The THX Story

Born out of the Star Wars legacy and tied to one of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers, no other brand resonates with consumers as deeply, and with greater trust than THX.

One week after “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” debuted in theatres, George Lucas hired audio scientist, Tomlinson Holman, to design the audio mixing facilities at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Northern California. To begin the project, Lucas gave Holman one year to examine film audio throughout the entire production chain—from the set to the theatre, and everything in between. Holman’s goal was to find a way to improve cinematic sound production and create specifications to design the state-of-the-art audio mixing rooms that would eventually house Skywalker Sound.



During that year, Holman was shocked to discover the state of most commercial cinemas. While Dolby Laboratories had made significant contributions to how sound was recorded and played back on film, no one had control over what happened on the production set or in the theatre itself. Holman found that most commercial theatres had not seen significant technology improvements since World War II. Viewing angles were poor, inadequate light levels distorted images, and the quality of sound systems and auditorium acoustics made it impossible to hear the dialogue, let alone experience the filmmaker’s vision.
 

 
Bringing the THX Experience to Moviegoers

After the Skywalker Sound audio facilities and Stag Theatre were completed, Lucasfilm began receiving requests from visiting commercial theatre owners and Hollywood studio executives to incorporate the Ranch’s performance standards into their cinema auditoriums and aging mixing rooms. Realizing that this could change the way moviegoers experienced feature films, Lucas and the soon-to-be THX team designed a certification program to go beyond the walls of Skywalker Ranch. Thus, THX was born, and made available to movie audiences to coincide with the release of Lucas’ next film, “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in 1983.

 

 
The Process of THX Product Certification

The THX testing process usually begins early in product development. Manufacturers ship samples to the THX Testing Lab in Northern California where a team of expert technicians carefully analyzes each sample and produces reports on their findings. Big reports! They cover hundreds of data points and virtually every aspect of the product’s operational performance.

These findings are then sent to the manufacturer with suggestions for fixing any problems that could prevent certification. In many cases, THX requires the manufacturer to adjust the product’s design or firmware and integrate THX playback features to improve performance and meet the THX spec. Further testing, modifications, tweaks and upgrades are done, and the manufacturer sends back the product for final evaluation.

With all of this testing from THX, the consumer is assured that the speaker system they are purchasing meets the highest standards for quality and compatibility right out of the box.

Image Courtesy of Jon Snyder
 

 
THX Audio Certification Categories

THX has multiple certification categories based on the room size in which the equipment will be installed. This ensures a THX home theatre system will play loud & clear without audible distortion at THX reference levels in specific room sizes and at specific viewing distances from the screen. This also certifies that the subwoofers will properly pressurize the theatre, so that even the most demanding of movie sound effects are heard and felt with visceral clarity. Of all the THX certification standards Ultra2 is the most demanding as Ultra2 systems are designed for room larger than 85 cubic meters (3000 cubic feet) with viewing distances from the screen greater than 4 meters (12 Feet).