I’m a movie buff….or at least I used to be.
There was nothing I would enjoy more than losing myself in a great (or sometimes trashy) movie.
Losing my hearing substantially over the past 20 years however meant that I now find it very difficult to enjoy the cinema like I used to. It’s not that I don’t hear what’s going on but rather that I just don’t understand what’s being said.
Hearing aids assist with speech comprehension in all manner of circumstances, but they don’t really deal well with the immersive surround-sound systems installed in cinemas coupled with the movie soundtrack.
I do like my movies with big bangs and over the top special effects, all of which can drown out any spoken dialogue.
I have used all manner of tactics in the past
From trying to find the ideal seat in the middle of the cinema where the sound was best, to using a remote microphone which would relay the sound directly to my hearing aids via telecoil, none of these techniques offered a suitable solution.
I would always struggle to understand the movie, often needing to research the movie synopsis online to fill the gaps that I missed. Turning up the volume on my aid didn’t help as that just made all the other sounds in the movie (not to mention the sounds of other movie viewers eating) ludicrously loud.
Not really ideal enjoyment of a movie when you can hear the crunching of popcorn like the sound of an avalanche.
Of course the era of home cinema meant I could watch the movie again at home with subtitles … some many months later …. when it was released on DVD or Bluray.
Most of Australia’s cinemas have induction (telecoil) loop systems installed in their auditoriums which can be great…when they work.
Unfortunately, especially with some of the older cinema complexes, the loop systems are in serious need of upgrade but even those that do work correctly tend to give a ‘hit or miss’ experience at times. You need to be sitting in the right area, as the loop system only covers a small area of the auditorium, and the system needs to be turned on!!
From my experience, often the staff at a cinema complex have no idea there is even a loop system in place, let alone how to use it.
In all the times I tried the loop system at a variety of different cinema complexes, never once did it actually work suitably!!
Another method I have tried (which I thought was quite ingenious of me at the time) was to go to a drive-in which relayed the movie soundtrack via a dedicated FM frequency. Rather than use my car’s radio to listen to the movie, I tuned in via a small portable FM radio which I plugged headphones into. This actually worked quite well as I could adjust the volume of the sound to comfort without impacting others in the car with me but it did take away from the whole social experience of watching a movie with my wife and children.
The alternative therefore is Captiview.
Available since 2009 as part of the Australian Government’s Accessible Cinema Roll Out, Captiview offers closed captioning for hearing impaired movie goers.
The term “closed” (versus “open”) indicates that the captions are not visible until activated by the viewer…. “Open”, “burned-in”, “baked on”, or “hard-coded” captions are visible to all viewers – Wikipedia
With Captiview, captions are delivered via a portable device that is placed in the seat cup holder connected to a flexible cord with a small screen at the other end. In other words, as you are watching a movie, the dialogue is relayed as captions via the screen on the device.
I had previously read many reviews about Captiview which were mostly negative but I was still extremely curious and recently tried it for myself.
Overall I understood about 80% of the dialogue which was heaps more than I usually would.
There were some major problems with the Captiview system, however, which were immediately obvious.
The system requires you to constantly refocus from the big screen to the device; this takes a bit of getting used to and requires intense concentration and multitasking. By the end of the movie I found myself exhausted and ready to doze off; therefore I can see why some people have complained of headaches and eyestrain.
I also found it difficult finding the right position for the device so that I didn’t have to turn my head back and forth constantly. There have also been complaints from deaf people who also wear glasses that adjusting focus to coordinate reading the captions while watching the movie requires them to constantly remove and replace their glasses.
During the movie I viewed, there were instances where the captions dropped out, especially during scenes where there was a lot of dialogue between characters or long sections of dialogue. It felt a little bit like reading a book where a single line of text was randomly omitted. I have heard of cases with the device failing to work at all or stopping all together mid movie.
For anyone considering trying Captiview
- It’s free so you have nothing to lose.
- Check session times for Close Captioned sessions, these are usually denoted by CC in the session information.
- Ensure you bring sufficient ID with you such as a driver’s licence, passport or something similar as the cinema complex will use this as a bond for the device.
- I recommend that you are familiar with the instructions for setting up the device and if unsure ask the cinema manager to help you do it once you are seated.
- The device itself requires one hand to carry it and therefore might require a balancing act carrying it, popcorn and a drink into the cinema. Again, you should be able to ask for a staff member to assist you if need be.
The system is far from perfect but for all its flaws I can honestly say that it was the first time in a long time that I walked out of a movie understanding most of what was said. It is hard to properly judge the Captiview device having only used it once but based upon that one experience I will definitely use it again.
It’s unfortunate in this day and age of equal opportunity there is not a better system for hearing impaired to be able to enjoy the cinema. I think the ideal solution can only be open captioned sessions which will eliminate all of the flaws with Captiview; it will not require a special device, it won’t stop working mid movie and won’t be a hindrance for hearing impaired who also wear glasses. It is inevitable, however, that such a system will raise complaints from the non-hearing impaired patrons that will find hard coded captioning in a movie annoying and distracting but at least they have the choice to view a non-captioned session. In the meantime for the hearing impaired, we have no option but to make do with what’s available.