Color bars and tone need to mean something!

We often get MiniDV tapes that people want to transfer to BetaSP for submission to film festivals and/or broadcast. However, when we go to transfer it, we have difficulty setting up the program to the right levels because the bars and tone on the miniDV are completely random and don’t have anything to do with the levels on the actual program.

The reason color bars and reference tone are on the tape is to allow the technicians dealing with the tape to make the best playback possible for use in broadcast, projection, or dubbing.

The tone becomes even more critical when it is a stereo show with different audio information in each track. We once transferred a surfing documentary where they were using a song by the Ventures in the track. The Ventures would literally put all the drums on one speaker (track) and all the guitar on another track. This was a novelty technique when hi-fi stereo was just breaking out.

So transfering this footage became really difficult because we couldn’t figure out the intention of the filmmaker for the music. Did they want the drums to dominate or the guitar. If we had had actuall reference tone, then we could have easily figured out the perfect levels.

Same with the color bars. They need to actually reference the color and production processes of the show.

So here’s the deal when setting up your bars and tone:


1) Set up your monitor with trusted (unmanipulated) color bars:
If you don’t have a vector scope or know how to use one, make sure the reds are RED and the yellows are YELLOW; that should be a good setting for a poor man’s vector scope.

1) Make sure you are using the correct Bars for your particular video format. NTSC needs NTSC bars. PAL Needs PAL

2) Adjust your monitor. (If you don’t have a vector scope or know how to use one, you can just make sure the reds are RED and the yellows are YELLOW and that should be a good setting for a poor man’s vector scope).

3) Make sure that the bars are in the exact same timeline as the program they are supposed to represent. Actually cut them into the sequence.

4) Make sure the bars in the sequence still look good in the monitor.

5) Adjust your show’s color and contrast to match the bars.

6) Output your master with confidence!


1) Adjust the audio levels in your show so that the very loudest sounds (screams, gunshots, etc.) are just barely upto the red on whatever meter you are using. But make sure they don’t peak off the the meter.

2) NEVER ADJUST YOUR SPEAKERS in the middle of a mixing session, because you will lose your valubable point of reference.

3) Cut some reference tone into the timeline of your show and set it at the same level as the loudest sounds.

4) Run your show’s tone through your output deck and dial the tone to the same level on the deck as it was in your timeline.

5) Output with confidence!

Now you have real bars and real tone that really mean something for everyone who has to deal with your master in the future!