I got home from my THX adventure on Saturday, after three long
days of hard-core tech training in a darkened room while the most
perfect weather I can imagine beckoned just beyond the walls. But it
was worth it—although I already knew most of the material, I did learn
a number of useful things, and I got to observe the course itself to
see what aspiring calibrators can expect if they take it.
From what I saw, they can expect a good grounding in the art
and science of video calibration. The two instructors—Gregg Loewen and
Michael Chen, both calibrators of long experience—take a tag-team
approach, and class time alternates between PowerPoint presentations (I
loved Michael's horror stories from the field) and hands-on lab work.
And there's a lot of lab work—students must complete at least two full
calibrations during the class using the measurement tools and displays
provided. A variety of tools and displays—including plasma and LCD flat
panels as well as front projectors and even a DLP RPTV—let students
become familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of different
technologies. They must also submit reports on eight more calibrations
before they can be certified. Oh yeah, there's also an online,
open-book, multiple-choice test with 99 questions that must be
completed within three weeks of finishing the class. (BTW, the test
includes a number of poorly and confusingly worded questions and needs
a good copy edit.)
The course is very fast-paced and dense with technical
information—for the inexperienced, I'm sure it's like drinking from a
fire hose. In this regard, I wish the class was four days long instead
of three. On the plus side, the instructors often repeat basic
questions, asking students to answer verbally, which reinforces mental
So how much does the training cost? $1995, which ain't cheap,
to be sure. And before you can take the video-calibration course, you
must have completed the one-day Tech 1 class, which will set you back
another $500; alternatively, you can test out of that requirement if
you have no interest in audio. But the amount of imparted information
is prodigious, making the cost worthwhile in my book.
Once you are certified, you can offer your clients a kit that
includes a cool Lucite plaque, dated certificate, letter from THX, and
demo DVD. Each kit costs the calibrator $100, though the first 10 are
included in the course fee. To receive a kit, you must also send a
calibration report to THX so the results can be verified. $100 strikes
me as a bit high, but with the materials and time it takes someone to
read your report and validate the results, I suppose it's not entirely
out of line.
The kit is important for several reasons. First, clients love
getting free stuff, which endears you to them and makes it more likely
they will call you again and recommend you to their friends. And the
demo disc is particularly useful for remote troubleshooting. If a
client calls and complains that the picture doesn't look right, you can
have them play the demo disc—if that looks right, the problem is not
with your calibration. (My favorite horror story from Michael involves
a client who complained that his picture was green. After driving 75
miles, Michael discovered that the display was fine—the client had been
watching The Matrix!)
Of course, you can always add that $100 to the fee you charge, though I
wouldn't recommend it at first. As a new calibrator, you're better off
charging less than the going rate until you have some experience under
your belt. So what is the going rate? According to Gregg and Michael,
between $450 and $550, depending on the type of display.
Even if you don't offer the kit to your clients, you still get
to promote yourself as a THX-certified calibrator. You also have access
to various online resources, such as service-menu codes and forums for
calibrators to share info and ask questions.
Unfortunately, the course and kit fees are not the end of your
up-front costs. You must also buy the equipment necessary to perform
video calibrations. The primary tools include a signal generator,
colorimeter or spectroradiometer, and software for your laptop that
records the measurements and generates reports. For professional-level
products, this requires an investment of $4000 to $20,000.
As Gregg points out, the best calibrators are enthusiasts
themselves. If you're an enthusiast who has thought about making a
career of video calibration, and you have the financial wherewithal to
afford the training and equipment, the THX video-tech course is an
excellent place to start.
If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to email@example.com.