THX Home Cinema - THX Explained
What is THX, and how does it relates to Surround Sound and Movie Pictures?
Not a standard by itself, THX Home Cinema aims at delivering cinema-quality picture and sound to the home. At the same time…
Many do not have a true understanding of what the THX certification system and related technology is all about, nor what the different labels found on home theater THX certified gear really mean. Yet to the 'everyday consumer', the 'THX' label signifies that the highest standards have been met.
and Home Entertainment
THX. Ltd was established in 1983 by the George Lucas Company. It started as a program to correct inadequacies in film playback by ensuring that surround sound in theaters meets the standards set by filmmakers.
It then expanded into the home theater arena through its THX Home Cinema with product certification that makes it possible to implement Dolby and other surround sound formats in a uniform manner in the home.
The THX Home Cinema program, like its cinematic counterpart, ensures that the home entertainment movie experience is as the director intended it to be.
In other words, THX Home Cinema is not some sound format but a quality assurance program that works in conjunction with the different surround sound formats and product manufacturers. The aim is to deliver a superior cinema experience in the home via a quality picture and sound. Expressed differently, the THX Home Cinema certification program has been designed to fit the different surround sound technologies in their totality, into high-end home theater systems. It is all about the correct reproduction of AV content in a technically competent manner - one that closely replicates the monitoring environment in the studio.
THX Home Cinema is able to achieve this through a double-front approach
It defines precise specifications for hardware, e.g. THX certified main front channel speakers have to meet very specific design goals in terms of their horizontal and vertical radiation patterns.
It also makes use of proprietary technologies and processes that form an integral part of the whole system.
This means that THX Home Cinema product certification programs and associated technologies are capable of delivering the ultimate home entertainment experience - thus providing superior playback of movies, music and games, by ensuring accurate overall system response, intelligible dialog, pinpoint localization of sounds, and an accurate enveloping soundfield in which every seat is a good seat.
Furthermore, THX Home Cinema technology is designed to improve the interoperability of home entertainment products and applications. This does not mean that THX certified systems work only with equipment carrying THX certification; rather any THX component can work with non-THX certified gear, though in these circumstances, one may end up not enjoying the full benefits of THX-certified equipment all the way along the audio/video playback chain.
THX Home Cinema product certification covers speakers, AV receivers, DVD players, projection screens, room acoustic characteristics, and even interconnects. Lately, we are also seeing a few THX certified home theater projectors and DVR. Rigorous performance standards are used in the certification process to ensure the highest possible quality in home cinema and home entertainment. These standards cover all items in the audio/video chain and include also the source content material such as film-to-DVD and film-to-VHS transfers.
All THX Home Cinema certified products are labeled as 'THX' certified. In the case of DVD and VHS titles, the certification label may state 'THX Digitally Mastered for superior sound and picture quality', or simply THX DVD.
It is important to understand here that a THX DVD is not some proprietary format or content but a DVD that has been mastered to the industry's highest standards under THX supervision.
In the case of system components, THX Home Cinema offers two main levels of certification - 'Select' and 'Ultra', which are further sub-divided according to the category of the different system components, while a third type of certification is also available for multimedia products.
Today, there are thousands of commercial cinemas, post-production studios, home entertainment products, DVDs and even games that have been designed according to THX rigorous standards and certified accordingly.
Major aspects of the THX Home Cinema certification program include:
Re-equalization to compensate for the differing tonal balances that are appropriate in home theaters versus movie theaters, thus reducing the normally higher treble associated with the latter.
Timber matching to complement the tonal qualities of the front and rear speakers to create a more uniform soundstage.
Decorrelation of the surround channels in Dolby Pro Logic surround systems. The scope is to introduce minor diversity to the mono-surround channel serving the two rear speakers in this surround format, thus leading to a more diffused feel. This helps avoid the collapse of the centered rear soundfield produced by this monaural signal to the speaker closest to the listener. The latest THX Home Cinema certified receivers include adaptive decorrelation that automatically switches off the related circuitry when not required e.g. in Dolby Digital.
Bass management is based on a precise crossover cut-off point at exactly 80Hz, and a defined sub-woofer ‘sloop’ driver response. THX recommends using a sub-woofer and setting all other speakers to 'small' to be able to place the subwoofer at the best sounding position in the room, especially during initial setup. At the same time, THX also supports other options, including that of mixing the bass information from the left and right channels with the sub woofer channel.
Amplifier Specs that are much tougher than on non-THX certified gear; these include the ability to drive low impedance (3.2 Ohms) speakers while still producing a volume level of 105dB.
A THX reference level: THX Certified Receivers reproduce studio Reference Level, 85dB SPL with 20dB of headroom to reproduce the same level at which the movie was mixed in the studio.
THX Optimizer or Optimode for DVD movie releases. This places a set of test patterns on the disc to enable the home theater enthusiast to tweak the video display to the same settings as used during the production stage.
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THX Home Cinema Certification Levels
THX Home Cinema product certifications - 'Select', 'Ultra', and 'Certified Multimedia', and related sub-categories, are engineered to enable the certified component to perform best under specific room environments, usage conditions, and room size. Why?
Room size, room acoustics, and overall system design are all critical factors that will eventually determine your viewing and listening experience when watching movies, playing games, and listening to music in the home.
This means that the different THX certified product logos can help you choose the AV products that work best for your needs.
THX Select and THX Select2 Certified Products
THX Home Cinema certified products within the Select/Select2 categories are designed to deliver optimal quality audio and video presentations in small to medium sized home theater rooms.
More specifically, these are designed for a viewing distance of approximately 10 feet, or 3 meters from the display to the listening position, and an overall room volume of circa 2,000 cu. ft.
THX Select2 specifically addresses receivers, incorporating new features and improved noise floor performance. Based on the same values and principles of THX Ultra2, THX Select2 Certified Receivers deliver higher quality to smaller home theater environments.
THX Select addresses the performance of speakers and DVD players. THX Select certified products complement the presentation of the THX Select2 category.
THX Ultra and THX Ultra2 Certified Products
The THX Home Cinema 'Ultra' and 'Ultra2' certifications are designed to ensure that certified products within these categories deliver top quality audio and video presentations in large home theater rooms.
More specifically, these are geared for a viewing distance of approximately 13 feet / 4 meters from the display to the listening position, and an overall room volume of around 3,000 cu. ft. room.
THX Ultra2 is considered as the benchmark for home theater products in that it offers uncompromised playback of multi-channel movies, music and games. The Ultra2 incorporates new features such as EX sound format auto-detection and switching, high-bandwidth video switching, adaptive side-surround decorrelation, and boundary gain compensation.
In addition, it also includes more power requirements for premium home theater receivers, pre-amplifiers, power amplifiers and speakers. This ensures the optimal distribution of a wide enough soundstage across the whole viewing area in the larger dedicated home theater room.
THX Ultra brings high-end performance to interconnects, equalizers, projection screens and DVD players, thus complementing the THX Ultra2 category. Unlike THX Ultra2 Certified Products, which are dependent on the room size, THX Ultra Certified Products are not room size dependent.
Theoretically, THX Home Cinema certified products within the THX Select/ Select2 and THX Ultra/ Ultra2 certification categories should deliver about the same level of immersive performance as long as your home theater environment falls within the specified room volume and viewing distance requirements as detailed by these different THX product certifications.
This means that if your home theater room is 2,000 cubic feet or less, THX Home Cinema Select2 certified receivers and THX Select certified loudspeakers should deliver about the same quality standards as the higher-end THX Ultra and Ultra2 components deliver in the larger environment.
THX Certified Multimedia
The THX certification for multimedia products aims at delivering cinema-quality picture and sound to the desktop by ensuring that multimedia products comply with the THX rigorous standards.
While computer speakers and systems have the potential to deliver high quality pictures and sound, compatibility problems, non-standard set-ups and even complicated user controls may limit a potentially 'great' immersive experience.
For this purpose, THX have created performance standards specific to the challenges associated with Multimedia systems. The THX Multimedia certification program requires stringent specifications for the display, sound system, audio/video processing and even user controls. When you purchase computer systems or components carrying the THX logo, you are assured that special effects, graphics, and robust audio intended by film producers, musicians, and game developers, are accurately reproduced on your desktop.
In other words, the THX Certified Multimedia stamp is a guarantee that your computer setup is capable of delivering the highest possible fidelity for your MP3s, CDs, DVDs, games, and other digital audio sources, through cinema-quality audio and visual experience.
This also means that, as with other THX home cinema product certifications, a basic requirement with THX Certified Multimedia is the user viewing distance; in this case, certified Multimedia products are designed for an optimum viewing distance of approximately 28 inches, or 0.7 meters.
It is interesting to note that in addition to product certification, THX has also come with THX Certified Home Theater Technicians.
Designing home theaters that are capable of duplicating the same audio and visual quality-performance as enjoyed in movie theaters and professional studios is not always easy. For this purpose, THX Certified Home Theater professionals and installers are trained by THX to provide support on THX certified products, THX-certified equipment installation, overall system calibration, and related home theater room design requirements.
And there is more from THX!
THX Loudness Plus
Another certification one may come across THX home cinema certified products is THX Loudness Plus. It allows for THX certified material to be played at different volume levels while ensuring it maintains the original impact in the overall listening experience.
All material is mixed at the THX Reference Level in the studio to be played back at the same reference level in the home or cinema. But for many this reference level is too loud for use in the home theater. The problem is that at lower volumes, the spectral balance and dynamics shift; this leads to certain elements in the original sound being either lost or perceived differently from the original sound mix.
THX Loudness Plus maintains the integrity of soundtracks when listening below the THX Reference Level by compensating for the tonal and spatial shifts that occur when the volume level is reduced. Thus, by enabling THX Loudness Plus, you will be able to enjoy the true impact of movies, music and games regardless of the volume setting.
THX Loudness Plus is available in THX Ultra2 Plus and Select2 Plus THX home cinema certified products. It is also available under other licensed versions, including Dolby Volume and Audyssey Dynamic Volume/EQ.
THX-BluFocus 3D Certification
THX all started with audio, and it is still mainly oriented towards audio. But since 2006, THX came out with the first certifications for video; the latest addition in this respect relates to THX-BluFoucs 3D Certification program.
This 3D certification helps pinpoint and eliminate any AV quality and creative flaws long before movies are broadcast, streamed or manufactured on optical disc. Attention is also paid to disc interoperability to ensure they play seamlessly over certified players irrespective of model or brand.
For the purpose, this certification program covers three main categories, Audio Video, Creativity, and Interoperability.
1] An AV icon under the THX-BluFocus Certification indicates that a movie’s 3D visual images have been certified to retain the sharpness and detail of the original master video elements - apart from ensuring all audio meet the studio Reference Level.
2] A C icon certifies all 3D elements, including characters, graphics and subtitles, are there to enhance the storyline and visual experience, not distract from it. 2D-to-3D conversions are also analyzed to detect creative errors and flaws that deviate from the director’s intent or may cause 3D viewer fatigue.
3] An I icon certification applies to Blu-ray Discs to ensure they play seamlessly on 2D and 3D Blu-ray Players from major CE brands.
When shopping for a 3D Blu-ray Disc, users should therefore look for the 'AV', 'C', and 'I' THX-BluFocus certification icons to ensure the best 3D viewing experience.
THX Home Cinema Product-Certification Summary Guide
|THX Home Cinema Logo||Certification Description||Product Types|
|THX Ultra Certified Products are designed for top-performing systems not dependent on room size.||
|THX Ultra2 Certified Products are designed for large home theaters with a viewing distance of approximately 12 feet / 4 meters.||
|THX Select Certification relates to superior performance and complements the presentation of THX Select2 Certified Receivers.||
THX Select2 Certified Products are engineered and designed for the small to medium sized home theater with a viewing distance of approximately 10 feet / 3 meters.
THX Multimedia Certification is engineered for products with approximately a 28 inch / 0.7 meter viewing distance from display - namely the desktop.
For more information on THX, please visit the THX Home Cinema website, where you will also find a complete list of THX Certified Products available from leading consumer electronics manufacturers.