Indian Head test card


Indian Head test card

The Indian Head Test Card was a black and white television test pattern which was introduced in 1939 by RCA of Harrison, New Jersey as a part of the RCA TK-1 Monoscope. 20th century television later became so important socially that this purely technical electronic instrument (covertly identified as a branded industrial product) became a historical cultural icon of television's early days as a mass medium. Its name comes from the original art of an American Indian featured on the card.

As television broadcasting ritual

The Indian Head Test Pattern became familiar to the large post-war Baby Boom TV audiences in America from 1947 onwards; it would often follow the formal television station sign-off after the United States national anthem. The Indian Head was also used in Canada, following the Canadian national anthem sign-off in the evening. This test pattern was later used by Venezuelan TV channel Venevision, in conjunction with the RMA Resolution Chart 1941, in the mid and late 70's before the Venezuelan anthem ("Gloria al bravo pueblo").

The Indian Head pattern could variously be seen: after sign-off but while the station was still transmitting; while transmitting prior to a typical 6 AM formal sign-on; or even during the daylight morning hours on newer low budget stations, which typically began their broadcast day with midday local programs around 10 or 11 AM. cite journal | last = Kay | first = M. S. | title = The Television Test Pattern | journal = Radio & Television News | volume = 41 | issue = 1 | pages = pp. 38–39, 135–136 | publisher = Ziff-Davis | month = January | year = 1949 "Every television station, prior to its actual broadcasting period, transmits a test pattern for the purpose of permitting set owners to adjust their receiver controls for optimum reception." The article also states that television programming (in 1949) was only a few hours each evening. The "Indian Head" test pattern was built into the RCA "Monoscope" tube, a 2F21, which acted as a complete replacement for the TV camera.]

During the late 1950s the test pattern gradually began to be seen less frequently, after fewer sign-offs, on fewer stations, and for shorter periods in the morning, since new and improved TV broadcast equipment required less adjusting. In later years the test pattern was transmitted for as little as a minute after studio sign-off while the transmitter engineer logged required FCC-USA/Industry Canada transmitter readings, and then turned off the power.

Towards the end of the Indian Head TV era, there was no nightly test pattern on some stations, typically when automatic logging and remote transmitter controls allowed shutdown of power immediately after the formal sign-off. After an immediate transmitter power off, a USA or Canadian audience, in lieu of the Indian head Test Card and its sine wave tone, heard a loud audio hiss like FM radio inter-station noise and saw the noise (video)
video noise
[TV/video "snow" noise is unrelated to "White noise". TV "snow" vaguely resembled precipitating snow at night (in the UK, anyway). White noise is an analogy to the flat-amplitude continuous-frequency spectrum of white light, as opposed to pink noise that gradually increases in strength toward the red or bass end of the audio frequency spectrum.] colloquially called "snow," indicating the absence of a broadcast signal on the channel. [Though it's called "snow" everywhere, this video noise resembled fast-flickering white snow precipitation on a black background only in the UK. NTSC TV-system viewers in the USA, Canada, and Japan saw an impression of fast-flickering black bugs on a cool white background. The reason is that UK TV receivers use positive video modulation where the strongest signal is white, rather than USA-Canada-Japan negative video modulation where the strongest signal is black. The NTSC committee chose negative video modulation, because flecks of white "snow" are more noticeable and annoying than flecks of black "bugs". The cool white background seen on a monochrome cathode-ray TV tube results from white-glowing phosphors similar to those used in cool white fluorescent lamp tubes. Cathode-ray tube tri-color-phosphor TV receivers display a warmer color called "television white". ] With the scheduled end of USA high power analog broadcasting on February 17, 2009 (low power USA TV stations may continue analog broadcasting), "snow" may be the only thing visible when an old analog TV is turned on without a digital TV converter. [Approximately one-third to one-quarter of this "snow" static is residual background radiation from the Big Bang. http://www.turnoffyourtv.com/commentary/static.html]

When USA broadcasters transitioned to color television, the SMPTE color bars superseded the black-and-white test pattern image. In Sweden the Indian head was used in test transmissions from the Royal Institute of Technology from 1948 until November 1958 when it was replaced by the Sveriges Television test card.

As television system tool

The primary and critical Indian Head Test Pattern was not itself a card. Rather, it was generated directly as a monochrome video signal by means of a monoscope camera.

An RCA TK-1 Monoscope Camera is a 19-inch rack-mounted chassis, which contains electronic circuits needed to operate a glass cathode ray tube housed inside of an anti-magnetic steel shield. [http://www.pharis-video.com/p2794.htm] The cathode ray component is a TV-camera vacuum tube known as a monoscope, because it videographs only one still image, the test pattern. The tube has a perfectly proportioned copy of the test pattern master art inside, permanently deposited as a carbon image on an aluminum target plate. [The target plate is sequentially scanned with a focused beam of electrons, which were originally called "cathode rays". When the electron beam strikes the carbon image areas, the carbon resists current flow, and the resulting lower electron current flow is adjusted to appear as video black. When the electron beam strikes the metallic-aluminum image areas, there is less resistance with higher current flow, and the resulting higher electron current flow is adjusted to appear as video white.] This perfect copy allowed all of the studio and control room video picture monitors, and home television sets, to be identically adjusted for minimum distortions such as ovals instead of circles. When the monitor or TV set was correctly adjusted to show test pattern circles, the received picture's aspect ratio was exactly three units high by four units wide. The 3 by 4 standard was chosen by the National Television System Committee (NTSC) for analog television, so that film movies would be compatible with TV broadcasting. 3 by 4 is the same aspect ratio used by 16mm and classic 35mm motion picture film frames. [Not including Cinemascope 35mm anamorphic wide-screen film frames, both wide screen sides of which were unseen on TV prior to the later analog TV practice of letterboxing wide screen films. Occasionally, anamorphic films were locally broadcast in error using a standard, non-anamorphic film chain lens, resulting in the TV viewer seeing tall, thin El Greco-effect people, squeezed more in the center than at the top and bottom. Also, the El Greco effect was unavoidable while showing the film credits, as wide-screen words on either side would otherwise not be visible; not showing readable credits would typically be a movie-broadcasting contract violation.]

Only after the monitors were adjusted was an actual Indian Head Test Card used. A cardboard mounted lithograph of the test pattern was typically attached to a rolling vertical easel in each TV studio, to be videographed by each studio camera during test time. Then the cameras were adjusted to appear identical on picture monitors, by alternately switching between and comparing the monoscope image and the test card image. Such adjustments were made on a regular basis because television system electronics then used hot vacuum tubes, the operating characteristics of which drifted throughout each broadcast day.

Test patterns were also broadcast to the public daily to allow regular adjustments by home television set owners and TV shop repair technicians. In this regard, various features in the pattern were included to facilitate focus and contrast settings, and the measurement of resolution. The circular "bulls-eyes" in the centre and the four corners permitted uniform deflection yoke and oscillator amplitude adjustments for centering, pincushioning, and image size.

The test pattern was usually accompanied by a 1,000 or 400 hertz sine wave test tone, which demonstrated that the TV aural receiver was working. [The analog TV monaural audio transmission was nearly identical to analog monaural FM radio. Automobile drivers in USA cities with a TV channel 6 could listen to channel 6 audio at 87.75 MHz, just below the lower end of the FM radio broadcast band at 87.9 MHz. The two systems of transmitting stereo were completely different.] If the tone was pure-sounding rather than a buzz or rattle, then transmitted speech and music would not be distorted. 400 Hz is somewhat less annoying for technicians to hear for extended work periods. [1,000 Hz is the standard 0dB (0 decibel) reference point for analog-NTSC TV aural system frequency response measurements, but for simple line-reference 0dB audio level setting, preference for hearing 400 Hz is common knowledge and experience among broadcast and audio technicians. "From the factory the frequency of the reference tone is configured to be 400 Hz. This is a nice alternative to the more typical 1 kHz, a frequency which can soon become very annoying to a listener’s ears. In most cases 400 Hz will be perfectly acceptable, and actually preferred." - [http://www.studio-tech.com/PDFFiles/M742ug_2.pdf Model 742 Audio Mixer User Guide, Issue 2, May 2005 (PDF)] ; p.10 - Studio Technologies, Inc.]

As cultural icon

An actual Indian Head Test Card was only of secondary importance to television system adjustment, but many of them were saved as souvenirs, works of found art, and inadvertent mandalas. By contrast, nearly all of the hard-to-open, steel-shielded, vacuum glass monoscope tubes were junked with their hidden Indian Head Test Pattern target plates still inside. The monoscope target plates were also small, a few inches in size, while the showy camera test cards were sized on the order of 1-½ feet by 2 feet, making them natural keepers for picture-framed wall display.

The original art work was completed for RCA by an artist named Brooks on August 23, 1938. The master art was improbably discovered in a dumpster by a wrecking crew worker as the old RCA factory in Harrison, NJ was being demolished in 1970. The worker kept the art for over 30 years, and then used the Internet to locate and sell it to a test pattern collector. [http://www.pharis-video.com/p4788.htm]

As of 2008, most television stations in the United States no longer sign off overnight, instead running infomercials, networked overnight news shows, syndicated TV re-runs, or old movies, but the Indian Head Test Card persists as a symbol of early television. It was even sold as a night-light (from 1997 to 2005 by the Archie McPhee company), [The Indian Head Test Pattern Night Light was included in a set of three novelty night lights with test pattern lamp shades: RCA TK-1 Indian Head (1950s), SMPTE color bars (1960s), and an Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) TV-test slide image ("This is a test! This is only a test!") from the middle Cold War era. Each of the three images were printed on 3" x 4-½" paper, and mounted in a clear plastic cover within a curved, TV-screen-styled clip-on white plastic frame. Each translucent image was rear-illuminated by a 4-watt incandescent bulb. The candelabra screw (E10, Edison screw, 10 mm) bulb was part of a standard plug-lamp-and-switch night light, fitted with a North American 120v, ½" parallel-prong, to be left indefinitely plugged into a USA household duplex electric outlet. According to the customer service department of Archie McPhee company, Seattle, Washington, the set of three, as Item #10480, was sold from 1999-01-11 to 2005-06-17. Their representative said these lamp shades were created by the company, and not obtained from an outside source. (Source accessed by phone on 2007-11-07). The images were labeled "1998 Accoutrements". According to the [http://www.accoutrements.com/home.html Accoutrements LLC website] , Archie McPhee is their company's retail division.] reminiscent of the times when a fairly common late-night experience was to fall asleep while watching the late movie, only to awaken to the characteristic sine wave tone accompanying the Indian Head Test Pattern on a black-and-white TV screen.

Television appearances

* The test card is perhaps best recalled by some baby boomers for its brief albeit iconic part in the opening sequence of "The Outer Limits" (1963-1965).
* A parody with a laughing Indian was the logo for the first season of Second City Television.
* In an episode of "", a caricature of Emmett Brown's head replaces that of the Indian.
* In "Arrested Development", the television program "accidentally" cut to test pattern just before what would have been partial nudity (this gag may have originated in the 1967 Vilgot Sjoman film "I Am Curious (Yellow)").
* In the "Ren & Stimpy" episode "Space Madness".
* Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" program on MSNBC uses the test card along with a spinning or rocking donkey animation to illustrate controversies in the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination process.
* Eureka Season 3 episode 2

Film appearances

* The test pattern flashes onscreen briefly as part of a burst of TV interference at the very beginning of John Carpenter's directorial debut, the 1974 sci-fi comedy "Dark Star".
* The test pattern features prominently on the original U.S. poster and DVD packaging art of 1989 cult comedy "UHF" as the lenses of "Weird Al" Yankovic's glasses.
* In the 1996 film "Beavis and Butthead Do America" the test card briefly appears on a motel TV in Muddy's room.
* In the 1998 film "Pleasantville" a modified version of the test card appears on the television screen behind the Don Knotts character. The Indian head changes its facial expression over the course of the film.
* In the 2002 film "Signs", the test card anachronistically appears on a set during the invasion.
* In the 2005 film "The Amityville Horror", the test card briefly (and anachronistically) appears on the television in the basement during the opening sequence.
* In the 2007 film "Zodiac" the test card is (accurately) shown on a monitor in the television station's control room.
* In the 2008 animated film "" the Martian Manhunter learns about American pop culture by watching television; he morphs into several characters, ending with the Indian as the station announces that it's going off air. This is in keeping with the era in which most of the film is set: the 1950s. The card itself appears later in the story as a Please Stand By notice after The Flash briefly commandeers a television station.

Other appearances

* On Cheech and Chong's "Big Bambu" album, at the beginning of a long sketch spoofing TV shows, Cheech drops by Chong's pad and asks what he's watching. Chong replies, "I don't know, it's a movie about Indians, but it's really boring." Cheech says, "Hey man, that's not a movie, man. That's a "test pattern", man!" Chong answers, "Far out." A 1 kilohertz test tone is audible in the background. {1 Khz or 400 Hz?}
* A parody of this test card appears in the computer game "Streets of SimCity" for 5 seconds before going to the main menu.
* The test card makes appearance as a loading screen in the game "Fallout".
* A tiny reproduction of the Indian test card is also found on the main control panel of the AVD Video Processor program.
* The Newtek Video Toaster video switcher product used a slightly stylized and colorized version of the Indian head test card in the product logo, promotional literature, and as a usable video 'effect' (provided as a still frame picture) that could be inserted into produced video. This "may" account for some appearances on US, UK, Canadian, German, and many other countries' TV programs during the 1990s, as the Video Toaster product was popular with TV stations and video production studios alike due to its low cost.
* The test card is featured prominently in the cover art of the Michael Penn album Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947.
* The test card is seen when you grab a tv-antenna in the videogame "Condemned 2 - Blodshot".

References and Notes

External links

* [http://www.pharis-video.com/p4788.htm The Indian Head Test Pattern original master art] — rescued from an RCA dumpster in 1970
*Picture and detailed description of an [http://www.pharis-video.com/p2794.htm RCA TK-1 Monoscope]
* [http://www.mire-project.com/index.php/index.php?lang=EN-en mire.project] - Street art work about test patterns


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