With so many options in the home audio market and for sound equipment, it can be hard to know at a glance what the best product is. What are the best home theater speakers out there? What if you want to get specific, such as when looking for the best floor standing speakers?
A good way is to spring for and understand how products and professionals benefit from something known as the THX certification.
What Is THX?
THX, meaning wise, stands for Tomlinson Holman’s Experiment. Urban legends abound, connecting the technology to George Lucas of Star Wars fame’s numerous ideas and eventful creative sprees, but the story isn’t one of on-the-spot eureka moments and audio wizardry but of hard work and research.
Tomlinson Holman, after whom the technology is named, worked with Lucasfilm engineers in their Skywalker Sound department, set up from the profits Lucas made from the first Star Wars film. In time, and no small part in thanks to the popularity of THX, Skywalker Sound has become one of the top-tier post-production facilities in the world.
We should not, however, think of THX as a technology or a product. THX is an audio reproduction standard, devised through careful experiential research that resulted in an ideal that amalgamized all the best international standards that had been in place at that time, in 1982 – including those of SMPTE and ITU.
Why Does The THX Certification Matter?
Through the THX certification, a uniform quality is ensured and maintained throughout cinemas and professional theaters, as well as surround sound devices and setups (whether 5.1 or 7.1), whether in your PC, home theater, or anywhere else.
No propriety content or devices are needed, meaning that if a DVD is mastered with THX sound, the process of post-production on the audio track is up to a certain standard.
Going back to 1982, once the standard had been set down, all other Californian studios caught wind of the cutting-edge work being done by Skywalker Studios and naturally wanted to upgrade the quality of their work to the same level.
From there, it went to movie theaters, and soon the THX Theater Alignment Program was born and just like that, THX Certification roared on to the scene and became a trailblazer.
This led to a consistency, end-to-end, in “feature film presentation”, paying attention to even the minutest details of the experience such as the background noise level in the theater room.
What Does the THX Certification Ensure?
THX has undoubtedly had the most influence on home entertainment over the past three decades – both in picture and sound – and how we set up, use, and enjoy home “reproduction”, with everything from speaker placement and amplification power to picture quality and perhaps anything else you can think of as well.
For home system installers, the THX certification helps professionals to learn and master the arts of creating diffusive fields of sound in a system suited to adaptive correlation, meaning timbre matching to be uniform and consistent, optimization, re-equalization, and so on.
For products such as home entertainment material (everything from DVDs to TVs, speakers to HDMI cables), the THX certification means the product meets the standards set by THX.
For this, rigorous testing is conducted, with most products going through more than 400 quality tests, some of which we’ve outlined in the next section.
This means that, ultimately, you’re hearing and seeing films, games, and music how it was meant to be heard by the producers and engineers, which would undoubtedly be to the best of industry standards.
Ultimately, the most ideal situation is to have both THX branded media, being played on THX-certified systems, with the titular Holman having worked for nearly ten years with his team of sound engineers to work for specific specifications for THX’s home gear and home controllers.
What Tests Do THX Certifications Entail?
Some of the tests done to gauge whether a product is ready for THX certification can be:
- Audio devices: axial frequency response/vertical and horizontal dispersion/output versus distortion/boundary gain
- Video displays: upscaling and motion processing/color accuracy/panel performance
- Streaming: video quality/compatibility and packaging/real-time quality of experience measurement
- Source devices: picture precision/sound mix/optimized video scaling
- Cables: electrical parameter performance/physical construction/communication protocol
Most of these tests also involve further parameters, merging both objective and subjective reference levels being set and met together.
A specific example for multimedia systems involves testing for them to play at a Reference Level volume certified by the THX standard that ensures flat-frequency response bass with ample and accurate volume. This is in conjunction with the requirement of a subwoofer combined with the speaker bar that can extend down to 35Hz and up to 20,000Hz.