other captions. I suppose that is because my main interest in the cards was the identification of foreign stations received on a converted 405-line receiver. Its limited vision bandwidth was ideal for the weak signals that came in, but there was no way of demodulating the 5.5MHz or 6.5MHz frequency modulated audio, so test card watching was of necessity a silent business.

However, the Test Card Circle Is a collection of enthusiasts who have dedicated themselves to identifying and obtaining copies of seemingly every record that was ever played behind every caption that was ever shown.

THE OFF-SCREEN photographs of UK reception were taken from production sets - a Ferguson 19-inch dual-standard receiver and an EKCO 17-inch 405-line set in 1967-8 and a PYE 22-inch colour receiver rather later. Some of the non-UK cards I photographed from receivers converted for 625-line VHF operation - a 12-inch PYE 405-line receiver of 1950 vintage and a home-brew 20-inch 625-line only receiver constructed in 1970 from a design published in Practical Television magazine.

The off-screen pictures of Test Card F were scanned from 35mm slides taken from the Forgestone 22-inch colour receiver kit in 1979, and all the twenty-first century screen shots are from a Sony WEGA 32-inch widescreen receiver photographed with a Hewlett-Packard Photosmart 318 digital 'snapshot' camera - a combination that results in frightful moiré interference patterns and some dubious focussing and exposure values.

The colour bars and some simple test patterns were recreated from scratch in Adobe PhotoShop. One or two video screen grabs have come my way, courtesy of Mark Carver and "Dantus" Paolo Pizzo, and other pictures, culled from various old books, magazines and leaflets, are included for completeness.

Because some of the off-screen and half-tone shots are a little fuzzy, I have reconstructed some of the cards from scratch in a graphics package. Click on the cards on the left of the page to reveal a full-resolution 405-line (500 x 375) or 625-line (765 x 575) version. (Choose "Open in a new window" in order to compare the reconstruction with the original.)

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The 30-line era

Transmitted picture photographed from a Nipkow disc receiver

ON 30 September 1929 the BBC was obliged to allow John Logie Baird access to two London medium wave transmitters for the purpose of experimental transmissions in the 30-line standard. These were produced by means of a 'Nipkow' scanning disc - a 20-inch diameter aluminium wheel perforated at the rim with thirty tiny holes, each one slightly nearer the centre than the last, so that a 'raster' of thirty vertical lines with an aspect ratio of 3:7 was produced. The scanning spot started at the bottom right of the picture, moving rapidly upwards, with subsequent lines appearing to the left, until the spot arrived at the top left-hand corner. A black line was left along the top of the picture as a rudimentary synchronisation signal. A refinement sometimes employed was to make the lines at the centre of the picture closer together than those at the edge in an attempt to improve the apparent resolution. To get an idea of the scale, imagine a clock face. The height of the scanned picture would be represented by the distance between the fourteenth and sixteenth minute marks. The pictures produced (by viewing a neon light through the disc) were dark, small, flickery and slightly curved.

Transmitted picture photographed from a mirror-drum receiver

On 22 August 1932 the BBC took over responsibility for the transmissions, having installed a proper studio and control room, operating with equipment that used mirror drums instead of Nipkow discs. Receivers using that technology were also introduced, leading to larger, brighter pictures with straight verticals. The BBC 30-line transmissions continued until September 1935, and included programmes and test patterns. Because of the technical limitations, only the head and shoulders of one actor could appear on screen at a time. To change shot, a large chequerboard was slid in front of the camera whilst another actor moved into place.

30-line 'Finis' caption 30-line 'Goodnight' caption 30-line BBC ident caption 30-line caption carousel

The captions were scanned by means of a second camera mounted in front of a carousel carrying a dozen caption cards. The test patterns were very simple and were not assembled into a composite card as they were to be with high-definition standards.

Low-frequency response test of BBC 30-line standard from 1934

THIS SIMPLE pattern is a test of the low frequency response of the system, comprising as it does two square waves at the line (375Hz) and field (12.5Hz) repetition frequencies. Poor low frequency response resulted in one or more of the three white quarters appearing darker than it should. The best lf response is obtained on a medium wave am signal when the receiver is tuned correctly, so this test would have been a 'magic eye' equivalent.

High-frequency response test of BBC 30-line standard from 1934

THIS WEDGE was a test of the high frequency response. Only the left-hand side would have appeared clear on a receiver of the time. The converging lines would have blurred to grey well before they joined at the right hand side. The upper limit of the transmitted frequencies was dependent on the quality of the audio circuits feeding the transmitter, the transmitter itself, and the receiver used to feed the 'televisor' display device. 10kHz would have given sufficient vertical resolution to match the 30-line horizontal resolution. Again this pattern would have been used as an indication that the radio was correctly on-station.

Synchronisation test of BBC 30-line standard from 1934 Synchronisation test of BBC 30-line standard from 1934 Synchronisation test of BBC 30-line standard from 1934

THIS TEST allowed the viewer to adjust the scanning device in the receiver for correct synchronisation. The circle was not so much for scanning size adjustment, since that was fixed by the mechanics of the disc or mirror drum and couldn't be changed. However, the video signal was transmitted without any synchronising pulses and so it was necessary to adjust the speed and phase of the disc or drum manually to obtain a viewable picture. When the line was horizontal, the circle truly circular and the image stationary and central, the picture was correctly synchronised.

Some receivers had crude built-in synchronisation in the form of a 'sonic wheel' which was a metal disc having thirty teeth fitted to the scanning disc drive shaft. It could be synchronised by means of a coil fed with the video signal - the pulses representing the black line at the top of each picture being arranged to coincide with the teeth on the wheel, but its effectiveness depended on the video content.

Disc too fast Disc in sync Disc too slow

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The 405-line era


THE FIRST 405-line era began at 3pm on Monday 2 November 1936 with the start of the official BBC television service from Alexandra Palace and ended abruptly on Friday 1 September 1939 two days before the outbreak of the second world war. At 3pm on Friday 7 June 1946 programmes resumed, almost as if there had been no interruption. The end came on Wednesday 2 January 1985 - albeit a day later in Scotland because of the extra day's bank holiday there. Apparently there were no complaints about the closedown - BBC1 and ITV had been available in most areas for many years on 625-line UHF in colour, and it seems that almost everyone had equipped themselves with a 625-line receiver by 1985.

More details of the UK 405-line service including some ITA transmitter coverage maps from 1967 may be found on the UK 405-Line Television Network section of this web site, and technical specifications and more detailed history are on World TV Standards.

This section illustrates some of the test cards that were in use on the UK 405-line standard, though I have included UK 625-line monochrome cards, and some international 'standard' cards from the same era. There are separate sections for colour and widescreen cards, including some from non-UK broadcasters. Further examples of non-UK test cards and captions, a number of which I received and photographed myself here in Sheffield, can be found on the Non-UK Test Cards page.

Optical monochrome BBC Test Card A from 1936-39
Electronic monochrome test pattern cruciform
BBC tuning signal from 1938
BBC Pre-war Tuning signal

TO BEGIN at the beginning... This is Test Card A from the 1936-39 era, one of the few pictures on this page from the first three years of high-definition transmissions, before they were cancelled for the duration of Second World War. It has the bare essentials to qualify as a test card rather than a tuning signal - mid-grey background, horizontal and vertical gratings for focus and hf response, letterbox for lf frequency response, castellations and circle for scan amplitudes and centring, and needle pulses for transient response and multipath reception. Click on the card for a 405-line resolution reconstruction.

Between 2 November 1936 and 7 February 1937 the EMI 405-line system alternated week-by-week with the Baird 240-line 25 frames per second system on a trial basis. The Baird system had an aspect ratio of 4:3, while that of the EMI system was 5:4 until 1950. Since Test Card A has a definite 4:3 aspect ratio it could be inferred that it was used for the Baird system but in fact almost all the cards I have come across seem to be designed for 4:3, including some shown below which were introduced in 1946 and 1949.

Just above the black circle in Test Card A is a set of fine horizontal lines at a pitch of about 1/360 of the height of the card. The 405-line picture (377 lines high) might just have resolved these, but the Baird 240-line picture would not have. A 405-line receiver would not have resolved the '3 MC' vertical bars since the transmitted vision bandwidth was 2.5MHz, but they would have shown up on studio monitors. The video frequencies used by the 240/25 system were only a quarter of those required by 405/50 though. A mere 857kHz would have sufficed for the Baird system, which means that Test Card A was certainly not designed for that standard.

Despite the scarcity of programmes at the time (a couple of hours in the afternoon and evening) Test Card A was rarely seen. What was more often transmitted, continuing into the 'fifties and 'sixties, was this first-ever electronic test pattern known as the cruciform (or 'art bars' - short for 'artificial' - in the trade). Although extremely simple to generate, it had several functions: firstly as check on picture centring, secondly as a test of high frequency response (the vertical edges of the cross should be sharp) and thirdly to indicate low frequency response (the black and white areas should be uniform, and not turn grey towards the right).

Also from that period - around 1938 - are these early BBC tuning signals cum station idents. The first is a fragment of an off-screen shot. The second is a tidied-up shot of an actual card, and is one of the few that is in the pre-war 5:4 format.

Monoscope test picture B

SO WHAT of Test Card B? It was similar to Test Card A, but with the letterbox shifted to the top in place of the central frequency gratings and replaced with a strip of coloured squares from an Ilford panchromatic response chart at the bottom. This was to assess the spectral response of the cameras - you would want all the cameras in the same studio to be matched in this respect, otherwise a brightly-coloured costume, for example, would appear lighter and darker as the shot changed - but the coloured strip on the card produced a non-linear brightness staircase on the picture which misled technicians and viewers.

No complete copy of this card appears to have survived (but see below).

To confuse matters, the firm Cathodeon introduced a range of monoscope test patterns labelled B to G. C and G were the standard cards shown below, D was based on the RMA Resolution Chart 1946 also shown below and F was a simple line-drawing resolution chart. Pattern B was this view of King's College Chapel, Cambridge. Cathodeon were a subsidiary of Pye which was based in that city. Test Card B it ain't, but it's the nearest thing with an official B designation that we have. Brian Summers has a 1MB pdf file of the Cathodeon illustrated brochure of Monicon tubes on his comprehensive Museum of the Broadcast Television Camera website.

Optical monochrome BBC Test Card B from 1940s
Eric the half-a-B
Test Card B photgraphed on set at Alexandra Palace

Half a loaf...

Simon Vaughan, Archivist of the Alexandra Palace Television Society, has kindly sent me a copy of this photograph, taken during a production of "Laburnum Grove", produced by Ian Atkins with sets by James Bould and transmitted in the late 1940s. The photograph was taken by Tom Edwards, Master Carpenter at Alexandra Palace, as a record of his own work, and clearly shows a large test chart on an easel at the bottom left-hand corner.

I have straightened out the photo to reveal half of Test Card B. Click on the image on the left for a reconstructed version based on written descriptions, in which I have simulated the spectral response test by pasting in the relevant part of the modern T13 EBU Universal Film Test Chart.

Like Test Card A above, Test Card B was designed primarily as a studio-based chart for the alignment and adjustment of cameras, rather than domestic receivers, and so was probably never put to air. Neither has any peak white indication or proper contrast wedge and the grey background would have been adjusted for around 80% white on the waveform monitor, as in the reconstructions, in order to avoid overshoot on the frequency gratings. The 'letterbox' probably comprised a strip of very low reflectance material such as velour that acted as a black-level reference for the cameras as it would appear darker than the other markings on the chart.

ITA pilot test transmisison from 1955
ITA pilot test transmisison from 1956

THESE CARDS are simple designs from the very early days of the ITA. They were radiated from a temporary transmitter housed in a caravan with 'experimental' call sign G9AED operated by Belling and Lee, the aerial manufacturers, but later acquired by the ITA. The ITA card was transmitted in 1955 from the Croydon site, and the G9AED one was from Winter Hill in 1956, each prior to the start of the full service, and they comprise tests needed by aerial installers rather than anyone wanting to adjust receiving or transmitting circuitry.

One of the captions pictured on the left invited viewers to send in reception reports. Robin Benson did just that, and was rewarded with this QSL (radio-ese for confirmation of reception) card, which he has kindly allowed me to put here.

QSL card from G9AED

Associated Rediffusion Test Card
Associated Rediffusion Test Card

THE ASSOCIATED Rediffusion 'diamond' cards shown here are also very early examples. A similar design to the top one, which is labelled 'ITA 1' was used on 625 lines (with appropriate legends to the gratings) in Malta, Nigeria and by Rediffusion in Hong Kong. In the UK it was more usual to see Test Card C with the identification "ITA".

ITA Tuning Signal
ITA Tuning Signal
TUNING SIGNALS were a feature of early television, being radiated just before programmes started each afternoon. The first pattern is a sort of 'Test Card C Light', retaining the black/white concentric circles, needle pulses, greyscales and a frequency grating. The lower ITA pattern, used throughout the 'sixties until the introduction of colour, has similar features juggled around, and was generally known as the Picasso pattern, because it resembled Pablo Picasso's iconic displaced-feature portraits.

Optical monochrome BBC Test Card from 1946
Optical monochrome BBC Test Card from 1949
BBC Tuning Signal

Several tuning signals were used by the BBC from the forties to the sixties. This first one from 1946 was used as a camera line-up chart as well as for viewers to tweak their receivers prior to an evening's viewing. It contained a circle, greyscale and 2.5MHz high-frequency gratings that allowed brightness, contrast, tuning and if necessary height, to be adjusted, as well as the almost obligatory vertical and horizontal hold.

In July 1949 this caption was replaced with a similar one containing a clock, but still cunningly retaining the circle and frequency gratings.

Later in 1949 Corporate Identity raised its head and the card was redesigned to incorporate 'wavy' greyscale bars (at least someone had the good sense to persuade the designer not to have the 'waves' running vertically!) and a more modern typeface was introduced.

The earlier font was none other than gill sans to which the BBC has returned wholesale for the new millennium. It was originally designed for the signage and publicity for the London Underground by sculptor Eric Gill. He it was who carved the figures of Prospero and Ariel for the frieze around Broadcasting House in Portland Place. After an outcry he took his chisel to the pair's protruberances, which had been adjudged to be too prominent when viewed from ground level.

PYE tv money box

In my childhood I used to have a small plastic money box in the shape of a Pye V4 console model tv set which had a version of the 'wavy' tuning signal on its screen. Unfortunately I lost it many years ago, but Tony Bryant still has his and he's sent me a picture of it. Thanks, Tony.

There is something puzzling about these early charts. As mentioned above, the aspect ratio of the 405-line standard was 5:4 until 1950, when it was changed to the present-day ratio of 4:3, yet all the charts above with castellations and circles are clearly 4:3. Resizing them to 5:4 gives distinctly tall circles. Very odd.

BBC Ident from 1953
BBC Tuning Signal from 1955
BBC Tuning Signal from 1956

This 3-D animated BBC ident (top picture) from December 1953 was the precursor to the increasingly weird globes, balloons and red and black dancers that have been foisted upon us over the decades.

The central 'eyelids' - orientated north-south and east-west in this shot - rotated in the plane of the caption like clock hands, one going clockwise, the other anticlockwise. Meanwhile the surrounding circle had a metal ring mounted on bearings between the arrows at top and bottom and it also rotated, sweeping out a hemisphere from right to left as it moved in front of the globe. The whole thing repeated about once every five seconds. Very simple and hypnotic, especially when screened for extended periods as a potter's wheel substitute. Click on the still for a brief Windows Media Viewer animation, courtesy of Mark Carver.

The angel's wings device (the brainchild of designer Abram Games) was also used on these similar static cardboard tuning signal captions introduced on 19 August 1955 and 16 June 1956, still incorporating circles, castellations, greyscales and frequency gratings..

Test Card C BBC
Test Card C ITA

TEST CARD C, designed in 1947 was almost the trade mark of the BBC and ITA during the fifties and early sixties as it appeared in shop windows up and down the country. As a phrase, "Test Card C" lingered on in the national psyche long after it disappeared from screens in 1964. There's a full technical description of Test Card C on Not just a pretty face...

The BBC and ITA transmitters around the country used to radiate black and white photographs from slides during the mornings (and afternoons as well on the commercial network), alternating with Test Card C at fifteen minute intervals, so that dealers had something to show during shop hours, but that feature was discontinued when Test Card D was introduced in April 1964. The practice was resurrected in 1969 when colour slides were interspersed with Test Card F on ITV, and they supplemented the BBC2 colour test films that ran from 1967 into the 1970s.

Test Card C 5:4
Test Card C 5:4

Test Card C was introduced in January 1948, when the transmission aspect ratio was still 5:4, and it was based on a 10x8 square grid pattern, as shown on the right.

When it was redesigned in preparation for the change to 4:3 on 3 April 1950 the basic chart remained the same, while the top and bottom castellations were moved nearer to the centre and the corner gratings were repositioned slightly so that they still lay along the diagonals, as they did in the 5:4 chart.

The centre circle looks smaller in the 5:4 version of Test Card C, but that's an optical illusion. In fact the circle is identical in both versions, with respect to the background grid of white lines and the side castellations. But to accommodate the new 4:3 card on an old 5:4 telly, and restore the correct geometry, you would have to increase the scanning width, which has the effect of making the focal point of the card, the centre circle, look larger, because in effect you have zoomed the whole card in slightly.

There was never a single standard form of Test Card C used by the BBC - there are subtle differences in almost every picture you see - as it was developed piecemeal over several years, though when the ITA issued suites of slides to its growing network of main transmitters, they were all identical apart from the identification legends.

Test Card, BBC2 625 Lines

A VARIANT of Test Card C was used on BBC2, with frequency gratings suitable for 625-lines. The intention was to use Test Card D on 405-lines and Test Card E on 625-lines, but BBC engineers were unhappy with the appearance of the TCE frequency gratings and so this card, which never sported an identification letter, was retained until the start of the colour service in July 1967. There's a full technical description of this variant of Test Card C on Not just a pretty face....

A version of this card with the identification "BBC 1" was occasionally radiated on the network and from individual transmitters following the duplication of BBC1 on 625-lines uhf in 1969.

Test Card G THIS 625-LINE version of Test Card C was called Test Card G, but was only ever radiated in the UK in the non-G form (without the outer white circle) shown above, though it was used by other broadcasters around the world. The BBC used the designation "Test Card G" for their version of the Philips PM5544 625-line colour electronic test pattern from the 1970s onwards. There's a full technical description of Test Card G on Not just a pretty face...

SMPTE Card, BBC 1962 version THIS WAS the first 625-line test card to be seen in the UK. It was radiated by the BBC from Crystal Palace on channel E44 from 1962 to 1964 prior to the official start of BBC2 on 20 April 1964 on E33. The design was adapted by the BBC from the SMPTE 525-lines card, with the addition of a greyscale and finer resolution wedges. There's a full technical description of the SMPTE test card on Not just a pretty face...

Test Card D, BBC1 AFTER THE introduction of BBC2 on 625-lines, Test Card D was used on BBC1 and ITV 405-lines, replacing Test Card C. There's a full technical description of Test Card D on Not just a pretty face... Note that the corner gratings no longer lie along the diagonal, but are fixed at 45°, where they remained on all subsequent 4:3 and 16:9 cards.

The BBC1 channel B2 transmitter radiating the card pictured here was Holme Moss, now used only for FM radio. When the ITA split the north region, allocating franchises to Granada and Yorkshire Televison, the BBC also split its coverage. Holme Moss (still transmitting to both sides of the Pennines) carried BBC Leeds, but outraged Lancastrians could retune to the Winter Hill Band III B12 transmissions for their own flavour of Look North.

Test Card D, Emley Moor Ch10
Test Card D, Belmont Ch7
THE ITA test cards were originated from flying-spot scanners at the main transmitters and hence carried the transmitter names and channel numbers. Each transmitter had a stock of slides with different test patterns and captions for most eventualities. They also had a pile of 78rpm records containing audio announcements and apologies. The music accompanying the test cards was from microgroove discs, however, and very high quality - often classical selections as opposed to the lighter BBC offerings.

Test Card D, Winter Hill Ch9 WINTER HILL, Emley Moor's twin serving the area to the west of the Pennines, was a very rare visitor indeed to Sheffield, as the Pennines are an effective boundary to Band III television signals. This weak B9 signal was received during a tropospheric opening.

Test Card D, Yorkshire
Test Card D, Anglia
WHEN THE new franchises began in 1968, the identification was changed from transmitters to operating companies. In 1969 the 625/405-line standards converters were moved from studio centres to transmitter sites, and Test Card F was used on both standards, originated in 625-line PAL colour at the studios, so these Test Card D shots must be quite rare. The Anglia transmitter was Belmont - received very well on both VHF and UHF in Sheffield. It changed over to carrying Yorkshire Television programmes in the seventies, though it has always carried BBC North (Manchester, and after the split, Leeds) on its BBC channels.

Test Card E, BBC2 THE 625-LINE version of Test Card D was Test Card E, but was hardly, if ever, radiated in the UK. It was used by other broadcasters around the world, however. There's a full technical description of Test Card E on Not just a pretty face...

SMPTE 525-line Test Card

HERE IS a collection of 'standard' test cards that were designed and published by equipment manufacturers and trade associations around the world. Many broadcasters used one or other of them in preference to commissioning their own designs.

This first one is the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) test card mainly used on 525-line transmissions, though its resolution wedge calibrations are valid for any line standard. Despite this the BBC produced its own version for very early tests of its 625-line uhf transmissions between 1962 and 1964. There's a full technical description of the SMPTE test card on Not just a pretty face...

525-line 'Indian Head' Test Card

THIS RCA-DESIGNED card, known colloquially as the 'Indian Head' card, was used extensively throughout the USA, but not generally any further afield, though it has surfaced in Zambia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. There's more about the Indian Head test card on Chuck Pharis's web site.

Marconi Resolution Chart No 1 MARCONI RESOLUTION Chart Number 1 was so successful that they never needed to release a sequel...

RMA Resolution Chart 1946 THIS IS the RMA (Radio Manufacturing Association) Resolution Chart 1946. It was used by many broadcasters even after the introduction of the 1956 version, below.

RETMA Resolution Chart 1956 THE RMA changed its name to RETMA (Radio, Electrical and Television Manufacturers Association) prior to bringing out this new design, called the RETMA Resolution Chart 1956. In 1975 it became known as the EIA (Electrical Industries Association) Resolution Chart.

Telefunken test card T05

FINALLY HERE is a European design, the Telefunken test card T05.

EBU Test Pattern from TVE, Spain

AS WELL as these optical charts, there have been several electronic monochrome and colour test patterns, mainly from Philips. Several examples may be found in the colour section and on the Non-UK Test Cards page.

EBU Test Pattern at the 1966 World Cup

This early electronic pattern was simply known as the "EBU monochrome test pattern" and was mainly used for testing and identifying circuits, as the accompanying shot of an ITV gallery during the 1966 World Cup shows.Some European broadcasters used it on air however, often with an identification in the black rectangle. This transmission was from TVE in Spain photographed in 1969 from a receiver with a much reduced IF bandwidth so that only the top two rows of frequency gratings were resolved.

There are more examples of long-distance reception on the Non-UK Test Cards page.

EIA Linearity (ball) chart 1961 BBC Test Chart No 50 BBC Test Chart No 51 BBC Test Chart No 57 BBC/ITCA Test Chart No 60 BBC Test Chart No 61 BBC Test Chart No 64 BBC Test Chart No 65

CAMERA TEST charts - the top one is the EIA Linearity (ball) Chart 1961 - are specifically designed for lining up camera channels rather than for broadcasting to receivers. The BBC convention is for trade test cards to be allocated letters, while line-up charts are numbered, though when a new series of precision charts was developed by the BBC in 1958, numbered from 50 onwards, Test Cards D, E and F were given the numbers 54, 55 and 57 in that series.

Camera Test Transparency No 50, from June 1956, was designed to assess the colour response of monochrome camera tubes. When viewed on a monitor or oscilloscope, the amplitude of each of the three coloured gelatine areas on the transparency could be matched to one of the neutral step wedge blocks. A more precise pattern, designated No 53, using six colours, was introduced later.

Camera Test Transparency No 51 used an Ilford test picture as a basis for assessing overall camera performance on a monitor. In addition sinusoidal frequency gratings (obtained by photographing test waveform patterns displayed in a film recording apparatus) and contrast step wedges were used for technical assessment. Test Card No 52 was identical except that the frequency gratings were designed for 625- rather than 405-line working. The production of these test slides was extremely complex and involved using several separations to make the master negatives.

Ironically, given the jealousy with which the broadcasters protected their stars and programmes in that era, BBC Charts 51 and 52 feature two actors who appeared regularly on ITV in the 1960s - Anne Reid in Coronation Street and Richard Thorp in Emergency - Ward 10.

Another contemporary transparency (not pictured here) was No 56, comprising two complementary patterns designed to align two slide or film projectors optically multiplexed into one camera channel.

Unnumbered charts included a colour camera registration chart, consisting of a pattern of fine white lines on a black ground. When the output was viewed on a colour monitor coloured fringeing was visible where the camera registration was in error, and the pattern was designed so that adjustment in critical areas (centre, corners, centres of edges) was more easily accomplished. Another unnumbered chart was the telecine hop and weave pattern in which separate exposures, in two passes, of two halves of a vernier scale allowed the amount of picture movement from frame to frame in a camera or printer to be measured.

Colour Camera Greyscale Chart No 57 incorporated an 'ultra black' section - basicially a hole cut in the chart with a matt black box mounted behind, as well as precision logarithmic complementary contrast stepwedges.

Note that even for colour televison cameras, most optical test material is monochrome only. There's not much you can learn from putting coloured blobs in front of the lens, though special compositions incorporating natural and flesh tones are useful in assessing the performance of the camera once it has been adjusted.

BBC Test Chart No 61, Flesh Tone Reference, was introduced in 1977 as a standard reference for television cameras. Previously only models (live or inanimate) had proved satisfactory, but even then it was difficult to ensure standard lighting conditions.

BBC 62P colour bar chart (not pictured), developed with WR Royle and Sons, used special pigments to give high-saturation colours.

Test Charts No 64 and 65 are later versions of No 57 designed for both 4:3 and 16:9 cameras.

Production of the charts has had a varied history, but many are still available. Here is one seller's website, which includes a page about the history of BBC Test Chart No 61A.

ARRL amateur radio test cardBATC amateur radio test card TELEVISION TRANSMISSIONS are not the sole province of professionals. These ARRL (American Radio Relay League) and BATC (British Amateur Television Club) test cards were made available to licensed members of the Amateur Radio Service for use in slow- and fast-scan contacts. The operator would add station details, such as callsign and location, to the card.

Rotakin CCTV test target NOWADAYS THERE are more cameras out in the streets than there are in television studios, and here is a test card just for them. Developed by the Police Scientific Development Branch for measuring closed circuit television camera performance, it includes a camouflage cover that meets Ministry of Defence specifications.

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BBC experimental 405 colour test card

BBC experimental 405 colour tuning signal

405-line colour camera

A FEATURE of early colour transmissions was that most people only ever saw them in black and white. That would certainly have been the case for these two captions from the 405-line NTSC experimental after-closedown tests carried out from Alexandra Palace from 10 October 1955 and then from the pre-service Crystal Palace transmitter from 5 November 1956, because no colour receivers were available to the general public, though a couple of dozen were installed in the homes of BREMA members and researchers. On 11 November 1957 the 405-line NTSC tests were extended to uhf, continuing until 1960.

The test card was mostly light (~80%) grey, but the three bands across the centre circle were red, green and blue, and the triple blocks of colour at the centre of each set of castellations were the complementaries yellow, magenta and cyan, as shown in the version I have reconstructed which you can see if you click on the card on the left. The black quadrants in the corners each had three white spots as a check on dynamic convergence, and the centre black circle had more for static convergence. The frequency gratings were 3MHz (upper) and 2MHz (lower). The subcarrier frequency was 2.6578125MHz, so there would have been some cross-colour patterning at these two frequencies. The scale below the circle was probably a test for reflections, and seems to have been drawn on a separate peice of paper and stuck on slightly off-centre. Each graduation represents 5µs (a path length of 1 500m, around a mile). The width of the card represents 80µs.

The angels wings tuning signal from around 1957, incorporating a photograph of announcer Sylvia Peters, was more colourful. The sections of the outer wings were, from top to bottom, red, magenta, yellow, green, cyan and blue - not in descending order of luminance as used on standard colour bars.

ABC Television, one of the ITV companies, also experimented with 405-line colour, using all three of the then available standards - NTSC, SECAM and PAL. They were in favour of introducing 405-line colour on ITV alongside the 625-line BBC2 colour service (as indeed were the BBC for a time, for BBC1), which would have made televison sets almost impossible to design, manufacture, adjust, afford or watch, judging by the dreadful performance of the monochrome dual-standard sets that were introduced.

In 1962 the BBC began tests of 625-lines on uhf using two channels simultaneously - E34 and E44 - in both monochrome and colour. NTSC tests were radiated in February 1963 followed by SECAM tests in March of that year. The tests continued until the official start of BBC2 on 20 April 1964 on E33. PAL tests were conducted during BBC2 trade tests during the afternoons beginning on 24 May 1965, but after a few months these were moved to after the nightly closedown.

Early colour camera were quite large. The shot on the left shows a Marconi Image Orthicon camera in use during an experimental transmission from the Alexandra palace studio in 1956. The camera used three 7.5cm tubes, as opposed to the 11.4cm tubes found in monochrome cameras of the day. The light path was split using dichroic mirrors. Brian Summers has more details of this camera, which was a copy of the RCA TK41 camera used at the time in America, on his Museum of the Broadcast Television Camera web site.

On 20 March 1966 ATV recorded an episode of Sunday Night at the London Palladium in colour as an experiment, and some screen shots appear in the 405-Lines section.

A Day In The Life...


BBC2 Trade Test Transmission Schedule 1967/68 Monday to Saturday

0900 Monochrome Test Card
0958 Caption
1000 Service Information
1015 Colour Bars
1020 Test Card "F"
1030 Colour Receiver Installation Film
1043 Colour Film
1055 Test Card "F"
1100 "Play School" (Saturdays: Colour Film)
1125 Test Card "F"
1128 Caption
1130 Service Information
1135 Colour Film
1155 Colour Bars
1200 Test Card "F"
1210 Colour Receiver Installation Film
1223 - 1230 Test Card "F"
1400 Test Card "F"
1410 Colour Bars
1415 Test Card "F"
1428 Caption
1430 Service Information
1435 Colour Film
1500 Test Card "F"
1510 Colour Receiver Installation Film
1523 Test Card "F"
1530 Colour Film
1555 Test Card "F"
1610 Colour Bars
1615 Test Card "F"
1630 Colour Film
1655 Test Card "F"
1710 Colour Bars
1715 Test Card "F"
1730 Colour Film
1755 Test Card "F"
1810 Colour Bars
1815 Test Card "F"
1830 Colour Film
1855 Test Card "F"
1858 Caption
1900 Colour Information
1905 Colour Film

On Saturdays the start of the scheduled programme at 1900 necessitates the termination of trade test transmissions at 1858.

Sound during the test card and colour bars transmissions follows this sequence as far as is practicable:
4 minutes 440Hz tone;
1 minute silence;
15 minutes recorded music.

Recorded music only is transmitted when five minutes or less are available for the above sequence.

Details of some of the regular colour test films mentioned in the above schedule are available on several web sites, including 405 Alive, which also lists the films shown in the early 405-line NTSC tests. The Test Card Circle also has a definitive A-Z of colour test films and where they can be obtained, but their main interest is in the music recordings that accompanied the test cards and almost every other type of caption and filler material that has ever been shown.

TEST CARD F of course is the very icon of colour television with its innovative use of a picture in the centre circle. It first appeared on BBC2 in July 1967 and when the BBC1 and ITV networks were duplicated on 625-lines UHF from 1969 Test Card F was simultaneously radiated in black and white on 405-lines VHF. There's a full technical description of Test Card F on Not just a pretty face... Much later on an electronic version was radiated.

Test Card F
If anyone hasn't heard, the model is the then nine-year-old Carole, daughter of the late George Hersee who died in 2001 and who designed the test card in 1967. In 1998 Richard Russell of the BBC redesigned the card as Test Card W for digital widescreen use and also made a 12:9 version called Test Card J. There are a few technical differences between those and Test Card F, but the most noticeable is a complete remastering of the picture of Carole from the original transparency, putting the chalk cross in the dead centre of the card and revealing for the first time the clown's left leg. The clown, incidentally, whose name is Bubbles, was made by Carole herself from a kit. Carole went on to work in the theatrical wardrobe business, making period costumes.

Shown here is the original version of Test Card F transmitted on BBC2 only, from the start of the experimental colour service in 1967. The numerals listing the frequencies of the adjacent gratings were soon removed because the card was to be used on both systems, being standards-converted at the transmitters for 405-lines. At the start of the BBC2 colour service the card alternated with full-screen colour bars, but in later years twelve lines of colour bars were instead inserted at the top of the test card, obscuring most of the cyan and black castellations.

Test Card F, BBC1
Test Card F, BBC1 with text overlay
Detail from above card

WHEN TEST Card F was radiated on BBC1 the "BBC2 COLOUR" identification printed on the slide was replaced by "BBC1" from a caption generator electronically cut into the test card picture. The electronic grey box used as a background can be clearly seen not to match the grey of the optical card towards the right hand side.

Occasionally the character generator was used to superimpose an informative caption over the test card, and so the original ident on the card could not be obscured. In this example it is being used to announce some audio engineering tests. Other instances of added text that I can remember are when the Radio 4 long-wave transmitter was out of action for a length of time and Radio 4 programmes were broadcast on the tv audio channel. When Apollo 13 had a problem, regularly updated announcements were made by the same method, before a programme giving full coverage could be got on the air. That was in the days before teletext newsflashes and twenty-four hour rolling news channels of course.

The blue strap at top right of the pictures is the Ceefax clock courtesy of the Wireless World teletext decoder installed in the Forgestone receiver from which the shots were taken. See the Teletext Remembered section of the site for all the gory details.

In these days of high-resolution anti-aliased computer graphics, it is hard to remember that not so long ago most captions were made with dry-print or hot-press characters on board and photographed by a tv camera (or photographed onto a 35mm slide and scanned). Although bit-mapped character generators were available, they had a distinctly 'blocky' look to them and were frowned upon in broadcast circles. The BBC character generator seen here was not digital at all, but analogue. The shapes of the characters were made by electronic circuits that generated straight lines and ellipses, chopped up and repositioned to give the relatively smooth glyphs shown in the enlargement. The main function of the character generator was the production of subtitles in programmes for the deaf, and also some foreign language films, though the latter tended to use optical titles until better fonts were available electronically.

HERE ARE the five BBC colour electronic test cards F, G, J, W and HD and the IBA electronic test pattern ETP1 that was introduced in 1979. There's a full technical description of each of the UK test cards on "Not just a pretty face...". Click on the cards below to read them.

Test Card F Test Card G (PM5544) from BBC2 Test Card J Test Card W HD Test Card IBA Electronic Test Pattern ETP1

The Philips PM5544 electronic colour pattern THE PHILIPS PM5544 electronic colour pattern has been the test card of choice for most colour broadcasters since the late 1960s. It has had several variations, this photograph being taken from a recent analogue satellite transmission. There's a full technical description of the PM5544 pattern on Not just a pretty face...

The Telefunken FuBK pattern THIS ELECTRONIC card, which first appeared in the nineteen-sixties, is generated by the Telefunken FuBK (Funkbetriebungskommission, the German Television Service Commission) pattern generator and was used extensively in Germany and some other countries. It is one of the few patterns that lacks castellations or arrows to mark the extremities of the picture.

The PM5552 colour chequerboard pattern

ANOTHER PHILIPS colour pattern, this time the PM5552, photographed here in black and white on channel E3 at 1805 UTC on 6 July 1970 from an unknown station, probably the Netherlands, as it was known to be used by them.

There are more examples of long-distance reception on the Non-UK Test Cards page.

The EBU colour pattern

THIS is a colour version of the EBU electronic test pattern seen in the monochrome section above. It was photographed from a monitor off-axis and using flash, so it looks a little bent and washed out here. It has the same frequency response, greyscale and needle pulse tests as its monochrome cousin with the addition of colour bars (EBU spec of course) and a subcarrier needle pulse.

ETP1, Channel Four
Test transmission, Channel 5
Joke test card from ITV Digital, March 2002
Still from S4C advert

CHANNEL FOUR when it was testing in 1982 radiated the IBA's ETP1 test pattern, but this monstrosity, captured in December 1996, was the nearest we ever got to a test card on the Channel 5 network. It's designed by some meeja-skool whiz kid who once saw some colour bars and thought they looked k3wl. Absolutely useless as a test pattern of course since the colours are meaningless, and since Channel 5 was conceived as a twenty-four hour station there has never been a spare moment since the opening day to radiate a test card so none was ever commissioned. The same could be said about this effort from ITV Digital I suppose, but it was just a joke dreamed up when the moribund digital terrestrial subscription service was about to close down in the spring of 2002.

Similarly this widescreen card (is it "TCW" or "TCJ"?) was spotted in an advert for a second-hand car dealer on S4C, the public service channel for Wales, on which most of the programmes are in Welsh and most of the adverts are in English.

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Optical monochrome HD-MAC card
Test Card W electronic colour 16:9 pattern

WIDESCREEN TEST cards are few and far between. The top one, an updated EIA Resolution Chart, was designed for the so-called HD-MAC standard. In fact High-Definition MAC used the same 625-line standard as 4:3 MAC, but unlike the case with DVB, the extra side bits of the picture were sent separately rather than having the 16:9 picture squashed into the same bandwidth as the 12:9 ones. This card is for the earlier 15:9 widescreen format. Where Test Card W has arrowheads to delineate the 16:9, 14:9 and 12:9 picture widths, this one has them at 15:9, 12:9 and 9:9.

The MAC (Multiplexed Analogue Component) standard is described briefly on World TV Standards.

FuBK electronic colour 16:9 pattern  

THIS IS a 16:9 version of the FuBK pattern. It is identical to the 4:3 version apart from extra grille lines and markers to delineate the 12:9 picture area. This shot is taken from an overscanned 4:3 receiver which is why the full height of the pattern is visible, but the sides are missing. PALplus transmissions were different from HD-MAC in that a normal receiver displayed a 16:9 letterbox picture with blank lines above and below, while a PALplus receiver was able to interpolate the missing lines and display a full-height 16:9 picture.

PM5644 electronic colour 16:9 pattern
PM5644 electronic colour 16:9 pattern
PM5644 electronic colour 16:9 pattern

HHERE ARE three 16:9 versions of the PM5544 pattern, these being designated PM5644. Several variations of the pattern exist, each with different features. The top picture is from a Philips PM5644/85 pattern generator, the middle one from a PALplus transmission and the bottom one from a Promax pattern generator.

Snell and Wilcox 16:9 MPEG pattern SW2+
Snell and Wilcox 16:9 MPEG pattern SW4+
Snell and Wilcox 16:9 MPEG Test Card M

THE FIRST of these Snell & Wilcox patterns is a 525-line animated MPEG test pattern. The circular zone plate pattern bounces around inside the centre rectangle generating MPEG aliases whose nastiness is a measure of the quality of the encoding/decoding process. There are 625-line and 4:3 versions of both the top two patterns.

The bottom pattern was called Test Card M (if you look closely, you can see that Carole has been caught in the process of chalking the letter 'M' on her board), and for various technical reasons relating to the way it was generated, it was not suitable for transmission, so was only ever used internally. It, too, contained various moving features.

I have attempted to scale and position all these widescreen patterns so that the 12:9 points are aligned more or less vertically.

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High Definition and 3-D


Electronic High Definition Test Card
Electronic High Definition Test Card with surround sound idents
Electronic High Definition 3-D test card Electronic High Definition 3-D test card

WITH THE advent of high definition and three-dimensional transmissions, the BBC relented temporarily and resumed regular (albeit brief) test card transmissions in the out-of-programme-hours 'Preview' feature on its 'BBC HD' channel. The test card was accompanied by tones sounded in each 5.1 surround channel in turn, identified by letters that flashed up in the appropriate position on the card. These two-minute transmissions alternated every half hour or so with a lip-synch test that allowed viewers to adjust the audio delay on their receivers to match the video.

Shades of the old tuning signal, here.

The composite screenshot on the left shows the HD test card with all the surround channel idents - in reality only one or two were on screen at any one time.

When BBCHD changed to the 24-hour BBC2HD in 2013, the test card vanished again.

The first 3-D card shown here is in fact exactly the same as the 2-D HD card and contains no depth information. Its purpose is to show up any defects in 3-D encoding/decoding. Only the transparent logo at top right is not in the plane of the screen. You can see the effect by viewing the detail below with crossed eyes, when 'BBC' should appear to float slightly in front of the card.

Close-up of logo on 3D test card

An earlier version had the central picture set back slightly from the card - with the exception of the centre cross, which was in the plane of the card. More eye-crossing should demonstrate that, but do be careful, and make sure you do not get stuck like that. The letters that flashed up to indicate which surround sound channel was active were placed slightly forward of the card.

Central circle on 3D test card

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30-line 'Finis' caption 30-line 'Goodnight' caption

The Television Test Cards Web Page is now closing down for the night.

Please do not forget to turn off your computer before putting the cat out and going to bed.


A fantasy all-purpose test card

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Mike Brown/MB21/
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François Frappé, a French DX enthusiast from the 1960s and 70s
Keith Hamer
Darren Meldrum
Richard Russell
Justin Smith/Aerials and TV
Andrew Wiseman/625 Room
Bill Wright

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Compiled by Alan Pemberton
Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England
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