Tech Page: Hello Blackbird

THX technology helps your content sound and look its best.
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Home A/V products have become so complex that most users don''t take the time to tweak them for optimum results. With THX Blackbird technology, the content includes metadata about how it was created and how to set the playback controls so users don''t need to think about it.

As an electronic musician, you spend countless hours tweaking your recordings — and perhaps even your music videos — to perfection. But what happens once your adoring fans acquire your masterworks and play them on their home audio/video systems? Your carefully crafted music might sound nothing like it did when you signed off on the CD master, and that hot YouTube video might look lukewarm on the average flat-panel monitor.

The problem is that consumer A/V equipment has become increasingly complex, with many new features and controls, and most folks have no clue how to adjust them for optimum results. Even worse, those “optimum results” are often different depending on the source — be it CD, DVD, online download, or one of the new high-definition discs. The settings within a given playback system could also be different depending on which format you're trying to get the most from, and even those consumers with the know-how to adjust the settings accordingly are unlikely to do so because it's such a hassle to dig into complicated menu systems.

THX ( has come up with an ingenious solution to this problem. The company's primary mission is to assure that the intent of content creators is reproduced as faithfully as possible. Code-named Blackbird, the latest technology from THX encodes digital audio and video content with metadata about how the content was created, including EQ settings, DSP mode, number of audio channels, compression format, video colorimetry, aspect ratio, and so on. As the content creator, you enter this data into a Blackbird file, which is stored along with the content itself on packaged media, such as CD or DVD, or encoded and sent along with online content.

At the other end of the signal chain, the playback devices must be able to properly handle and interpret the metadata. Disc players load the Blackbird files into their onboard memory and send them via HDMI or S/PDIF to an A/V receiver and/or video display. In turn, those rendering components automatically set their controls in response to the metadata.

The Blackbird system can be applied dynamically within a given title; for example, the metadata might change for different chapters or scenes on a DVD. Artists can even use the metadata to generate effects for their own sake, using it as part of the content-creation process.

Several companies have announced Blackbird-compatible products using the official THX Media Director moniker. Among them is Anchor Bay Technologies, which makes highly advanced video processors. Its topflight DVDO VP50 will be among the first video products to support Media Director. Lyngdorf Audio specializes in high-end audio components, and its D-1 home-theater processor will feature the new technology. Portrait Displays is working on an automated setup system for TV manufacturers, which will aid in decoding Media Director metadata. Finally, Sequoyan Media Technology offers quality-control hardware and software for DVD-authoring facilities, making it a natural to develop tools to insert and verify the metadata on DVDs, HD DVDs, and Blu-ray discs.

According to Rick Dean, who is the vice president of THX's technology development group, “THX Media Director allows content creators to communicate exactly how they want their content to look and sound when [it is] presented on home-playback systems. But consumers are the ones who benefit most, because they can sit back and truly enjoy the show.”