We live in a highly cinematic society. Every year, millions of eager fans flock to their favorite genre movies and line up on communal couches to catch up on their cult hit television shows. People rant and rave online about the ridiculous number of episodes they “binge-watched” on Netflix. It’s all a bit overwhelming! But this can quickly transform into a challenging and even self-loathing affair if our hearing problems get in the way of a good time. If we can’t understand what the characters are saying, then we might not follow the plot, and we’ll certainly lose track of all the intricacies and nuances which come together to create rich stories with meaningful themes. We’re lost, struggling to keep up as our friends laugh at every joke and make commentary amongst themselves.
Today we’ll discuss a few ways you can get back into the shows you enjoy and even maximize your listening potential at the movies. A lot of this might seem like common sense, but we’ve strung it all together in a quick go-to guide so you can get refreshed on the wonderful options available to hearing-impaired individuals like you (and me).
It’s been decades since the days when not every new TV came with CC — that’s “Closed Captions” — but not all aural technology is created equally. Traditional CC is very messy; there’s a high margin for error, especially in the realm of live television like news reports and sports games. The tech just doesn’t have much time to work its magic, and the result is a terribly high number of mistakes in the transcription.
So we’ve established that CC is a bit of a wash. Of course, for folks who are completely deaf, there really aren’t many other choices on the market. But for those of us with varying degrees of lower-than-average hearing comprehension, there are televisions with plenty of options better than just closed captions. Manufacturers like Samsung and Sony have gotten into the market for “Smart TVs”, which is a little like a “smartphone” in that you have countless opportunities to download apps which can do all sorts of things. Some of these apps work through your TV’s native settings to improve acoustics and overall volume, granting you a clearer sound, or let you overwrite the white-on-black somewhat ugly design scheme of standard captions with a multitude of other styles. Some of these styles are easier on the eyes, and some highlight which characters are speaking, their position, their manner-of-tone, all kinds of parameters which will help you to immerse yourself in the episode.
Alongside useful apps, newer-model TVs also offer a variety of plug-in choices for peripheral devices such as headphones. The market is now bursting with devices specifically labeled “hearing headsets”, which is a bit of a goofy name given that all headsets relate to hearing, but bear with us — this type is particularly well-suited to people with hearing loss. Look for buzz terms like “amplified” and “assistive”, which help denote that hearing aid technology is embedded into the system. The beauty of these devices is that some of them even allow you to keep outputting through your TV’s traditional sound system, meaning your weekly Game of Thrones get-togethers can continue. You’ll just happen to have a nice pair of headphones on while your compadres kick back all around you.
We’ve gone over a couple of ways to improve your at-home television experience, but we haven’t touched Hollywood. Unfortunately, there’s no all-powerful way to make the silver screen friendlier to troubled ears, but there are a handful of things you can do to improve your odds. Firstly, you’ll want to sit somewhere around the eighth to fourteenth row back. In most theaters, this will put you around the forward-middle section, where many companies place a big set of speakers. You don’t want to sit closer to the front, because you’re actually less likely to hear quite as well. And you don’t want to sit further back, where another set of speakers is likely to be, either; you may experience a bit of dissonance from feeling so far away from the picture. (Little things like that can become more apparent to us when our hearing is diminished, similar to how folks who lose one sense report a stronger affiliation with their remaining senses.)
You also have an alternative: gone are the days of Blockbuster Video, but there’s always Redbox and similar DVD rental kiosks. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find these automatic marvels in front of your local grocery store, gas station, and even library. The benefit here is that you’ll be able to control the volume and use hearing aids on must-see movies without having to wait months or even years for home video release. Traditionally, movies now hit the Redbox rental stage within a month or two of leaving cinema. Save up for a swanky home theater system and buy some popcorn. Treat yourself to the full experience without sacrificing a decibel of fun.