Cinema for the hearing impaired

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.captiview1

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.captiview2

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.

Daniel is an Assistive Communications Device Specialist at Blamey Saunders hears
Daniel was diagnosed with a progressive hearing impairment in his early teens. Over the last 15 years, it took a more noticeable toll on his social and work life, but he determined to not let his impairment get the better of him; Daniel is currently studying Audiometry so that he can help others with a hearing loss. “Knowing that I’m helping to give back to a client one of their most vital means for communication is rewarding beyond measure”. Daniel speaks from experience when he imparts the following: “As we get older our hearing is likely to deteriorate, especially in frequencies vital to understanding speech. While we’re younger it is essential that we do all we can to protect our ears from loud noise so that a loss of hearing does not impact our quality of life in later years.”
Share this:


  1. totally agree but have not tried the Captiview. Actually, I find netflix at home to be the absolute best for CC, subtitles. The subtitles are small but readable so do not obscure the movie and it seems that Netflix get them specially done as i have watched some older movies that I would not expect to have subtitles and they did.

    My wife who hears perfectly was often annoyed by DVDs or TV where the subtitles were quite large and partially obscured scenes.

    Ian Brown
  2. The capti-view system provides a very poor experience for those with a hearing loss, especially for those who use captions as their only method of understanding dialogue. They are unable to see who’s mouth is moving and read the captions at the same time. Any environmental sounds such as an explosion are not provided, anyone speaking off screen is captioned but you have no way of knowing who is speaking.

    The system regularly breaks down and if you want to see a popular new movie you’ll probably be waiting a few weeks to see it.

    I’m a clinical audiologist and my partner is Deaf meaning he relies on Auslan as his method of communication. Captiview has taken any joy out of going to the cinemas and we’re left with the very rare sessions where open captions are provided. There has to be a better way, the cinemas preach accessability but do not provide it.

    I see the world of sound from many views, hearing, Deaf, audiologist and capti-view is the worst solution out of the many amazing solutions available on the market around the world.

    1. Hi Matt, I’m sorry to hear of your partner’s bad experience with Captiview. I agree, more needs to be done in this area. What do you think needs to be done to improve accessibility?

  3. I was a huge fan of cinema and often would go to my local 2-3 times a week. As my significant hearing loss progressed, attending the cinema receded into the far distance because I simply could not understand the dialogue. It has to be at least 25+ years since I have enjoyed anything on a big screen. I now have 2 cochlear implants and even with these, going to the cinema is still not a viable option. I tried Captiview and absolutely hated it – it was obvious to me that this system was designed by a hearing person!
    My current solution is to get whatever movies/series etc I want and for those without sub-titles, I look online for the relevant English sub-titles, although that does not always work if they have not been synchronised with the video.
    My suggestion? Have all movies shown in cinemas, display the included sub-titles. It will probably never happen, at least not in my lifetime!

  4. I don’t understand why there isn’t a system similar to 3D – glasses are required to see 3D movies, surely the same or a similar technology could be developed so that subtitles are only visible to those wearing the glasses?

  5. Why won’t the cinemas just ensure the induction loop is working 100%?
    I have profound hearing loss but can hear perfectly with my hearing aids and use the induction loop where available.
    My experience lately has been the cinemas (Hoyts) opting out of induction loop and going for handing out a wireless headphone set.
    I find this embarrassing and have opted not to use them. Instead, why will they not just sort out the induction loop or hand out Bluetooth devices????


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *