THX: May the Force Be On You

THX has long been known for its multi-tiered standards and certification programs that help manufacturers achieve optimal picture and sound performance of their theatrical and home theater equipment. Now, it’s going a step further and getting consumers involved.

THX unveiled on May Day its latest offering called THX Standard, which is putting the certification standards body and consulting service into the product review/ratings game. Its new website grades select picture and sound performance for TVs, amps and speakers to help consumers choose better-rated goods. (THX is formerly of George Lucas fame but is now owned by videogame technology developer Razer.)

Thus far, the site lists a handful of 2017 television models, along with some amps and speakers. The company said, though, that it is working to include newer products and provide detailed explanations of it metrics and data-point grading.

The intent of THX Standard, according to the company, is to be a consumer reference for the best product in each category. Rankings are based exclusively on product performance measurements.

For device manufacturers, THX Standard publishes—unsolicited—measurements and scores of consumer electronics to help them better understand what factors preserve the audio and visual fidelity of products. Additionally, THX identifies specific metrics that, if improved, would bring better performing products to the consumer. The data-driven scores are published on THX says this allows consumers to make informed decisions “unbiased from an editorial perspective.”

Cue the offer to sign up for a THX Standards consultation. If a manufacturer signs up, in most cases, it is assured of having a better result in its test scores, depending on what controls and elements are adjusted to optimize measured performance.

Those in the product review community argue that the program also gives THX leverage in selling its various consultation and certification programs to low-margin product manufacturers vying for sales in a highly competitive landscape.

Curiously, many television product reviewers test products to accepted industry standards, list data metrics, and use standards, practices and calibration software developed by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and SpectraCal, the developer of the widely used CalMan video display calibration software. Some of this is competitive with THX programs and standards.

Now with the launch of THX Standard, the company said it is trying to have TV manufacturers present a more accurate audio and video experience. For example, THX said many products do not have a movie preset that correctly renders movies and broadcast content. Or that some speakers provide a flat frequency response with minimal unwanted noise and enough headroom to hear all the details, while still being able to play loud dynamic scenes without audible distortion.

Televisions are only part of THX’s rankings, but they get the most prominent positioning on the site. Grading is provided for an overall performance average determined by a series of criteria, each rated on a scale from 0 – 100. Criteria includes: white level and gray scale; practical black level; gamma (EOTF 1886); color gamut accuracy; dE color and brightness accuracy; HDR gamut performance; off-axis viewing and visible artifacts.

The site does little to explain the details of THX’s criteria other than to say it is based on industry standards and THX’s own proprietary testing methodology and equipment. The TV grading system is not, however, comprehensive. It doesn’t take into account factors like smart TV operating systems, price or on-board speaker sound.

The company says product scores are based solely on product metrics and THX Certified status is not factored into the product score—and then points out that it provides consultation services for manufacturers that can help them raise their product scores. It sweetens the consultation pitch by saying “THX Certified products tend to score higher than non-certified products as a result of the prior testing and consulting with THX engineers.”

THX said its tests are all derived from SMPTE and ITU for standards and SID/ICDM for procedures, with the goal of achieving BT.709, BT1886 standards for HDTV and the ST 2084, 2086, and DCI-P3 within the BT2020 color gamut.

THX said what makes its report unique is the expectation that the samples perform to these standards without modifications, using comparisons between out-of-box and Movie modes to provide analytical data. This shows how the sample is changing the image from the expected standardized performance.

The top-ranked television on the current list was Sony’s 2017 XBR55X900E, an upper mid-range LED-LCD TV with an overall score of 73 out of 100. No 2. on the list was LG’s entry B7 series 4K OLED TV, scoring a 70. And No. 3 was TCL’s 2017 55P607 with a 66.

We asked representatives from Sony, Samsung and LG Electronics for their thoughts on the THX Standard site and the grades their products received. Each representative said their companies are looking into the program and had no comment at this time.