Video but no Audio
Exercise in any sports club or fitness club and you are likely to see banks of television screens suspended from the ceiling. These screens are usually in the equipment area and each is tuned to a different station – with no audio. Intended to “entertain” users of the various pieces of cardiovascular or weight training equipment, much of the equipment is sophisticated enough that it is possible to plug in a set of headphones and pass the time away watching and listening to whatever program strikes your fancy.
But I digress. What interests me about this scenario is the silence of the televisions. In the environment of a fitness center, the absence of audio is the norm and is accepted whereas in other settings it would not be.
I thought about this recently when I read a news item from the BBC about an innovative project from Sony Digital Cinema that could make going to movies a more tempting option for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Sony has an developed an experimental pair of glasses that will allow movie goers to see on-screen subtitles, even when none are being projected. The glasses are for use primarily by the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and use LEDs to provide a heads-up display, superimposed over the movie. The words appear to the eye to be the same distance away as the movie screen, just like any other heads-up-display.
Subtitle Glasses Anyone?
The average moviegoer dislikes subtitles. For the hearing impaired, this creates a dilemma: few theaters run films with subtitles or closed captioning, or if they do, the captioned showings are often limited to specific days and times, making DVD and Blu-ray releases the only reliable option for watching movies.
The subtitle glasses have a great deal of potential. For hearing-impaired movie buffs, the glasses will enable them to attend any screening rather than having to schedule their lives around special subtitled showings. The glasses could also be used to show different foreign-language subtitles to different viewers. Sony believes that the subtitle glasses have the potential for other applications too. The glasses could incorporate a small microphone and voice recognition software, providing real-time subtitles. This feature would make simultaneous conversation transcription possible so that deaf people could read what’s being said to them during the course of a conversation.
How the Subtitle Glasses Work
The glasses look a bit like the shutter glasses you have to wear when watching a 3D film, but the hardware on either side of the lenses actually projects the subtitles on the glass. So no matter where the viewer is looking, they’re still visible. Similar to active 3D glasses, the subtitle glasses need to have some way of syncing with a film to track proper subtitle timing. The subtitle glasses are one of the more practical and realistic implementations of augmented reality but they aren’t perfect. Unlike regular subtitles which always sit at the bottom of the screen, those displayed by the glasses follow the movement of the head. Get used to it though; this could become a feature, eliminating the need to keep glancing down. Although the glasses are in the prototype stage now, if they ever do go into production, the electronics will be streamlined so that the glasses don’t look so bulky.
Sony anticipates that the glasses will not only to be welcomed by hard of hearing cinema-goers, but also by the film industry and cinemas around the world. In theory, the glasses should encourage higher audience numbers at movie theaters meaning both the film companies and the cinemas make more money. Although Sony indicates they have more trials to carry out to perfect the technology, it is expected that the glasses will begin appearing in UK theaters in 2012. To see the glasses in use: Cinema subtitle glasses give promise to deaf film fans