“Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment – not marketing slogans”
Facebook Youtube Twitter instagram pinterest

Razer Buys THX: What This Could Mean for Your Future Man Cave

by October 20, 2016

On Monday it was announced that Razer, a computer gaming hardware manufacturer, had acquired an ownership share of THX Ltd. Razer says it plans to keep the two companies separate and that THX will continue to pursue all of its present operations. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan verified THX’s independence in an interview when he said: “They're going to have their own direction, they're going to have their own customer base… management and vision."

THX CEO Ty Ahmad-Taylor also stated in separate interviews that, while THX will operate independently, there are collaborative efforts on the horizon. Specific plans and financials have not been disclosed. To many of us, the acquisition of THX by a computer peripheral company seems strangely familiar.

In 2002, THX co-founder George Lucas sold a 60-percent majority share of his company to Creative Labs, another computer peripheral maker. Many feel that sale effectively ended THX’s relevance as an audio/visual quality standards company - but that was a different era in technology.

If the Creative Labs acquisition is any indication of what Razer has in store for THX, the cynical among us may predict that Razer will simply pimp the THX logo onto a slew of newly minted THX-certified Razer hardware. Some, including Vlad Savov of The Verge have even called it a low point for THX. That line of thinking is not without precedent. Soon after the 2002 deal, Creative Labs began churning out everything from sound cards to PC speaker systems bearing the THX logo.

Creative wanted to reinvent THX and adapt it to an ever-changing, more computer-friendly home audio market of the early 2000s by lowering THX certification standards. The company introduced THX Select specifically aimed at consumer-grade equipment that would never have seen the interior of THX labs just years earlier.

Can THX Reinvent Itself - Again?

THX was founded by George Lucas back in 1983 - just in time for the release of Return of the Jedi - THX Simpsonswith a mission to standardize the quality of audio at movie theaters. It was a noble mission, to be sure. Cinema audio/visual quality in the early 80s was notoriously spotty, and THX was a force of change that resulted in the state-of-the-art theaters of today. In its heyday, the THX intro appeared at theaters before every movie. That familiar clip we saw through 90s induced so much surround sound audio awe in audiences that it inspired a head-popping parody on the Simpsons. When the THX logo was licensed for upscale home audio equipment, it meant the more affluent consumers could finally bring the magic of the movie theater home.

See the Simpson's THX movie intro parody.

By the early 2000s, mainstream home theater popularity was stoked by affordable HDTVs and surround sound receivers. Suddenly a slew of new set-top-boxes became available that gave more power than ever before to the couch potato armed with a universal remote control. As set-top-boxes piled up next to new HDTVs like low-rent tenement buildings, many could see the bold new era that was coming. The future of home media, many predicted, would be one computer replacing all those boxes and high-speed Internet replacing subscription TV. But, that future wouldn’t come without a fight for the status quo.

Creative bought THX, and soon the THX name was on the first PC sound card, the Sound Blaster Audigy 2. This marked a low point for the once elite brand – formerly associated with fine home audio video equipment, it was now the stuff of big box stores and video games. Before long, the THX brand had fallen so far it was the butt of smart-aleck technology editorials after it lent its certification to doors, yes - THX-certified doors!

Set-Top-Boxes VS Computers: The Battle is On!

Also occurring in the early 2000s was a war for dominance over your living room. The consumer electronics industry had two visions for the family HDTV. Cable companies, content providers and traditional consumer electronics companies (like Sony and Comcast) needed the entertainment status quo to be dominated by pricey subscriptions and a constant rotation of new set-top-boxes (cable boxes, PVRs, VCRs, DVD players, etc.) On the other side was the PC that promised to overturn everything. With Creative, THX was now in a position to play both sides.

Fearing a piracy-fueled doomsday for content creators and distributors alike, the studios and cable companies banded together to keep conventional set-top-box relevant. Sony had much to lose as both studio and manufacturer so it was a leader representing traditional consumer electronics as usual and was at war with the prime enabler of PC technology: Microsoft. Nowhere was this war for the living room more profound than in the game consoles. Sony PlayStation vs. Microsoft’s Xbox – both appliances wanted to be your living room entertainment system. But in the end, the computer and set-top-box became indistinguishable.

Personal Screen

Traditional TV, iPad to personal displays - the new trend of the millennials?

Today, competition over the living room isn’t as fierce because the formats have largely been decided - and the new frontier has left the living room. Blame technology or blame our culture, but the idea of the screen-focused “family room” has become antiquated. These days we have man-caves or media rooms where a beer fridge and the largest screen in the house is generally located. Kids today aren’t stuck watching dad's football game. A new generation is growing up that is accustomed to tiny, personal screens. If current trends prevail, even large flat-screen TVs will become as quaint as Gordon Gekko’s brick phone. Let’s face it, audio/video viewing for a new generation is becoming mobile, personal, near-field and most recently … virtual.

Q&A Session with Laurie Fincham of THX

To gain further insights on what's to come with THX, we submitted a few questions to Laurie Fincham -Senior Vice President of Audio Research and Development at THX Ltd.

AH: Does the acquisition mean that Razer is about to manufacture a new generation of THX technology specifically for gaming PCs?
Laurie: No, we have no such plans at this time.

AH: It seems like a no-brainer that THX and Razer will focus on new VR equipment, specifically headphones. So, can we expect new VR headphones to be made by Razer using THX tech?
Laurie: We are working on a headphone program and at the moment are concentrating on developing a set of performance standards that will be relevant to THX certification of headphones for playing music, including film soundtracks, as well as gaming, including VR. Our focus on VR, however, is more on the visual side at the present time.

AH: Will THX/Razer be collaborating on any VR visual equipment in the near future?
Laurie: We have no plans at the present. It’s still early days, so stay in touch.

Consumer Virtual Reality: The Final Frontier?

Which brings us to the next frontier for THX and Razer - consumer VR.

Far being a low point for THX, as was the case with the Creative deal, being acquired this time around probably speaks more OSVRto the raw ambition of Razer. The self-proclaimed “gaming lifestyle company” started “by gamers for gamers” certainly didn’t buy THX to force it to shill gaming headsets to its target demographic that didn't grow up in awe of the THX logo in movie theaters. More likely, the company has its eye on more practical matter - like VR.

Razer is one of the brands behind the OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) headset, and THX brings decades of experience and patents in virtual surround technology. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan says that even though the two companies will continue to operate independently, there will be collaboration between THX and Razer squarely around VR and surround headphones.

"We see a lot of potential to have the expertise of THX applied in new categories like virtual reality, and spacial surround sound," Tan says. THX and Razer coming together looks and sounds like a perfect match. And with the set-top-box war gone and computers powering today’s high-end VR headsets, it’s not a stretch to say this union could represent a big step in shaping the future of audio video home entertainment. We will keep an eye on this and report back when new Razer THX products start hitting the market.


About the author:
author portrait

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

View full profile