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THX and the value of quality control

Van Ling

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#21 of 42 JustinCleveland

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Posted October 16 2008 - 04:01 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gregg Loewen
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.
That's correlative evidence; the top selling DVDs were the best movies on the market. They would have sold well regardless of the THX stamp of approval. The so-called average consumer presumes that if a title is released on a digital medium then it is of high quality--they are purchasing it because of the content less than the quality of the presentation. Technophiles such as we know that just because a film is on DVD/BD it isn't always perfect to the THX marker may be of help to us. But if you ask someone why they are buying a movie at Best Buy or Circuit City I can guarantee you it isn't because of the THX label.

I love the idea of THX: An overriding body who ensures a uniformly quality product. But because the actual number of titles submitted to their quality control is limited the actual presence they have in the market is limited. For that reason I believe that the THX marker is largely passe for software.

As a sometimes salesman, however, the THX marker is a great selling point for hardware. The consumer is given an absolute marker of quality--beyond brand-names--and have a reference point. But even that enhancement is becoming difficult to justify. My most recent receiver purchase in 2007, the Yamaha HTR-6060, was one of the first (if memory serves) to eschew the THX labeling. It has phenomenal features and sound quality, but the lack of THX certification brought the price down from its predecessor by a few hundred dollars. A reading of reviews and my own auditioning proved it to be a fantastic replacement for my Yamaha HTR-5550.

So THX certification can be a useful baseline referent between products, but because it is not universally applied it loses a significant portion of its persuasive, rhetorical appeal to the consumer.

There is a segment of the population who will always defer to THX, just as there are always people who prefer Sony or Bose without comparing other brands. Losing the THX branding is not, however, a significant detriment to shoppers in the era of the Internet where comparative reviews are increasingly simple to find and the consumer needs not rely on an unseen body to mark quality through unknown measures.

#22 of 42 Nicholas Martin

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Posted October 16 2008 - 06:24 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Van Ling
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).


That could be a possible misconception the average consumer (who may not frequent places like this because they don't have such a strong interest) may have about the concept of "High Definition" itself.

Looking at a television show in HD looks very 'digital', and when I think of HD, that's what comes to mind, that flawless smoothed-out digital look.

Blu-ray has changed that, because some of the films I have on the format don't look like they represent the term "High Definition" at all.

That is a compliment, not a criticism.

What I mean is, they look like actual film being projected, only on a television screen (in my case) not a film or digital projector.

That trumps the "High Definition" look any day to me.

That obviously doesn't fly with some people, who would look at such BDs and say 'what's the big deal? Where's the HD benefit?'

If it doesn't have that CG enhanced, smoothed, filtered look, it's not "High Definition" to some. That may explain the excessive use of Noise Reduction I've read about on some titles like the recent Paramount "Jack Ryan" collection of films.

#23 of 42 charles mix

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Posted October 16 2008 - 08:34 AM

I think the real question is(and this is coming from my clients I do productions for).......Will this extra QC that I am paying for sell more DVD's? How many of you out there would more likely by a DVD your really wanted because of the THX QC process. We are also a minority of people who really look at quality. Most people (average consumer) will not notice a difference on the 42" plasma set.

As far as THX and there "approved" products. I believe that one of the first "THX certified" Flat Panel sets did not do what it was suppose to because the vendor did not want to change the production model. It still had the badge though. Greg would be a better source on this though.
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#24 of 42 Gregg Loewen

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Posted October 16 2008 - 12:44 PM

hi guys

My point on the 6 out of the 10 top sellers in 2007 was that THX has a huge marketing / exposure opportunity. It was not suggesting that the reason they were top sellers was because they were THX certified.

Quote:
I believe that one of the first "THX certified" Flat Panel sets did not do what it was suppose to because the vendor did not want to change the production model

The above comment is not in any way true. The THX certified product needs to meet the THX standards prior to production (not in the middle of a production run). That being said, it is entirely possible that any product from any manufacturer could have issues during a production cycle (THX certified or not).

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#25 of 42 ThomasC

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Posted October 16 2008 - 01:00 PM

There is a multiplex in Columbus, OH, where 8 of its 11 auditoriums are THX certified, and it shows every time. The prints and sound always look and sound great (great bass, too!), and I never hear anything from the auditoriums next door.

THX in the home theater environment used to mean something to me, at least with DVDs. But as time went on, I realized that the certification stopped at the source material level, and didn't grade encoding. Nowadays, there are so many great DVDs that aren't THX certified, so whether or not a DVD is certified means nothing to me. The same goes for receivers and speakers.

The only place I think THX can still be effective is in commercial movie theaters.

#26 of 42 Van Ling

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Posted October 16 2008 - 03:58 PM

Actually, it's the other way around: THX certification STARTS at the source material level and goes through encoding to final disc replication. The biggest problem that THX faced was that they couldn't demand that the studios strike new transfer masters from the original negative, or make large-cost fixes... they could only recommend these things and then try to QC the process from that point forward to insure that the original quality of the source material provided was maintained all the way to the final consumer disc. Obviously, this means junk in, junk out... which is why THX's reputation has suffered greatly over the years. As a business, they could only withhold certification and walk away from any client that wouldn't make the necessary changes or fixes, but doing so means they didn't get paid. So they tried to make it about preserving the initial quality of the source given to them by the studio and do the best they could with it, knowing that they could only demand that the studio go out of pocket for fixes only so far. That's why THX works best with a studio or filmmaker who honestly wants the quality and is willing to pay for it; otherwise, it's like hiring a top designer who normally does $125,000 dresses and giving him only a $1.98 budget to do the work. Since this isn't Project Runway, it usually turns out less than optimal.

From the studio standpoint, they demand quality but are not willing to pay for it beyond a certain level, and that level can be pretty low. They know, as you've all pointed out, that they cannot charge the consumer more for a THX-certified disc (I don't think anyone ever has)... for the studios, it's just a bullet point on the back to try to tip the desire to purchase in their favor. If it's too expensive to get that certification, they won't do it. And to be fair, no studio will enter into an agreement for THX certification and say "not only will we pay your licensing and QC fees, but also we'll promise to do whatever restoration and fix work you tell us to do, no matter what the cost". Ain't gonna happen. So they draw the line at maybe some dirt cleanup and say that's all they're willing to do. Sometimes they give THX a piece of film that's been in the vaults or been sent around to screenings for decades, and say "that's all we have... do your best, but we can't or won't go back to strike a new print for transfer." On the evil and lazy side, some studios only even consider THX certification because they want a scapegoat(!) for HTF folks and other enthusiasts to complain to if the disc turns out bad... because they KNOW they're using a lousy master and won't cough up the dough to make a better one. "Well, hey, THX certified it... go talk to them if you think it looks like crap!"

So THX has a dilemma on almost every title: do you walk away when the client gives you crap to work with and you know you're going to be held accountable? Or do you try your best and at least get your overhead and labor paid? If they uncompromisingly walked away from every title that was a problem, they'd not be in the business at all any more. Some might argue that they're really not in the business any more for this very reason... they DIDN'T walk away more, so it destroyed their reputation.

I feel they were also always laboring under a challenging marketing position... they reaised the general standards for quality presentation, but they really couldn't claim it was the "best". In fact, it was really about raising the MINIMUM standard to a higher level, so you could be assured that at least the reels were in the right order and the sound didn't drop out or go out of sync half the time (if you remember some of the moviegoing experiences you may have had as a kid, you'll know exactly what I mean). but you can't market it as the "best minimum standard". At the same time, real high-end HT enthusiasts (many on this forum) have scoffed at THX for their marketing themselves as doing the "best" practices, when the enthusiasts believe that their own standards are higher (and often are). But someone who can afford $30K speakers really shouldn't be bagging on the guys who are trying to bring a recognition of a higher standard to folks who only have $100 speakers... they should at least appreciate the attempt. Of course you can do better than THX standards if you are willing to really put the effort into it. You can also build your own swimming pool in your backyard if you want to, but why not hire a really good contractor who has a similar sense of quality and give them the resources to do it for you? The challenge is that in order to pay the bills, this consultant called THX may have made a number of judgment errors which hurt their rep, so now there's less trust in the brand.

But I think their original purpose was good and I still believe that we need someone to keep carrying that torch for quality in this age of YouTube and digital downloads. I think that this forum is doing its part. We can all be part of keeping alive what THX stood for, back in a time where we used to cheer the trailers.

Just my two cents,

V

#27 of 42 EnricoE

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Posted October 16 2008 - 05:51 PM

van, you are absolutly right.

i started to learn about thx back in the ld years. i think my very first thx laserdisc i bought was the t2 box which showed how awesome a film on ld can look and sound. later on i bought the 9 disc star wars box which showed how much care was put into these films and release them in high quality for home video. a lot of people i showed many of the great thx laserdisc envy me for being able to see and listen to films in that quality. but then one day stargate d.c. came on ld. thx certefied too. the video quality was a joke to be fair. sure, today i know that thx couldn't do better as the source was probably not the best, but it surely showed people that thx doesn't always mean great or at least good quality.

the other big problem i had was that thx started to put their on everything. from vhs, small loudspeaker sets,to computers, up to beer bottles ... it was that and exactly that was it what cost thx a lot of reputation. they should've only certefeid products of high quality. stop doing this thx select crap and other bullshit. go back to what thx original was intend for. if you get a film from a studio who would like to get the thx logo on their dvd/blu-ray then make them understand that it will cost something. if not, let them go. sure this will be hard but if want that people see in your product high quality once again, then you have to walk a hard way.

#28 of 42 Jesse Skeen

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Posted October 25 2008 - 09:19 PM

I heard the PCM sound mix on the THX-certified laserdisc release of "Stargate" was messed up and initial copies were recalled. How in the world did that happen if there was any alleged 'quality control'?

THX lost its credibility when they 'certified' VHS tape releases of the Star Wars movies in pan & scan with Macrovision encoding. They certified several other pan & scan VHS titles too- VHS quality was always a joke as many tapes couldn't track perfectly, and Macrovision sometimes degraded playback even if the VCR wasn't hooked up through any other devic. Something like THX could have actually helped that format, but they didn't seem to do anything with it.

THX also should never have certified any DVDs in pan & scan format or non-anamorphic letterbox. They certified the first pan & scan-only release of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"- Laserdisc Newsletter reviewed it saying "Just a couple years ago THX would never have put their seal of approval on such a travesty."

Not even their theater program guarantees perfection- there's a 16-screen theater in my area which claims to have all its auditoriums THX certified, but several of them have problems with sound leaking through the walls, one I even heard noise coming from outside an exit door! All screens are common-width too, which is a compromise in design. The people running the projection booth there aren't the greatest either (I once tried to get a job there, having 9 years of theater projection experience, but they told me I'd have to start on minimum-wage floor staff and maybe get promoted in a few months- but that's getting off topic.)
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#29 of 42 Empirefan70

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Posted November 08 2008 - 03:46 AM

I think THX should stick to in this order along nothing more nothing less!
(Cinema professional) and (home cinema quality assurance) the rest is waste of time!

I’ve notice a few years back the rapped halt on THX certified region 2 DVD like Disney titles and this why I won’t buy the other Pirate of Caribbean also what difference does it make its not the same before it went private!

You don’t see THX/TAP on the end credits no more and that SUCKS! No its not the same anymore.

If you what to check-out properly the most powerful THX cinema in the world go to the Empire Leicester Square 56KW JBL THX sound system its out of this world!
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#30 of 42 RickardL

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Posted November 10 2008 - 12:21 AM

If I were to look for quality, these are the immediate things that come to mind:

- Use the best source closest to the original negative as possible
- If possible, have the original DP / Director approve the transfer
- No cropping / original theatrical aspect ratio
- Grain intact / no DNR applied
- No Edge Enhancing applied
- Correct blacklevels (black is black and not gray)
- Correct colours
- No contrast boosting
- Original sound included if enhanced 5/6.1 audio track has been made
"superbit"-like features:
- as lossless audio as possible
- as high video bitrate as possible

#31 of 42 Brian Borst

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Posted November 10 2008 - 07:07 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RickardL
If I were to look for quality, these are the immediate things that come to mind:

- If possible, have the original DP / Director approve the transfer
- No cropping / original theatrical aspect ratio

Those two rule each other out sometimes. What are you going to do when the director wants the feature in an aspect ratio that's different from the theatrical aspect ratio? Like RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven's preferred aspect ratio is 1.66:1, and in theaters it was shown in 1.85:1. Or the whole situation with The Last Emperor, when DP Vittorio Storaro wants it to be in 2:1, while it was shot in 2.35:1?
That's the problem with films, no two features are alike, and can't be compared with each other.
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#32 of 42 RickardL

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Posted November 10 2008 - 09:16 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Borst
Those two rule each other out sometimes. What are you going to do when the director wants the feature in an aspect ratio that's different from the theatrical aspect ratio? Like RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven's preferred aspect ratio is 1.66:1, and in theaters it was shown in 1.85:1. Or the whole situation with The Last Emperor, when DP Vittorio Storaro wants it to be in 2:1, while it was shot in 2.35:1?
That's the problem with films, no two features are alike, and can't be compared with each other.
Vittorio Storaro also insisted on changed aspect for Apocalypse Now on DVD, right?
Also, wasn't Sleeping Beauty was released in a wider aspect ratio than
theatrically which I think was positively received?
Anyway, as long as there is a justification for changing it, it will be
better than having it cropped or opened up seemingly randomly.

Edit: what I mean is that if there is a stated reason why the aspect ratio is different and has changed
from theatrical release, it would mean that someone is aware of the change and hopefully had reasons for doing so.
Personally, I hate when a newer release crops the picture and hides things that were visible in earlier
releases and/or theatrically.

#33 of 42 Brian Borst

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Posted November 11 2008 - 07:03 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RickardL
Vittorio Storaro also insisted on changed aspect for Apocalypse Now on DVD, right?
Also, wasn't Sleeping Beauty was released in a wider aspect ratio than
theatrically which I think was positively received?
Anyway, as long as there is a justification for changing it, it will be
better than having it cropped or opened up seemingly randomly.

Edit: what I mean is that if there is a stated reason why the aspect ratio is different and has changed
from theatrical release, it would mean that someone is aware of the change and hopefully had reasons for doing so.
Personally, I hate when a newer release crops the picture and hides things that were visible in earlier
releases and/or theatrically.

I agree with you. There always should be a (good, or valid) reason behind it. And of course it's always the best when the director or dp was involved or gave his blessing. That's actually why I like Criterion, they try to make that extra effort to do that.
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#34 of 42 Jesse Skeen

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Posted November 20 2008 - 10:52 PM

Quote:
Or the whole situation with The Last Emperor, when DP Vittorio Storaro wants it to be in 2:1, while it was shot in 2.35:1?

He's wrong. Just like George Lucas was when he made changes to Star Wars. Posted Image
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#35 of 42 tls36

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Posted November 26 2008 - 02:34 AM

Van - very good thread and a very relevent one as well. I still vividly recall the THX room at the General Cinema on Maple Road in Amherst, NY. It used Hafler DH500 amps and was fully certified. Have not seen or heard its equal since. Eventually the cheapos at the theatre did not update to keep its certification and later the building was demolished. I just wonder why companies like Technics that had a THX certified processor in the early 90's get certified and yet quality amp manufacturers like Bryston, speaker manufacturers like B&W and other high end audio companies lack the moniker even though they produce higher quality equipment? Makes the THX moniker on equipment seem cheap. As for THX certified software, very good and from what I have seen consistent as well.

#36 of 42 Gregg Loewen

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Posted November 26 2008 - 10:25 AM

Quote:
high end audio companies lack the moniker even though they produce higher quality equipment?

Who says that ??

while there is some very good pricey equipment, there also is some very crappy pricey gear. If a piece of gear has a THX logo on it, you can at least be assured that it meets a certain level of performance and and other criterias relating to that certification.

There has never been any piece of gear submitted to THX that has been labelled certified without modification. (with the exception of some cabling products).

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#37 of 42 JediFonger

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Posted December 01 2008 - 07:48 AM

when THX was established circa star wars (a new hope), lucas wanted his films to be presented with pristine audiovisual quality. i'm not THAT old, but i have seen films in cinemas that have NOT been renovated since pre70s and i could see why lucas wanted this 'standard' to happen via the TAP (Theater Alignment Program). without THX, we might still have a plethora MONO speaker CINEMAS!!!

so it made sense to have a THX back then to raise the bar. my fav. part of enjoying a film in the early 90s is to pick a film showing in the THX auditorium and i luved luved luved enjoying the THX trailers that were shown back then!!! some of the fav is the THX-EX tex demonestrating the 6.1 capability of the cinema.

all of that changed with the advent of multiplexes and competitive nature of business. cinepliexes begin to offer stadium seating, digital projection, dts alternatives to dolby digital, sdds, and so on. by the time episode i came out, most major cinema chains have become so good at competing with one another, THX is no longer needed. that is not to say, normal theater maintains great quality all the time. in fact, after year 2000, u can see the theaters that used to have THX no longer participate in TAP and then things start to fall back to the way they were. broken subs, awful screen sprocket alignments and MONO makes their way back in a huge wave Posted Image.

in terms of theatrical presentation, THX needs to evolve their business unit into more of a 'police model' with full participation from MPAA or artists&studio organizations. give out a free 800 number in the beginning or at the end of the films or somewhere in the theaters whereby people can submit complaints. audiences like HTF will be sure to actively participate in this to make sure theatrical presentations are kept in line. FIX that sub, FIX that screen tear, FIX the surround sound! etc.

as for the home video, much like the history of TAP, the home divison used to mean something. equipment makers used to be shoddy and slim on the power specs and so on, but THX brought all of them up to a standard and in the last 8 years have far exceeded the standards by leaps and bounds that THX has had to come up with 'ultra and select' models and so on.

imho, the real compromise began when creative bought 60% stake into the THX business and now we have "THX-certified" 2.1 multimedia computer speakers. imho, that's ridiculous. if PC's want high quality audio, buy a AVR and hookup a pair of real speakers to it.

again, as with the TAP, THX home divisions need to evolve and adapt into different markets. i dunno what, but it needs to become more than it is.

as for certifying titles, was THX trying to be criterion? i dunno, i've always felt criterion showed the respect needed for films to present in such a manner and fashion that the original enjoyment is preserved. yesh i know critieron and THX have worked together to bring catalogue titles to great heights... but even criterion have scaled back on THX releases because their own internal QA have gone way up.

in today's age, THX is irrelevant except in spirit. on the software side, i'd like to see some sort of a 'quality police' so i can spam them about all my BD's with DNR problems (like patton), lol.

#38 of 42 Dave Moritz

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Posted December 26 2008 - 03:09 AM

I think THX did a great job at first and for many years afterword and did a great job. And I would agree that if you see THX on a peice of hardware it usually is a good sign. I would not go as far to say everything with a THX logo is gold.

I remember when Kenwood came out with there THX certified pre/pro and power amplifier, it was not all that great. And when Kenwood had there trailer touring the country a rep admited to me that Kenwoods amplifiers where not being used in the demo.

Now when a product is so bad that it can not even get THX certified I would say that also speaks volumes as well. Now if I see a THX badge on something now, it does not automatically get placed above something that doesn't. I like the fact that some products from companies like Onkyo, Marantz and Pioneer are THX certified. How ever would I not rule out a product like Denon just because there is no THX logo. I do not think McIntosh is gracing there equipment with THX logos anymore and that is some of the best gear I have ever heard. But when Bose can not get THX certified it has to make you wonder why? There are companies that just do not want to pay the cost of the THX logo being on there product, how ever I do not think this is the reason why THX is not on Bose products. Now I might be wrong on this but even though Onkyo has models that are THX Select2 Plus and THX Ultra2 Plus certified but do not necisarily deseve it. All you have to do is look at the Onkyo TX-SR805 that was discontinued and replace with the 806, the 806 is no where near the 805 but it is ultra THX certified.

I honestly feel that THX needs to step back and see what it needs to do to make themselves viable again. They need to regain what there where at the begining when there where a big brand name. We have consumers that are willing to place convience over quality, just look at internet downloads and mp3 players. Many people are happy with dvd and don't care about SACD or high resolution audio. THX needs to remind people and convince them all over again that THX makes a real difference when they watch a movie!
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#39 of 42 Jonathan Burk

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Posted January 27 2009 - 11:16 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith Paynter
THX meant a lot to laserphiles like me, when introduced in the Aliens box set.

Don't you mean "The Abyss" box set...? Posted Image

I was a huge fan of THX theatrical certification, and then laserdisc certification. But by the time THX certified VHS players and tapes started showing up, I started getting disenchanted.

#40 of 42 Fritz Nilsen

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Posted February 21 2009 - 07:46 PM

For software I believe the THX logo has outplayed it's relevance. I am not aware of what THX certification for software requires at the moment, but I believe they should aim for regaining the trust of the very demanding people who seek out forums such as HTF.

The criteria by which recent blu-rays are being scrutinized by us are, in no particular order, DNR, lack of EE, OAR, Codec (audio/video), Compression, fidelity to the source material (e.g. original mono soundtrack availability). I just don't believe the THX program is as thourough as we'd like it to be.

At this point the Robert A. Harris seal of approval carries much more weight with videophiles than THX does (Business opportunity for Mr. Harris, there). Maybe even a Xylon-certified transfer for those of us who frequent "that other forum". According to postings on these forums, their opininons influence buying decisions.

For videophile formats such as laserdisc was, the THX logo certainly influenced purchase decisions and made economic sense for the studios. For the mass-market DVD I don't believe it has, or ever had, impact on sales. Maybe the Blu-Ray market is the opportunity for THX to reclaim their status, but they'd have to apply it to all the factors mentioned above.

Maybe it is unreasonable to expect THX to be the fanboy watchdog of video, and the fact remains that there is no way THX can appease the hardcore, uncompromising (unreasonable?) perfectionists that represent a certain portion of the posters here. - But they should perhaps try? -


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