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Glossary of television design terms

Here’s a collection of terms that I’ve collected over the years. Quite a few are obsolete by now, but I’ll keep this online as a historical document.

2 1/2 D Animation

This is a technique that combines moving 2D elements to create the simulation of a 3D animation. See Limited Motion Animation.

3D animation

An animation method where dimensional objects, their motion paths, and attributes are geometrically described in a computer. This information can then be used to generate frames of hyper-realistic images which can be animated. If you’d like some more information, please see How does this 3D Stuff Work, Anyway?


Please see ITU-R BT.601.


A DVE manufactured by Abekas.


A component digital disk recorder formerly manufactured by Abekas. The A-64 typically has 2 disks capable of recording 25 seconds each, with an internal digital switcher. The A-62 is the composite digital version of this device.


A component layering switcher manufactured by Abekas.


Something probably made by the former Abekas company.


Ampex Digital Optics. This was a DVE manufactured by the Ampex Corporation, but eventually became a verb for moving a rectangular frame of video in a DVE (“I'll just ADO the logo over to this position...”).


The creation of the illusion of movement by presenting a series of images which represent discrete moments in sequential time. The mind makes a connection between those discrete frames and interprets them as smoothly moving over a period of time.


NTSC video is in an aspect ratio of 3 units high by 4 units wide.

Aspect ratio

When dealing with images created on a computer, it is sometimes necessary to deal with the differences between the square pixels used in a software program and the eventual output format or device. For instance, D1 aspect ratio is sometimes expressed as .9, meaning that the horizontal measurement is 110% wider than a square-pixeled image.


The non-visible region surrounding a frame of video.


A piece of animation that is used either before or after a commercial break. It’s called a bump-out leaving the show, and a bump-back upon returning.

Camera card

White type on a black background; either laid to tape or an actual piece of artwork mounted on a card. Also known as a Super Card.

Camera ready artwork

Black on white (or reversed) flat artwork that can be shot on a copystand. This is usually accompanied with color references.

Character Generator

Any device specially used to create alphanumeric characters to title television graphics. An example might be the infinit!, made by the Chyron Corporation.


The color portion of the video signal.

Chroma key

A process by which a specific color (usually green or blue) in a piece of video is replaced by another source. Weathercasters stand in front of a "chroma key blue" wall, on which a weather map is electronically superimposed.


Specifically, this is the brand name for a character generator sold by Chyron. It's sometimes used generically to indicate any manufacturer’s character generator.

Color bars

A video test signal usually put at the head of a tape to calibrate playback machines.

Color references

A color composite, slide, Cibachrome, Chromalith, video tape, or other reasonable reference as to the correct color of a logo. This item usually accompanies Camera ready artwork.


The red, green, and blue portions of the video picture are transmitted, recorded and treated as separate and distinct elements.


The red, green, and blue portions of a video signal are encoded into a single, composite signal. NTSC video is a composite signal.


A component digital transmission and tape standard. Sometimes people use the term D1 to refer to the ITU-R BT.601 standard, because it’s easier than remembering that arcane acronym.


A composite digital transmission and tape standard.

Digital Disk Recorder (DDR)

A device that records and plays back digital video from a series of hard drives.


The process of changing analog information into discrete digital information.


Digital Video Effects. This is a device that takes a flat 2D plane of video and moves it in 3D space. This plane can be translated (moved) and rotated through a series of keyframes to create a smooth motion.


A term for an animation that has a start, a middle (the hole), and an end. The start is an open, followed by a transition to a keyable hole or a place to edit in an updatable middle, followed by a tag, a closing piece which sometimes includes a show time and air date.


1/60 of a second of NTSC video. Two fields make up one frame of video, therefore, one field has half the resolution of a frame.


A single uniform style of alphanumeric characters, also referred to as a type face.


1/30 of a second of NTSC video. Each frame is composed of two fields.


Special effects.


A color’s position within a spectrum. Usually this is measured within a 360 degree field of colors.


Institute of Radio Engineers. IRE units are a linear scale for measuring the relative amplitudes of the components of a television signal. The scale on a waveform monitor is measured in IREs.

ITU-R BT.601

The international standard for digitizing component television video, formerly called CCIR-601, and sometimes mistakenly called D1 video. Incidentally, ITU-R stands for the International Telecommunications Union - Radio (spectrum regulatory body).


A typographic term referring to the horizontal distance between characters. Tight kerning increases readability and gives a more professional appearance to type.


An element is said to be keyable if there is a method for separating it from the background video. One method is to put the element over negative black, which allows the element to be keyed by luminance. Another preferred way is to use a matte reel which supplies a key signal to cut out the element. This method is cleaner and more commonly used in edit suites which can handle a separate key signal.


A single event in a motion path. A series of keyframes are programed into a DVE to produce a move.


The technique of compositing several elements, one over another, to create a complex animation. This is usually done with a Digital disk recorder to avoid degrading the images.


Limited Motion Animation. This is a technique that combines moving 2D elements to create an animation.

Linear key

A key signal that is composed of varying levels of grey, as opposed to white and black. A Linear key is used to key an element with various levels of transparency, such as glass.

Lower third (L3rd)

A usually keyable super which is located in the lower third of the screen.


The brightness portion of the video signal.


The final product of any session, frequently the physical tape that a client walks away with. The original source material of a graphics session or a live shoot. Dubs pulled from masters to protect the original.

Matte reel

A separate reel of video tape that supplies a white on black image to be used as a key signal.

Motion Control

A technique used to move the viewer through a live action tableau by employing a computer-controlled camera. This camera can be precisely positioned on a frame to frame basis. This is animation where the camera moves and the objects in a scene remain still.

Negative black

A black video signal that measures less than 0 IRE on a waveform monitor, which can only be created in an analog suite (as digital suites can only produce 0 black). An image over negative black is easier to luminance key.


In video, any unwanted signals that interfere with, or degrade the quality of an image.

Non-linear Editing

Frequently this means a system of editing on a desktop computer that uses digitized video which is stored on a series of hard drives. The editing software allows the operator to make any number of editing decisions, and allows them to change those edits, even durations of individual pieces, in a non-destructive fashion. Any changes are merely rippled throughout the project, as individual clips slip and slide to compensate for the changes.

This is contrasted with traditional editing which is linear, where editing started at the beginning of the program, with material added sequentially to the project, with the end eventually reached at the end of the session. Any changes in duration in the middle of a project required reassembling the subsequent edits to the end.


The standard for color television transmission in the United States. Engineers sometimes jokingly refer to it as “Never The Same Color” because of its generally inconsistent, noisy nature. This is the transmission format for most non-digital video tape recorders.

Off Line Edit

Editing video material on less expensive equipment to produce a rough cut prior to using more expensive equipment for the final product. Frequently this means using a non-linear editing system. Often, off lining a project helps to establish the flow of a piece before entering a potentially expensive on line edit session.


Specifically, this is the brand name for a paint system sold by Quantel. It's sometimes used generically to indicate any manufacturer's paint system, but then they get sued by Quantel.


Picture Element. The smallest element of an image. Each pixel has a specified hue and intensity. An image is composed of a grid of pixels, usually written as a horizontal dimension followed by a vertical one (640 X 480, i.e.).


In simplest terms, an image composed of discrete pixels. All bitmap images are by their nature raster graphics. A raster image degrades when scaled larger, as opposed to a vector graphic.


To convert a geometric, vector-based image into a buncha pixels.


The process of drawing an image in a finished, often realistic manner. Either an artist, or a computer can be said to “render” an image; the first by using their skills, and the latter by using software written for such a purpose. For instance, a logo that looks like it is made of a particular material and lit with a specific light can be called rendered.

Steve Upstill defines rendering in The RenderMan Companion as:

“The process of generating a synthetic image of a scene given a precise description of the geometry and other characteristics of the scene.”

That's good enough for me.


The technique of treating individual frames one at a time to achieve animation, or isolate elements for later compositing. This technique was originally developed by Max Fleisher Studios, who used it to create hyper-realistic (for the time) cartoons based on filmed footage.

Safe Title

The portion of video that is certain to be received on the home viewer’s set. Type should be placed in this region of the screen. Due to the nature of broadcast television, about 20% of the outside edges of video is in “cut-off.”


In color, the purity of that color. High saturation indicates a high percentage of a color.

Scratch Track

An audio track used as a reference for editing purposes. This is for reference only; the audio track should be mastered by qualified audio personnel before being aired.

Spot Reel

Originally a quantity of video tape spooled off onto a smaller reel from a larger one. This is from the time when the highest quality format of tape was “1 inch” video tape. Projects were delivered on spot reels, although that term may still be used for any deliverable tape.

Still Graphics

Non-moving still images. These could be backgrounds, type beds, over-the-shoulder boxes, or the like.

Still Store

A device that stores and recalls still images. Generally speaking these are hard disks and a frame buffer, joined with some sort of user interface.

Story Board

A series of drawn frames used to specify animation or live action.


Short hand slang for superimposition; to put one thing over another. In television production, we say that a line of Chyron type is “supered” over video.

Super Black

A value of black used in an image to allow luminance keying in a portion of an image, usually at or near 0. See keyable and Negative Black

Super Card

See Camera card.

Time Code

The coding system recorded on video tape that allows for synchronization and editing. Time code records time in hours, minutes, seconds, and frames in this form: HH:MM:SS:FF


A patented process and device which cleanly keys one element (usually live action) over a background. Care should be taken to plan and shoot the live action properly to ensure the best results.


A term to describe a line with a direction indicated. In graphics terms a vector is a geometric description of a shape, using coordinates and drawing instructions to draw the form. Vector graphics are said to be “resolution independent,” meaning that they can be arbitrarily scaled without degrading their image.

Waveform Monitor

Oscilloscope that displays the varying amplitude of a video signal.