What Do TV Color Bars Mean?

If you grew up in the 1990s, there was probably nothing more horrifying than seeing color bars on TV and hearing the ear-splitting and perplexing sound that went along with them.

Color bars are artificial electronic signals produced by the camera or post-production equipment. They’re recorded at the beginning of a videotape to serve as a consistent reference in post-production. They’re also used to set up a video monitor and match the output of two cameras in a multi-camera session.

Engineering Guideline 1-1990 is another term for the colorful bars and nostalgic tone. This standard test pattern has long been used to check that a display’s output is accurate in terms of color and tone when compared to the original signal.

What Do TV Color Bars Mean?

TV color bars are formally referred to as SMPTE color bars. SMPTE stands for Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), a group that pioneered colored bars usage on television.

SMPTE color bars are a test pattern that video experts use to compare with specified standards to detect if the video signal has been tampered with during transmission or recording. This will help them figure out what they need to restore the video signal to its original state.

The top two-thirds of a television picture in an SMPTE color bar image contain seven vertical bars of 75 percent intensity. White, yellow, cyan, green, magenta, red, and blue are the colors from left to right.

The Function of SMPTE Bars And Tone

Color bars were created to calibrate analog NTSC equipment, but they are still commonly utilized in modern digital television studios. To illuminate or activate a level of opacity in a pixel, all display monitors require some level of voltage.

Color bars are used to keep the intended chroma and brightness levels on video, RGB, LCD, and Plasma displays, as well as duplication, television, and webcast capabilities.

For both picture and sound, SMPTE bars and tone are used as a reference. It’s a test signal delivered to a nearby station before the program’s airing.

After receiving this preliminary test signal, local stations can then change their equipment in preparation for the actual show. When broadcasting it to consumers’ homes, they can be confident that what they’re giving out is identical to the signal they received.

It’s similar to a telephone game. The goal of SMPTE bars and tone is to keep the signal’s integrity intact during the entire race.

How To Set up a Monitor Using SMPTE Bars

  • Allow the monitor to warm up before using it (10-15 minutes).
  • Display SMPTE color bars on the monitor using a reliable source.
  • Turn the monitor’s chroma off.
  • The three dark bars in the lower right corner of the plug design are super black, black, and gray.

Another Name for Bars and Tone

It’s probably inconvenient, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. While you are unlikely to be demodulating anything in our free-wheeling digital future, the world of media would have looked very different if color bars and tone had never been established.

They’ve set the tone for an entire industry. The EG 1-1990 Engineering Guideline has endured the test of time, and our life’s high points have never been brighter.


Are TV color bars copyrighted?

The SMPTE color bars are protected by copyright, and their use is restricted under the terms of the license. As a derivative work, creating “your own pattern” based on the color bars also necessitates permission.

What are the colored bars on TV called?

SMPTE color bars are the official name. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is the group that started in the 1970s and developed the color bars as the North American video standard.

What are Colour bars used for?

Bars and tones are used as a goal or reference for calibrating the audio and color levels coming from the videotape during transmission. The color bars are displayed at a 75% intensity, and a 1kHz sine wave is used as the audio tone.

Is color calibration necessary?

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a low-cost monitor or a large-screen television to calibrate your colors. No matter how much calibration you do, it’s probably incapable of displaying true colors. You’ll need an extra monitor if you’re editing images on your laptop and want a calibrated screen.


We hope you understand why TV color bars exist. Please let us know in the comments section.