Commentary by Lise Hamlin
This is an advocacy eNews, not a tech eNews. But when I discovered at a recent advisory council meeting that there are tech solutions to a problem we’ve been asked to solve repeatedly through advocacy efforts, we thought it deserved mention in this issue of HLAA in Action.
The question is: “Why can’t TV enhance the speech and lower the background noise on TV programming?” Until recently, we didn’t have a good answer. But surprise, we are not the only ones complaining about sound quality on newer, smarter, expensive TVs with beautiful pictures but they have lousy sound. Now that change is happening.
From a search on the Internet, we also found the solution has been around for a few years. There appears to be several choices now to find ways to enhance speech, from sound bars and external speakers in a range of prices to speech enhancement systems built into the TV itself. Sound bars seem to be the quick and easy choice. Buy the TV you want, and get better sound with an external component.
One reviewer in the Guardian (many of the reviews we found originated from Great Britain) reported about the Sonos Playbar back in 2013:
But the Playbar isn't just a dumb amp. There are two extra settings: “speech enhancement," and "night mode.”
The “speech enhancement” is for all those times when you've been watching something and the dialogue has been buried in all the other noise going on. Despite sound engineers' best efforts, the frequency range covering the human voice sometimes needs some help. The Playbar offers a simple setting which, the company told me, does “a combination of things, including lowering bass, adding some gain to the centre channel, lowering the gains of competing channels and boosting/cutting specific frequency ranges in the speech band. This combination increases speech intelligibility without sounding artificial or creating an overly unnatural spectral balance.”
The “night mode” setting is, basically, one to avoid upsetting the kids or neighbours: “Most movies are mixed with a large dynamic range [the difference between the loudest and softest sound] for a theatrical playback,” Sonos explained. “Night Mode makes the soft sounds louder and the loud sounds softer depending on volume setting. The lower the volume setting, the more compression is applied.”
If you don’t want a sound bar, you can purchase a TV that provides speech enhancement in the TV itself. For example, LG provides Clear Voice II which “enhances and amplifies the frequency range of the human voice by increasing the dialogue range up to six positions to help keep dialogue audible when background noise swells.” If you want the surrounding effects as much as the actor’s lines, Clear Voice II can also decrease the dialog range by six positions so that special effects or soundtracks are more prominent, according to LG’s blog.
We are happy to see that everyone benefits from these improvements in sound, but we are particularly pleased that these kinds of changes will provide people with hearing better access to their own television. Hurray for tech solutions!