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Razer buys THX to go beyond games

Razer stood for gaming peripherals. By buying THX, the former Lucasfilm brand, it hopes to become a more general-purpose entertainment powerhouse.

Hear that? It's the sound of a video game electronics company getting even more ambitious.

Razer, best known for gaming computer mice, said Monday it bought THX, the former Lucasfilm brand known for deep, powerful sound.

In 1983, George Lucas created THX to make sure "Return of the Jedi" felt just right in theaters, with true-to-the-original sound. THX has been certifying audiovisual systems ever since, including the ones in consumer products like Panasonic TVs, Onkyo A/V receivers and Lincoln cars.

A THX-certified sound system in a Lincoln vehicle from 2007.

CNET Networks

Together, Razer is hoping the two brands might add up to a single "entertainment powerhouse." Terms of the transaction weren't disclosed.

Neither brand is going away, according to Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan and THX CEO Ty Ahmad-Taylor, in interviews with CNET. In fact, the two companies say they'll operate independently.

"They're going to have their own direction, they're going to have their own customer base and operating with their own management and vision and so forth," says Tan. Razer plans to retain all of THX's existing 50-person staff, and THX will hire an additional 10-15 people to expand its core certification businesses, says Ahmad-Taylor.

You shouldn't expect to see any "THX by Razer" or other such cross-branding, says Tan. But the thought is that, perhaps behind the scenes, the two companies could work together.

"We see a lot of potential to have the expertise of THX applied in new categories like virtual reality, and spacial surround sound," says Tan, adding that THX's patents in those areas might be valuable. Facebook's Oculus, one of today's VR leaders, found itself licensing and buying VR audio technology before getting its headset off the ground.

Razer is one of the chief backers, and primary manufacturer, of the OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) initative.


Separately, Razer may be eyeing more physical audio products. "We're one of the biggest when it comes to headsets, but we haven't really expanded our audio line because we're intent on having the best out there," says Tan.

Still, Razer suggests it won't automatically get the THX seal of approval on its products. "We do hope to get our products certified by THX," he adds.

On the THX side, Ahmad-Taylor says his new corporate overlords are mostly helping him expand the certification business further and gain access to new markets in China. Now that the cinema business has changed, he sees Bluetooth speakers, streaming video, cable set-top-boxes, mobile phones and tablets as the biggest opportunities for THX to provide some clarity.

With millennials, he notes, their home theater is often just a single Bluetooth speaker paired to a smartphone.

The Razer Blade Stealth laptop, and its optional graphics dock.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Each year, it gets harder to define Razer as a company. In 1999, the founders of Razer released a single gaming mouse, but today Razer doesn't just sell peripherals -- the 1,000-person company designs its own laptops, set-top boxes, speakers and wearable gadgets, and maintains five brick-and-mortar retail stores around the world. Razer even designs many of its own keyboard and mouse switches now.

"Razer is everything between the game and the gamer," says Tan.

And THX? "From entertainment, to the entertained," says Razer's chief executive. "This transaction helps us vault as a company to not just focus on gaming, but this entire space."