“What did he just say?”
These are some of the most spoken words in my household. No matter how hard my wife and I turn up the TV volume, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand the cast in streaming movies and shows. we usually end up Turning on subtitles even though we are not hard of hearing,
we are not alone. In the streaming age, as video consumption moves from movie theaters to content shrinking for televisions, tablets and smartphones, making dialogue clear and unambiguous has become the entertainment world’s toughest technology challenge. about 50 percent of Americans — and most young people – watch videos with subtitles most of the time SurveyLargely because they’re struggling to understand what the actors are saying.
“It’s getting worse,” said Si Lewis, who has run Hidden Connections, a home theater installation company in Alameda, California, for nearly 40 years. “All of my clients have problems hearing dialogue, and many of them use closed captioning.”
Garbled chatter in TV shows and movies is now a widely discussed problem that tech and media companies are starting to tackle with solutions like the speech-boosting software algorithms I tested. (more on this later)
The issue is complex due to a myriad of factors. In large film productions, professional sound mixers calibrate audio levels for traditional theaters with robust speaker systems capable of delivering a wide range of sounds, from spoken words to rumbling gunshots. But when you stream that content through an app on a TV, smartphone, or tablet, the audio is “down mixed,” or compressed, to transmit sound through small, relatively weak speakers, in the media. Marina Kilian, an audio engineer, said production company Optimus.
It doesn’t help that TVs are getting thinner and smaller in design. To emphasize the picture, many modern flat-screen TVs hide their speakers, so the sound is directed away from the viewer’s ears, Mr. Lewis said.
There are also specific issues related to streaming. Unlike broadcast TV programs, which must adhere to rules that prevent them from exceeding specific sound levels, there are no such rules for streaming apps, Ms. Killian said. This means the sound can be wildly inconsistent from app to app and program to program – so if you watch a show on Amazon Prime Video and then switch to a movie on Netflix, you’re probably going to have to listen to it. Have to adjust your volume settings frequently to listen to what people are saying.
“Online is kind of like the wild, wild west,” Ms Killian said.
Subtitles are far from an ideal solution for all of this, so here are a few solutions—including ones for your home entertainment setup and speech enhancement add-ons—that can be tried.
a speaker will help
Decades ago, TV dialogue could be heard loud and clear. It was clear where the speakers lived on the television—behind the plastic grills on the front of the set, where they could beam sound directly toward you. Nowadays, even on the most expensive TVs, the speakers are small and stuffed into the back or bottom of the display.
“A TV is meant to be a TV, but it will never produce sound,” said Paul Peace, director of audio platform engineering. SonosSpeaker technology company based in Santa Barbara, California. “They’re very thin, they face downward and their exits are not directed at the audience.”
Any owner of a modern television would benefit from plugging in a separate speaker such as Soundbar, a wide, stick-shaped speaker, I’ve tested many soundbars over the past decade and they’ve improved a lot. With prices ranging from $80 to $900, they can be more budget-friendly than multispeaker surround-sound systems, and they are easier to install.
Last week, I tried out the Sonos Arc, which I set up in minutes by plugging it into a power outlet, connecting it to my TV with an HDMI cable, and using the Sonos app to calibrate the sound for my living room space. It delivered much better sound quality than my TV’s built-in speakers, with deep bass and clear dialogue.
At $900, the Sonos Arc is expensive. But it’s one of the few soundbars on the market with speech enhancement, a button that can be pressed in the Sonos app to make it easier to hear spoken words. It helped me a lot to understand the silent villain of the latest James Bond movie, “No Time To Die”.
But the Sonos soundbar’s speech enhancer was pushed to its limits with the jarring speech from the Netflix show “The Witcher.” More understandable lines could not be made, such as “We are looking for a girl and a sorceress – with her gray hair and noble face, she is a mannerless, withered animal.”
Still, I’m not sure any speakers can help with this. I kept the subtitles on for that.
communication enhancers in apps
Not everyone wants to spend more money to fix the sound on a TV that already costs hundreds of dollars. Luckily, some tech companies are starting to build their own dialogue enhancement tools into their streaming apps.
In April, Amazon rolled out an accessibility feature called Dialogue Boost for a small number of shows and movies in its Prime Video streaming app. To use it, you open the Language option and select “English Dialogue Boost: High”. I tested this device in “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” a spy thriller featuring incomprehensible, deep-voiced men.
With Dialogue Boost turned on (and the Sonos soundbar turned off), I chose scenes that were hard of hearing and wrote down what I thought the actors said. Then I watched each scene again with subtitles on to check my answers.
At the start of the show, I thought an actor said: “That’s right, you put the ring on her – I thought the two of you were trying to work it out.”
The actor actually said, “Oh, sorry, you still had the ring on — I thought the two of you were trying to sort it out.”
Another scene I lucked out with involved a phone conversation between Jack Ryan and his former boss planning to get together. After reviewing my results, I am happy to find that I got all the words correctly.
But minutes later, Jack Ryan’s boss, James Greer, uttered a line I couldn’t have guessed: “Yeah, they were using it in Karachi before I left.” Even dialogue enhancement devices can’t fix an actor’s lack of accent.
The Sonos Arc soundbar was helpful in listening to dialogue for movies and shows without turning on the speech enhancer most of the time. Speech enhancement tools made it easier to hear words in some situations, such as scenes with very soft-spoken actors, which can be useful for people with hearing impairments. For everyone else, the good news is that even installing cheap speakers that lack a dialogue mode can go a long way.
Amazon’s Dialog Booster was no magic bullet, but it’s better than nothing and a good start. I would love to see more features like this from other streaming apps. A Netflix spokesperson said the company has no plans to release a similar tool.
My last piece of advice is counterintuitive: don’t do anything with the sound settings on your TV. Mr Lewis said modern TVs have software that automatically calibrates sound levels for you – and if you mess with the settings for one show, the audio for the next show could be garbled.
And if all else fails, there are, of course, subtitles too. They are silly.