Logo: University of Southern California

IMSC Sound Magician Wins IEEE Honor

Lucasfilm veteran played key role in creating namesake THX theater sound systems
John Zollinger
January 09, 2007 —

Holman receiving a previous award:  "This honor is especially significant because it comes from engineers," he said of IEEE  honor.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has selected Tomlinson Holman to receive the 2007 Masaru Ibuka Award, recognizing his contribution to the development of advanced audio and cinema multi-channel playback systems.

Holman will be presented with his award at the IEEE’s International Conference on Consumer Electronics at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 13. Sponsored by the Masaru Ibuka Fund, the prize highlights outstanding contributions in the field of consumer electronics technology.

“This honor is especially significant because it comes from engineers,” said Holman, who is a principal investigator in the Integrated Media Systems Center’s Immersive Audio Lab at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and has also been teaching at the USC School of Cinematic Arts since 1987. “What we do in entertainment is so different, and it’s really a surprise to be recognized for work that I started to do in the ’60s.”

Without Holman’s involvement, the home theater experience would be vastly different from what we know today. During his 15-year tenure as chief engineer of post-production and then corporate technical director for Lucasfilm, Holman developed the THX (Tomlinson Holman eXperiment) Sound System in 1983 to ensure that the soundtrack for the film Return of the Jedi would be reproduced accurately in theaters. THX is a baseline set of standards designed to eliminate background noise, enhance image quality and projection, improve room acoustics, and utilize THX-approved equipment for optimal sound reproduction. The standard has since spread from movie houses to applications as diverse as home theaters and automobiles.

The prize joins a long line of accolades Holman has received, including winning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Technical Achievement Award in 2001 for his work on THX. Holman, who is a senior member of IEEE, holds seven U.S. and 23 foreign patents. He is also a fellow of the Audio Engineering Society, the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society, and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

The Ibuka Award was established by the IEEE Board of Directors in 1987 to recognize outstanding contributions in the field of consumer electronics technology. It is named after Dr. Masaru Ibuka, honorary chairman and co-founder of the Sony Corporation.