Beyond 5.1? Inventor of THX Hopes So
Forget about 7.1; Tomlinson Holman, the inventor of THX, has loftier goals.
Tom Holman with a 10.2 surround-sound system in the Immersive Sound Laboratory of USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center.
October 11, 2007 by Steven Castle

Tomlinson Holman is best known as the guy who gave us the THX audio standard used in commercial cinemas and home theaters. THX was developed when Holman worked with Star Wars director George Lucas at Lucasfilm and was created to reproduce sound as the film director intended it to be heard. Holman hasn’t stopped looking for better ways to reproduce audio, though. He now runs THMLabs, which sells professional audio equipment. In addition, he is a professor of film sound at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, the chief scientist with auto equalization company Audyssey, and in his spare time promotes a 10.2 surround-sound system—which, yes, is supposed to be twice as good as 5.1.

Holman’s 10.2 system actually consists of 14 channels (16 with channels for the hearing and visually impaired). To get there, take a standard 5.1 surround-sound setup with three front speakers, two surround speakers and a subwoofer (the .1). Then add wide left and right front channels, upper left and right front channels, two more surrounds, a back surround (like those used in a 6.1 system) and another subwoofer.

Holman demonstrated the 10.2 system at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show, where it met with raves. But it still hasn’t caught on. Is this legendary sound innovator deterred? Not when we talked with him.

What’s the point of 10.2?
The thought is that it would be the top member of the [surround-sound] hierarchy. Our 10.2 is a platform for scaling from one environment to another, but also as the source for 7.1, 5.1 and even stereo reproduction. There are three sensations [in sound]: frequency range, dynamic range and spatial capability. Frequency and dynamic range are already satisfied, so the only direction for us to go in is having more channels. And you want the capability of performing with a picture and without.

What do the additional channels provide?
The left and right wides produce the first reflections in concert halls. The high channels are where you get the first reflections from the ceiling, and your perception of localization is good coming from above at an angle rather than overhead. The center back channel is pretty much accepted. Another thing we do is add dipoles at the same location as the surrounds [for both directional and diffusive surround channels.]

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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