THX Certification: Useful Standard or Useless Gimmick?

By Matthew Braga

When it comes to THX, some televisions, receivers and speakers are certified, while others are not. Is this truly the gold standard for a good home theatre experience?

It used to be that price was a good indicator of value in a product. A $6 Starbucks latte, in theory, should tasted better than a $3 one. A $60 Monster Cable should obviously work better than a coat hanger. A THX certified HDTV should perform better than one that is not. Logically, that's how we've been trained to think. In reality, however, things aren't so simple. I've had great $3 lattes from the coffee shop down the street, and used cheap, $5 cables for my HDMI fix. So what of THX? Some televisions, receivers and speakers are certified, while others are not. Unlike Monster Cables and Starbucks Lattes, does that make this the gold standard for a good home theater experience?

THX is actually the byproduct of an era long gone, when George Lucas dreamed of a standard for consistent audio and video. THX would ensure that cinemas — and later, home theaters — adhere to the same standard for film reproduction as those who had produced the film. Audiences, in theory, would see and hear exactly what the engineers did when sending the finished product to its master reel. Today, that goal is largely the same, with hardware subjected to a battery of tests to ensure optimal audiovisual reproduction. You might assume, then, that a THX certified HDTV or surround sound system will give you the best experience possible. However, when it comes time to buy, things aren't all that simple.

a 400 point test, measuring everything from color balance to overscan, and even pixel uniformity. The display, however, fails. The panel is found to reflect too much light and is deemed unsuitable for viewing in a room filled with lamps. This is a simplified example, of course, but it demonstrates a basic fact — an HDTV lacking THX certification isn't necessarily a bad TV overall, but certain features may fall short. For most consumers, this isn't an issue, and something like slight off-axis color accuracy is barely perceptible to the average viewer. But if you're a home theater buff who knows theses terms like the back of your hand, a THX-certified system is probably for you.

 LG's  55LH90 THX-certified television
good set of PC speakers to achieve THX certification, just as it is for a 7.1 surround sound system. This is because the THX specification attempts to define a listening experience, and not a hard baseline for system specs. PC speakers certified by THX are guaranteed to deliver a certain degree of quality, based on the their stringent tests; however, that doesn't mean they'll sound anywhere similar to the 7.1 set. 

Consumers who buy a television or audio system just because of its THX certification will be in for a rude awakening — and an expensive one, too. Certified HDTVs are often premium models, with numerous fancy frills that drive cost up versus less-featured models. But more importantly, the tests carried out by the company on these sets are done so under strict and controlled conditions — in other words, a scenario totally unlike daily life. Simply put, each home is different, and THX can require calibration to make it work best, audio or video. For example, each HDTV television with the certification is required to include a THX mode for films, one that may look great in the labs, but subpar at home. The certification signifies a degree of quality, but it isn't a magic solution under real-world tests. 

The trick is taking THX in stride; it's more than just a fancy certification, but a lifestyle of sorts, requiring homework and calibration on your part to achieve an ideal setup. Just as buying a Porsche wont make you a better driver, buying a THX-certified system isn't guaranteed to make things look or sound better either. It all comes down to understanding what looks and sounds best for you and fine-tuning on your own. 
Image via flickr user JanetandPhil