A Brief Visual History of TV Test Patterns

Thursday June 13, 2019 Written by Smith


In the halcyon days of home entertainment – before Netflix was even a glint in a content producer’s eye – TV stations would regularly run out of shows to broadcast. To fill the time, they would point their cameras at a test pattern: a physical card printed with geometric symbols viewers could use to calibrate their monitor settings.

They hardly made for compelling viewing. But now, decades after the introduction of 24-hour programming, the cards have developed something of a cult following. YouTube is home to hours’ worth of test pattern videos, and there’s even a dedicated test pattern fan club – The Test Card Circle – whose website feels about as dated as the cards it was set up to celebrate.

It’s all an exercise in nostalgia, but a nice-looking one at that. Per Kottke (via Present & Correct and Wikimedia Commons), here are some of our favourite cards from this simpler time in broadcasting history: