ISF, THX Certification
A new home theater projector and you want to get the most out of it. Some of you are hard core enthusiasts, you'll tweak your projectors constantly trying to improve the picture. Many of you will do this with end user calibration discs, some of you even own light meters (the really hard-core), but many of us, to maximize the investment, will seek out a professional to calibrate their projector and often related other gear.
Today, you see many projectors now sporting an "ISF Certified" label. ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) is an organization of professional, certified calibrators. The projectors that bear that logo, have two things. 1. Sufficient color controls to allow a professional calibrator to do their job properly, and, 2. Two additional saved setting modes, password protected, for the calibrators (ISF Day, ISF Night).
THX is a name you are well familiar with from audio. Just over a year ago, they got into the certification game as well, with their own standards of performance. The first THX certified projectors were $30,000 and up. Today, in this report, we see the under $10,000 THX certified projectors, the JVC DLA-RS25 and RS35. For even less money, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, and the Pro 9500UB also are THX certified. At least in the case of the RS20, there is a THX mode pre-calibrated picture mode (and while not perfect, in my opinion), that preset mode is comparable to the best examples of "out of the box" color accuracy.
Is it critical that a projector be ISF certified? No, not at all, there are fully excellent projectors that aren't. In fact, the lack of ISF certification is intentional with some manufacturers. Take Epson for example: Their Home Cinema projectors (6500UB and 6100) are not certified. Thos projectors are sold online. To provide "extra value" for their Pro series (7500UB, 7100) which are almost identical, the Pros have ISF certification, while the Home series do not. Considering even the Home Series has 10 presets What is important, is that you realize that there are things you can do to get the most out of your projector, and one of those is to hire a calibrator, or a dealer who has or works with one.
Note that the list for THX is pretty short - just two manufacturers. In the more expensive space, though, Runco (and their Vidikron brand) have a number of THX certified models, all way over $10,000 and a couple 10x that amount.
To me, having the THX certification is most important for their THX mode. Basically you are getting THX's idea of correct calibration. It's just that they are creating just one set of settings for all projectors of one model. We all know there's slight variation in color from lamp to lamp, etc. (even a lamp changes it's color temp characteristics over its life). As such, a professional calibrator should be able to come up with even better results, but you will rarely, if ever, find any preset mode on any non-THX certified projectors, that looks as good as the THX mode on these Epsons and JVCs.