Secrets Q & A

THX-Certification

ARTICLE INDEX

The Certification Process

As romantic as it sounds, manufacturers do not simply submit a product to THX for testing and then get a yea or nay.  A THX product starts with the manufacturer purchasing the expensive and confidential THX Design Manual for the product in question.  THX products are designed to be THX products.  The manufacturer knows what they have to do from square one.  Once they have a working sample, it is sent to THX where it is tested, for a fee, and either checks out and a license granted, or it is sent back with a report on what needs to be addressed.  THX tells us that they have yet to receive a product which got everything 100% right on the first try.

Licensees then pay a small per-unit license fee for the manufactured product.

I hope everyone can appreciate why, to this day, the particulars of THX's criteria are not public.  They are a business like any other and they need to protect their intellectual property.  If everything was out in the open, people could just say, "It meets or beats the THX criteria", and THX would get nothing. They'd fold, and we'd never get all the benefits they've brought this industry over the years.

When asked why their product is not THX certified, some manufacturers have told us its because they "wanted to do things THX does not allow".  In terms of speakers, there is indeed not a whole lot of latitude (no full-range models for example), but when it comes to electronics, that's nonsense. THX requires that a piece perform to their spec (or exceed it) and that it do what it is supposed to do when the THX mode is engaged.  Manufacturers are free to offer exotic decoding schemes, try innovative things like room EQ (such as the Audyssey system in some recent THX receivers), or offer crossover options other than the standard THX (because not every customer is going to have THX speakers).  Lack of THX certification in higher-end electronics (where cost is supposed to be no object) may be an indication that the manufacturer is not willing to make a competent product, or that they just don't feel their customer is interested in certification.

Nick Platsis from Anthem Audio Video:

"The THX Ultra2 spec has tougher standards compared to the other licensing bodies, for example higher output swings are required, especially for the subwoofer channel. On the video side, no one else tests it. It's good that someone does, for example some manufacturers may take the bandwidth of a video switch and try to pass that on as the bandwidth of the whole circuit from input jack to output jack. Regardless, it's not difficult to meet any of these standards unless attempting to do it on the cheap or there's an element of laziness somewhere.

The challenge is integrating every single option that THX, Dolby, and DTS have to offer while maintaining user friendly operation and preventing conflicts between the various requirements. Then, when more processing options appear on the scene, it starts all over. Luckily, the people at THX are great to work with."

Other Areas of Interest

In recent years, THX has branched out into other markets as well as continually revitalizing existing ones.

On the professional side, THX has implemented PM3, their Professional Multi-channel Mixing and Monitoring program.

THX has also become active in the PC Computer market.  While the THX Computer was something of a flop, THX PC Speakers are very well respected.  There isn't really an industry standard for PC sound like their is for movie sound, so what THX is doing with PC speakers is basically saying that at a given price, a product is as good as it can be, basically giving you some assurance you're not being ripped off, and it takes away your need to try and decipher specs (which in the PC Speaker market are practically useless).

Perhaps more interestingly, THX has gotten involved with computer/PC Game development.  The production values of computer and console games have risen tremendously in recent years, in some cases rivaling Hollywood, but the industry at large has grown up largely without the benefits of standards.  It has taken THX to come in and infuse the industry with the concept of consistent and performance-oriented presentation.  For the first time, the person doing the raw art, sound bites, 3D environments, or what have you, can be assured that the effort they put into their work will be realized right to the end because everybody's workstations, environments, and equipment are all set up to the same consistent standards.  Room acoustics, background noise, room lighting, every piece of audio and video equipment, all must meet certain THX performance requirements.

THX has also been contracted to design Car Audio systems for Lincoln.  The pieces and bits are manufactured to THX design and spec by Ford sub-contractors. They have a full time staff in Detroit to handle this project with several THX home office engineers working on auto projects as needed.

Looking Forward

We are assured that THX is very busy with new projects, and there are aspects of the industry we know could use their help.

In the works is a program which makes it possible to have a home theater itself THX certified (as opposed to just the equipment in it), which although the province of only the most wealthy, is an awfully cool notion.  If you have a spare $250,000 or so, a THX Reference theater can be yours in about 12 months. Standard theaters should come in in the $50,000 range and will be possible in about 18 months. These theaters require THX gear (d'uh!) and must be built to THX-approved plans and tested to meet THX performance minimums for both audio and video. The big difference between reference and standard will be in video requirements and sound isolation, both of which get quite expensive quite fast.

Conclusions

I would be remiss if anyone came away from this essay with the impression that Secrets endorses everything THX does or that we feel anything non-THX is intrinsically inferior.

I do hope we've given you a better understanding of THX, enabling you to decide if THX is for you.  I cannot stress enough that it never "hurts" for a piece to be THX-certified, except that it sometime may costs a little more.  Shopping for a system "from scratch" is an excellent time to consider THX because virtually all of the guesswork as to what will work with what and how it will work together has been taken care of for you.  At the same time, there is nothing stopping you from integrating a couple THX pieces, the ones that make the most sense to you, into an existing system that has non-THX-Certified components.

THX guarantees a lot of very useful features, and if you get a THX system, then simply plug everything in and press Play, you're going to get results that are pretty close to acceptable.  If you actually then further calibrate and position speakers properly, it'll almost certainly be excellent.  Buying non-THX, most importantly, means that you have far less of an idea about what you're getting without some homework. 

I would like the thank John Dahl of THX for his time and assistance in the writing of this article.