Friday, October 07, 2005

The Tomlison Holman eXperience

6 years ago, back in 1999, as I was building my first website I wrote an article on audio and video systems, and in the last paragraph I was explaining THX, a set of standards for building movie theaters: Tomlison Holman eXperience. I couldn't have imagined back then that I would meet Dr Tom Holman myself here in USC.

I knew he is a professor in the film school here, and so it happened that for the celebration of 125 years of USC they setup an audio demo in one of our labs here. The demo was for the 10.2 surround system that Tom Holman and some other people here in USC are trying to introduce as the new standard in music.He reminded me of Doug Button from JBL: a former engineer that know his stuff really well and now he is doing more marketing than engineering. This is also the guy that established in 1987 that 5.1 should be the audio standard for home theaters.

He was explaining how a technology evolves: 5.1 is around since the 1970s, was established officially in the 1980s, was introduced in DVDs in the 1990s, and is in most homes in the 2000s. It took 30 years for the technology to reach the mainstream public, and that is happening again now with 10.2 . The extra speakers are: 1 for the back surround (directly behind the audience), 1 wide left and wide right (which are placed more right and more left respectively from the original left and right) and also high left and high right, which are placed hogh above the left and right ones looking downwards. The .2 is the extra subwoofer (left sub and right sub). Holman was saying that .1 in 5.1 represents the percentage of sound that comes out of the sub, and that it should be 5.05 if it weren't for the marketing of the standard :-)

Another story he told us was that this lab was planned to be build at the 2nd floor of RTH building, but the ceiling in the building was scheduled to be 4 feet lower that what hey needed. However they talked to the dean of engineering Max Nikias who sadi that it was ok to raise the ceiling in order to have the perfect home for the lab. Since then, the 2nd floor in RTH is 4 feet higher than the rest of the floors in the same building!

Finally he described his experience in a very nice theater in Memphis, where he asked the owner to set the loudness a little bit over what they usually did. Although Holman enjoyed the movie ( I think so too, that the volume in movie theaters is not as loud as I want it to be), there were about 10 complaints from the audience that the movie was too loud! That proves that the loudness is not the issue for most people to optimally enjoy the films.

I hope he manages to start teaching this class he was mentioning here in USC...