The Audience Is Watching

THX is setting a new standard for picture quality and making shopping for HDTVs easier.

When you think of THX, you think of great sound, right? Those three letters have been synonymous with cinema and home audio for more than two decades. So, when THX launched a new certification program for high-definition video products at last year's CEDIA and helped introduce several new THX-certified projectors from Runco and Vidikron, it raised a few eyebrows in the consumer electronics community.

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Runco VX-2cx THX-Certified DLP Projector

Building a Case for THX-Certified Displays
Why does the world need another THX certification program, especially for HDTVs? Well, if you are like most new HDTV buyers, you'll probably do a bit of research before you head off to your local big-box retailer. You'll read the reviews here in Home Theater magazine and even study the online A/V forums. But, as soon as you enter that store, you'll be hit with the "wall of HD drool." Every major electronics retailer has one, and it's usually the kind of A/V edifice that can make grown men and women weak in the knees. The experience can be overwhelming for shoppers, sending even the strongest into a state of bewilderment.

A recent Forrester Research study confirms that there's a lot of confusion in the marketplace and suggests that most shoppers have trouble differentiating between the various product formats and technologies. While more than half of those surveyed said that picture quality was the most important factor in selecting an HDTV, the same 50 percent didn't understand the difference between LCD, plasma, and rear projection (not to mention DLP, SED, LCOS, and so on). THX believes they can bring clarity to all this confusion.

"We're offering a very simple and straightforward value proposition to HDTV buyers," says Rick Dean, vice president of technology development at THX. "When it comes to HDTVs, THX certification will separate the wheat from the chaff and help consumers identify high-quality display brands and products. Whether it's a projector or a plasma display, you won't be disappointed with a THX-certified product when you get it home."

The THX Certification Process
Every THX certification program begins with the company's engineers writing a specification for product performance. The goal is to ensure that the home audience always enjoys an extraordinary entertainment experience—regardless of price, brand, or product category. THX sees itself as something of a guardian of the entertainment experience.

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Vidikron Vision Model 90t THX-Certified DLP Projector

"Creating high-impact entertainment experiences is in the very lifeblood of THX," explains Dean. "While other CE players and new-media companies are all clamoring to find new, innovative ways to deliver content, THX is, and always has been, focused solely on how movies, music, and games are created in the studio and experienced by the consumer."

To start THX's latest certification program, THX engineers evaluated every display technology and product type available in the market to clearly understand what makes one better than another. The result is a THX video-display spec that is more than 100 pages in length and covers topics ranging from maximum display resolution and color levels to luminance uniformity.

Contrary to popular belief, THX certification isn't a stamp of approval like the USDA or Consumer Reports provide. This analogy drives the company's engineers crazy. The entire certification process can take several months, depending on the manufacturer and the product in question. The work often begins at the product-development stage, with THX engineers reviewing early manufacturer designs.

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Runco VX-44d THX-Certified DLP Projector

What Does THX Test For?
A great deal of the THX Certified Display program is based on proven industry best practices. The company uses the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) guidelines as a basic foundation for the new benchmark, including tests for color and image performance. However, much of the testing remains proprietary to THX. The company's video engineers are developing new test patterns and measurement techniques, as well as defining the threshold levels required to certify a product.

Since THX's roots are in filmmaking and content creation, the company felt that a list of technical specifications wasn't quite enough. They wanted a certification program that guaranteed an accurate re-creation of a director's intended cinematic vision. So, THX turned to their DVD postproduction experts, who normally spend their days helping the likes of Pixar, DreamWorks, and Lucasfilm, to create a set of qualitative measurements. These tests pinpoint and minimize sources of motion artifacts, image ghosting, dropped frames, and picture noise.

Together, the THX quantitative and qualitative tests are designed to dive deep into a display's performance and uncover areas that need a little help.

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