Deciphering the Language of TV Test Patterns

Did TV test patterns precede television invention? The static bull’s eye that popped up on early televisions from the 1940s to 1970s, before tv stations broadcasted round-the-clock programming or when transmission malfunctions happened, didn’t precede tv invention, which shockingly, was experimented within the 1880s. However, it was the initial transmission on a television screen. 

The television test pattern was aired in the 1920s when aesthetics weren’t essential. You drafted the test pattern to guide electrical engineers to calibrate and generate viable images. Eventually, it became the black and white television era’s nostalgic icon.  


Initially, a round bull’s-eye was patterned on the native oscilloscope layout that came before the usual rectangular, arced tube. It displayed a figure in a waveform called “test charts.”

These comprised designs that monitored transmitter performance out of the studio to the antenna and the image resolution. If the circle appeared egg-shaped, this was an indication that television scans weren’t uniform. 

The pattern’s interior was partitioned into sections. The innermost, darkened circles comprised three concentric disc-shaped parts of different densities, and the central part was black. The subsequent circle displayed a middle grey shade, and the outermost ring was white. They were used for testing the shading and contrast.


The bulls-eye emitted four bars as rays in four paths. The four bars were “definition wedges” comprising horizontal and vertical white and black lines, arrayed to enlarge in width as they exited the central part. The vertical lines measured the horizontal resolution, and the horizontal measured the vertical. 

The image served particular purposes. Constant adjustments on studio monitors and cameras were made the whole day. Wikipedia notes that a competent broadcast engineer could peek at the Indian Chief drawing and immediately figure out if things were in place or if they had to adjust to increasing accuracy.  

The chat had every element required to modify perspective – differential gain, frequency response, brightness, contrast, linearity, and framing. The chart was colourised when colour television was invented. However, it was useless by the 70s, yet one more cultural artifact and design icon became outdated.