The Magic and Myth of THX :: Bobby Owsinski

Posted: September 22, 2009 in Audio Gear, Video/Film
Tags: , , ,

Anyone who goes to the movies is aware of THX, but not many people are actually aware of what it is and what the logo means in relation to a theater. THX is owned by LucasFilm and the brainchild of former LucasFilm chief scientist Tomlinson Holman (my friend and mentor), who is now a professor at USC and is the man that coined the phrase “5.1” surround sound. Tom is good at coining names that stick, and in fact, THX stands for Tomlinson Holman eXperiment.

So what is it? It used to be that movies theaters varied a huge amount in audio playback quality. A movie that sounded great in one theater would sound like it was coming out of a tin can in another because there was no real standard for playback quality. This came to George Lucas’ attention upon the release of Star Wars, which was a very sound-heavy movie with a great score and lots of sound effects. As they followed the release of the film across the country, Lucas and his production team were frequently appalled at how many theaters had an inferior audio playback system and how bad their movie would sound as a result. If all theaters sounded equally as bad, you could compensate for that. But if the quality was hit or miss, that was a problem.

As a result, Holman came up with THX, which is a standard for playback quality between theaters, in 1983 before the release of Return of the Jedi.

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