THX and the value of quality control

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Van Ling, Oct 11, 2008.

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  1. Van Ling

    Van Ling Insider
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    Folks:

    Another question from my end... I've always been a big proponent of what THX has tried to be in the industry: a forward-thinking technological and artistic resource for the betterment of the audio/visual experience. Obviously, they may not have always succeeded in being that (no one has a 100% track record... except maybe Pixar!), but the goal is pure and worthy, in my opinion.

    But in the light of studios tightening belts and some fans questioning the value of the THX brand due to varying quality issues in what are undestood to be THX certified titles. We are in a world where THX has in someways been the victim of its own success by raising the bar and awareness of the value of quality control in the processes that get the film to yout home theatre, so that there are now a lot of other companies that have sprung up to do QC that don't have the brand cachet (or attendant cost) of THX. And studios are using them.

    So in light of this, how relevant do you think THX is in the mix these days? What SHOULD the brand be doing? Does having a THX cert on a disc or piece of equipment mean anything to you in the past or now? What should it mean, and what reasonable expectations do you have for it? And are you aware that studio commerce issues intrude quite heavily into the QC process, and that not every problem on a THX certified disc is THX's fault? More importantly, do you even care about it if you are aware, or do you believe that cost should be no object when it comes to quality control (especially if the added costs raise the retail price)?

    I come to this forum for feedback not as a THX partisan per se, but as someone who keeps seeing the studios trying to keep costs down on their titles and seeing THX trying to mark their brand and make it mean something. As a disc producer, if I think they can benefit a project I'm working on, I still have to sell the studio on using them rather than a non-THX QC company. The studios look at it as "no one cares about THX certification any more" so why pay for it? THX shouldn't and can't do it for free if they expect to stay in business, and no studio will raise the price of the disc to accommodate such certification because they know the general consumer won't pay extra for something they should be getting in the first place, which is good picture and sound quality.

    What do you all think? How relevant or irrelevant is THX to you, and to the general public, and to the industry and market? I'm looking for actual constructive feedback here, not just complaints or cheerleading.

    Flame-retardant suit on...

    Thanks,

    V
     
  2. Zack Gibbs

    Zack Gibbs Screenwriter

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    I don't think THX ever "meant" something in home entertainment. Years ago it was a sign of quality in Theaters but that has long since past as well.

    It's not just that the THX branding is no longer a guarantee, it's also the fact that not having the branding in no way calls to question the quality of the experience.

    It doesn't matter if it's there, it doesn't matter if it's not. I can't think of a better definition of "useless."
     
  3. Oliver_A

    Oliver_A Stunt Coordinator

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    Perhaps in the first days of the DVD, THX titles were some kind of a safety guarantee to have at least a decent transfer, but nowadays, I really think that the brand lost its importance. You have mediocre looking THX DVD's and excellent looking non-THX DVD's.

    The picture transfer of the T2 Ultimate Edition for example, despite having a THX logo, looks pretty standard in comparison to other DVD's of the time (lots of edge enhancement), and a lot less refined than, for example, the picture transfer of the T2 Extreme Edition, which also has the THX logo. It's an example how THX doesn't guarantee you the best picture and sound.

    In the end, it seems to depend on the source material being used at the time, on which the THX brand doesn't (and can not) have any effect. My Anchor Bay Evil Dead DVD also has a THX logo, but the film, due to being shot on 16mm stock, looks and sounds a lot worse than T2, a movie shot on Super35.

    And what about newer movies having digital intermediates, even shot using digital cameras? I am always laughing when seeing the THX logo on a Pixar movie, thinking to myself: yeah, big deal, you just have to downconvert and compress the digital source material. How can one screw that up?

    THX is kind of a prestige brand, but in the end, I think it doesn't really matter.
     
  4. EnricoE

    EnricoE Supporting Actor

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    encoding can always be screwed up. it doesn't matter if you use a digital or analog source. i find it funny that people always think that digital source means a perfect dvd/blu-ray.

    as for thx ... it lost it's in home entertainment meaning a long time ago. it might still mean something in theaters.
     
  5. charles mix

    charles mix Stunt Coordinator

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    Well I think THX is a double edge sword. On one side a properly calibrated, full THX system (I mean speakers, AV equipment, and calibration) can be an amazing thing to hear. The cost will be very high and not really a diy solution. But watching ANY quality disc on this system will be a fine experience.

    On the other hand THX has slapped there name on everything. I think this has cheapened the brand. I understand that you are getting a guarantee on a standard for performance. I have been doing the HT thing since about 1985 and back in those days the quality of products varied so much that it was nice to know you were getting a product guaranteed to perform. Since then however, the quality and popularity of HT has exploded. There are many consumer products and DVD's that perform as good as or better than THX branded products.

    The exchange of information through the internet make more of an impact on my decision than THX branding. If there is a bad disc on the market, then you will hear about on the forums first. If you want to brand something, how bout. "Home Theater Forum Approved" or HTFA. Add your THX sound here.
     
  6. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

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    THX meant a lot to laserphiles like me, when introduced in the Aliens box set. In the infancy of high-end home theater, there were none better at making the product as consistant at the back end as it was at the front end of the production process.

    THX certification is today nowhere near as relevant as it was, now that the level of digital rendering is as high as it is. The same could be said for dbx home audio cassette and vinyl lps in the late 70's and early 80's. The technology has progressed to pass them, not be led by them.

    If I were to see THX certification on a title so whitewashed by DVNR that it looks like Futurama Parallel Universe 25 ("we didn't see anything...ever!") I would have to tell them to call it a day.
     
  7. Paul Landsmeer

    Paul Landsmeer Auditioning

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    Personally, I perceive the Blu-Ray brand/medium as sort of the successor to the THX home video brand. What THX used to guarantee (optimal A/V) is now guaranteed by Blu-Ray - or at least, the latter is positioned as such. It's also its successor in that, like THX, it doesn't always succeed in complying with reference level standards.

    With Blu-Ray marketed as the highest standard in A/V available, there simply is no way for THX to top that. While it could aim for guaranteeing a five star presentation for each BD title branded - and thus show some sort of value - the fact of the matter is that subpar transfers are already considered to be non-compliant with BD's quality level promises. In addition, having sort of a 'BD+' type of standard (THX) could raise questions among consumers regarding the actual benefits of paying premium pricing for 'regular' Blu-Ray discs. Placing the THX brand on top of the BD brand could actually have a negative impact on consumer perception of the BD medium - something I presume studios would like to avoid.

    So is there any future for the THX brand in home video? In my opinion, no, there is not. BD pricing does not allow for charging premiums, while BD quality does not leave any significant room for improvement. And, with BD available as a potential quality upgrade, consumers will also not want to pay a premium anymore for a THX referenced DVD. After all, if they want the best A/V presentation possible, they're better off buying the Blu-Ray (if available, of course).

    "No one cares about THX certification any more" is probably as close to the truth as you can get. While THX branding might still be valuable for high-end A/V hardware (though slightly eroded by 'THX Select'), I don't see it surviving the home video shift to hi-def.
     
  8. Van Ling

    Van Ling Insider
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    All good feedback, folks... harsh but constructive. Two things come to mind:

    1) as Enrico said, folks can ALWAYS screw up a disc in terms of A/V quality, regardless of whether it's BD or not. Studios will ALWAYS need to have better and better QC done on the discs, just to maintain what quality they have and what the promise of high-def is. So what THX started back in the day with laserdisc --extra outside eyes to be part of the process and a series of best practices and standards-- is a good thing, and has grown into a bigger business and a general mindset that we all have. They raised the bar on that one, starting with theatre sound by getting people to ear and demand better then they were getting. The question is, do they as a brand have any relevance to that now? Or now, having led the way in QC, should they let others (who can probably do it cheaper as non-brands) take up the workhorse mantle in this area, and move on to the next frontier?

    2) So if nobody cares about THX any more in home video now, what WOULD make people care? Or do you think the brand is too diluted now to make a comeback? I've always felt that THX was a great brand and the concept made good sense, but that they shouldn't have gotten bogged down in the trenches of the actual work more than they had to. They should be the A/V thinktank for the industry, and come up with new ideas and procedures and stuff to keep their brand out there as the authoritative word on maintaining quality and moving forward with next-gen stuff. For instance, it would have been great if they had been able to take point on the digital cinema side of things, help set some standards (or at least best practices) and be the company that all the studios went to when they wanted to get on board the digital cinema train. Their getting into actual disc QC was fine at first for the brand, but then it became a losing proposition because they started having to compete with QC companies who learned what to do from them and could do it cheaper and as well. It's like having your top food scientist come up with a new way to make a great burger; they have to do it at first to show others why it's good and how to do it. But you don't then have them continue to make the burgers every day when you can train others to do it. Stupid analogy perhaps, but what the heck.

    Here's another stupid analogy: is THX like Pong? The trendsetter and gamechanger that is venerated and remembered as having set the stage back in the day, but not something you expect to measure up to today's stuff like Halo 3?

    V
     
  9. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

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    Or, by the same token, ILM? I would not discount their body of work - their name is synonymous with practical and digital effects. There are just so many more choices today, many of which probably have people who cut their teeth at ILM.
     
  10. Paul Landsmeer

    Paul Landsmeer Auditioning

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    I do think QC has been upped a couple of notches, partially influenced by THX. That makes it harder for THX to shine. THX used to be very good at getting the maximum performance out of standar def media, mainly profiting from the inherent limitations to those media. Now that those limitations have been removed by hi-def media, there hardly is any room left above the bar already set. It's not so much that they have been surpassed by QC companies, it's more like their original proposition not really applying to the hi-def age. Sort of an "operation successful, patient deceased" type of conclusion.

    For the record: I always was and still am a THX supporter and would love to see them contribute to hi-def media in some capacity or another. Glad to have this chance to give some input!
     
  11. Gregg Loewen

    Gregg Loewen Video Standards Instructor, THX Ltd.
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    hi guys

    I have drunken the THX cool aid and have become their only THX Video Standards Instructor in the USA (for the past 11 months) I have seen what goes on behind the scenes within the company and have been very impressed (over the years, prior to my association with them). I have seen speaker companies have to redo their already on the market designs to meet standards, etc.

    On the hardware side, I have been asked questions like "how much does it cost to get a product licenced by THX?" and heard comments like "we would have gotten product X certified but it cost too much and our product exceeds their standards anyways". There has never been any hardware product certified by THX without revision (with the exception of a few cabling products), and all products have extensive testing done to them prior to being given THX certification.

    THX means alot to the average consumer, and their work on the software side has been part of this perception by the general public. If I remember correctly 6 of the 10 top DVDs of 2007 were THX certified. THX has a long rooted history in relation to quality standards in both theatrical and home theater markets.

    As Van has pointed out, if a THX certified DVD does not look great, it may have nothing to do with THX, but rather the elements used etc etc. And you can never compare a 16mm print vs 35 mm print (of a different film) etc when looking at THX vs non THX certified software products. If you see a THX certified DVD you will know that the best quality source material available was used for the transfer, etc etc.

    FWIW,

    Gregg
     
  12. Oliver_A

    Oliver_A Stunt Coordinator

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    I suppose that's why the Terminator 2: Extreme Edition looks worlds better than the Terminator 2: Ultimate Edition, both THX DVD's...

    Sharpness on the Extreme Edition is much better, while the Ultimate Edition was additionally plagued with edge enhancement. How did the Ultimate Edition earn its "THX" certificate when it clearly wasn't "The best picture (tm)" ?
     
  13. Gregg Loewen

    Gregg Loewen Video Standards Instructor, THX Ltd.
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    Oliver,

    It is clear by your comments that you dont have any grasp on how difficult it is to create a DVD (as evidenced by your comments relating to Pixar).

    Gregg
     
  14. Oliver_A

    Oliver_A Stunt Coordinator

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    With that quote, distracting from the completely valid (and verifyable) points I was making in my previous posts, you reveal more about yourself than me.

    A movie completely generated in the digital domain, can hardly be compared to a movie which has first to be transferred from an analogue source. There are much less distracting factors involved, like the quality of the source material, transfer methods, colour correction,possibilities to introduce all kinds of errors. Tell me, what aspects of the "transfer" (which is a downconversion of the original digital files) needs to be supervised, other than the compression, if you have a perfect digital source master?

    Of course, you can still screw up the compression. You can always screw up anything. I assume that no amateurs are working either at Pixar or at Disney.

    Did you watch both the T2: Ultimate Edition and T2: Extreme Edition?

    I don't want to bash here, I just offer my honest opinion.
     
  15. Van Ling

    Van Ling Insider
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    T2 Ultimate and T2 Extreme were two different transfers done about 3 to 7 years apart, so I would be worried if the more recent one DIDN'T look better! That said, people seemed to praise the quality of the Ultimate T2 transfer at the time of release... my experience is that when you go back and compare an old transfer to the new one, you almost invariably go "wow, the new one is so much better! What were we thinking back when we did that first transfer?".

    As for pure digital sources versus analog transfers, it's a matter of opinion. Some people feel the digital look is TOO pristine and unreal-looking... almost like a videogame. Others feel film looks too old school and prefer the digital look (sometimes because they've grown up playing videogames, so that's their level of visual reality). And in fact there are dozens of things to look for in a downconversion from digital files, and while there may not be certain issues like dirt and chemical variances as with film, there are other issues to contend with, from contrast and gamma correction to scaling algorithms. In fact, I think I learn about at least a half-dozen new ways to screw it up on every project (but not always anyone's fault).

    Oliver, you sound like a big fan of digital as the "perfect" mastering medium... and a lot of people share your views, especially after seeing some really bad film transfer work or presentation; but that does not mean that people who appreciate the film medium and artform are behind the times or old-fashioned. As a VFX practitioner, I know firsthand how digital can be a boon the the visual look of a movie... and at the time, it is often a greater challenge to make things look good and real on a purely digital project. You've all heard how makeup artists have had to change their techniques because actors can look totally different on "harsher-looking" HD video than on film; over the years, we have learned to use the filter of film grain to make things look "real" to people, and for some, that's an artform in itself.

    V
     
  16. Oliver_A

    Oliver_A Stunt Coordinator

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    Hello Van!


    I can imagine that this new, still developing technology, bears both possibilities, but also new challenges to find the best "look", not only for the public to enjoy, but also for the artists.

    Again, please don't take it the wrong way what I'm posting here. The way you interact with people here is truly admirable, having the courage to address delicate matters and face the unfiltered opinion of the masses. [​IMG]

    Oliver
     
  17. EnricoE

    EnricoE Supporting Actor

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    as we talk about terminator 2, i can say that there is one scene i always wanted to see once again...

    when i saw the film on it's release in theaters here germany, the future war scene was presented in a different way. i don't remember which aspect ratio it had, but you could clearly see how a t-800 who's lying on the ground gets blasted by a soldier. on ld, dvd and br you don't see it as the camera pans up.

    as for the quality of t2 itself, i can say that each new media made it look better and the high-def version comes a lot closer to the original theatrical release.

    as robert harris once put quite perfect: with the new technolgy that evolved in the years, i would love to redo citizen cane restauration. (note: this is not a quote)
    at it the time of the citizen cane restauration it was awesome but if you look at what can done today, it probably would look so much better.
    also look at the dvds from 1998 like starship troopers. at it's release they where praised for their high quality. compare that to what can be done today and you start to cry. clearly revenge of the sith or at world's end showed how much quality was still possible on our beloved dvd format.
     
  18. Oliver_A

    Oliver_A Stunt Coordinator

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    The picture quality of the good old Starship Troopers flipper DVD still holds up very well today.
     
  19. RomanSohor

    RomanSohor Second Unit

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    I would say that THX certification on software has zero effect on if someone will purchase a title or not. Perhaps those of us who read HomeTheaterForum.com reviews for things like "edge enhancement" and other PQ problems might care if a title is certified (if we thought the certification meant something) but the average consumer is buy a movie based solely on the merits of the film. Putting the THX Stinger before the movie only serves to build brand awareness (which is a fine reason to continue trying to certify software).

    From a hardware point of view, most customers I have dealt with in a Best Buy / Magnolia Home Theater setting either think the THX Certification a) makes the product more expensive and b) is either useless or don't understand what it means... and the rest have no idea what it is- they think it is a sound format like DTS
     
  20. brap

    brap Stunt Coordinator

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    Has there ever been a company that has abused the certification? The DVD that caused me to turn impartial to the THX logo is the first Highlander DVD. It looked no better than my VHS copy. Although I was always curious that the company just slapped the logo on the DVD saying "Well, we had it on the LD and the VHS".
    THX DVD's still come in handy for doing on-the-fly calibration of your friends home system.
    I do hope THX continues to exist. I wouldn't be good to be knocked into obsolescence because what they worked hard to pioneer is now standard.
     

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