CEA – UK published report on cinema subtitling technology and my experience in the USA

Back in March 2013, some, including myself were lucky enough to take part in a trial to test some personalised technology that provides subtitles to cinemas. The trial took place in London and was organised by the Cinema Exhibitors Association and they have now published the results to those that attended. I have summarised the main points below:

The project was designed to gather:

  • Findings from a demonstration of four of the leading CC technologies for interested industry partners;
  • Initial and headline structured feedback from a small sample of people with varying degrees of hearing loss on their experience of using the systems;
  • And preliminary feedback from an operator perspective on the potential management, practical and technical considerations around each of the systems.

The suppliers and products involved were:

  • Doremi – Captiview for CC, and Fidelio for audio description (AD) and hearing assist.
  • Sony – Entertainment Access Glasses (SEAG) for CC and connecting headphones for AD and hearing assist.
  • USL – Captionwear glasses and screens for CC and connecting headphones for AD and hearing assist.

While the AD functionalities of the products were part of the industry showcase, the audience screenings concentrated solely on CC, that being the technology which offers something completely new for customers.

For more details read the CEA’s published report. Now that this detail has finally been released I can talk more freely about the device I got to test. I was given the Captiview device to watch the movie Wreck It Ralph. The good thing about it was that the subtitles worked, were pretty accurate with the exception of a few letters dropping of the ends of words at the end of a line on the screen. They were easy to follow for someone used to reading subtitles but trying to watch the action on screen is much harder and so the movie experience itself was not as immersive as it would’ve been through no fault of the movie itself. More recently whilst on holiday in the United States I got to use the device again in a real screening for Iron Man 3:

I got a few strange looks from some people in the cinema who clearly hadn’t seen this device being used before but that didn’t bother me. What did bother me was the fact that I couldn’t get the device positioned correctly. Why? Because the device is supposed to sit in the cup holder on your seat. Except in this cinema it didn’t fit correctly. This made it an even worse experience than during the trial where the device was fitted for me and correctly before sitting in my seat. Again whilst the subtitles were accurate, it’s the practicality of using the device that left me feeling a bit disheartened by it all. For a start, collecting a device at the point that you purchase the ticket, and then having to carry it around. It is not very heavy but it is bulky. Trying to juggle carrying that whilst also purchasing popcorn, and then what if you want a toilet visit prior to being allowed into the cinema to take your seat? What do you do with the piece of kit you are carrying around? (I hope the cinema’s that provide these devices consider hygiene and that they are wiped clean after each use).

Back in the UK and open subtitled cinema screenings has been a bit of mixed bag. I failed to get to see Star Trek into Darkness with subtitles because the advertised subtitled screening I wanted to go to got cancelled. More recently though I did get to successfully go to a subtitled screening of Man Of Steel. A life long fan of Superman, Man of Steel is actually the first ever Superman-related subtitled cinema screening I have attended. To be able to hear all the dialogue prior to the movies DVD release and turning on the subtitles months after struggling to watch it without is a complete joy and something I suspect hearing people take for granted (I can’t tell you the number of movies I’ve re-watched on DVD with the subtitles on after its cinema release to find myself thinking ‘Oh, so that’s what they said, now I get it!’).

Will the UK see personalised subtitling solutions in cinemas? The CEA don’t have an answer for that just yet. Since the feedback from the trials was mixed and sometimes conflicting I hope that there are more trials to come before committing to the right technological solution. The CEA have said that if/when there is further progress they will make this known so keep an eye on the CEA website.