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Thursday, March 11, 2010

THX Strikes Again

If you've read my blog for a while you know that I think that the THX process is sort of like unions - they were drastically needed at one time but they now have outlived their usefulness. Such as it is with THX. In fact, you might want to read The Magic and Myth of THX for a full explanation and deeper rant.

A brief overview - in the days prior to THX, movie theaters had sound systems of varying quality. A film that sounded great in one theater would sound dreadful in another (actually, none ever sounded great except at a film studio), and there was no standard as to how they should sound. Tomlinson Holman, who was George Lucas' chief scientist during the first Star Wars movies (and a mentor of mine), created a standard called THX (Tom Holman eXperiment) that would hold movie theaters to a minimum playback quality that was much higher than we were used to at the time.

All well and good, but after a great number of theaters bought into the standard, the market was saturated, yet Lucas had this profitable THX division that was about to become unprofitable unless they could come up with another income stream. So they got the idea of designing a THX standard for home playback systems, gaining their income from installers and manufacturers that felt the need to have their products "certified" for use in the home.

That always felt pretty bogus to me as a THX cert never really bought a home theater owner much more than a one up on his neighbor and a higher bill for the install. I guess they were running out of audio gear to certify, because late last year THX began to certify plasma and LED HD televisions (I'm getting to this a bit late), which kind of leaves me incredulous. What the heck is a company based on audio standards doing certifying televisions? Does it mean that a certified TV is better than a non-certified one, or just that one manufacturer happened to pay for it while the other didn't? Does that mean if you put a non-certified TV in your home theater system that you can't get it certified?

I'm still amazed that manufacturers are duped into this. Thankfully, it doesn't seem to make much of a dent on the consumer. Maybe this is one of those rare times when the customer really knows best.

I don't want to take anything away from THX's theater certification, because it's raised playback quality to the level it needed to be, but guys, let's lay off the consumer. This is an extra charge that no one except your accountants need.

2 comments:

Larry Jones said...

Bob - Your point about THX is well taken, but though I realize your blog is meant to be about music and audio, I have to say that your "unions have outlived their usefulness" metaphor is completely wrong-headed. Unless there is a worker's paradise in this country that I don't know about, we need organization now more than we have since the age of the robber barons in the late nineteenth century, to deal with today's increasingly arrogant and powerful transnational corporations.

Bobby Owsinski said...

Point taken, Larry. Perhaps I should have clarified that SOME unions seem like they've outlived their usefulness.

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