A new wave of wearable technology is helping people with hearing loss enjoy movies and theatrical productions.
Films and stage plays are immersive because they involve several senses. This feature is what attracts general audiences, but it can also turn people with hearing loss away. While they couldn’t experience these shows before fully, this may be changing.
Israeli tech company GalaPro first made waves when they introduced a live captioning app in 2018. The software displays subtitles in real-time during performances, allowing patrons with hearing loss to see what people are saying. On top of subtitles, the GalaPro app also displays descriptions of music and sound effects, much like closed captioning on TVs.
GalaPro is now making its captioning services hands-free. With help from Epson, the company is developing smart glasses that can display live subtitles.
Providing Live Captions with Smart Glasses
The smart glasses use augmented reality (AR) technology to display captions in front of audience members. They work much the same as the GalaPro app but don’t require viewers to look down at their phones to see the captions. Without having to use devices, people with hearing loss can fully immerse themselves in the show.
Other audience members won’t be distracted by people having their phones out, either. Device use in the theater was one of the primary concerns with the GalaPro app, and the smart glasses solve that problem. It’s a more convenient technology for everyone involved.
Theater employees will assist patrons in setting up the glasses, helping them adjust subtitle size and brightness to their preference. Because the captions display on the lenses, no matter where audience members look or turn their heads, they can see them. GalaPro and Epson designed them not to be distracting, though, so the text appears at the bottom of the viewer’s field of vision, right below the action on stage.
The technology works with several different pairs of Epson glasses, giving theaters options when it comes to buying them. Prices for the smart glasses range from $700 to $1,200, depending on the model.
GalaPro and Epson are partnering with the Shubert Organization to test the glasses at Shubert theaters. Thirty-four locations currently support the GalaPro app, some of which are now testing the glasses. It’s unclear how long the trial phase will be or when the technology will be available to more theaters, as well as the general public.
How It Works
The glasses use the same techniques as the GalaPro app to deliver accurate captions. The service can show subtitles in real-time by using both a transcript of the show and voice-recognition software.
Shows have to provide GalaPro with a copy of the transcript so that they can display captions for sound cues and music. GalaPro’s voice-recognition technology ensures precise timing by recognizing when actors begin and finish speaking. It also helps account for variations that may occur from performance to performance, such as if actors improvise a line or pause for longer than usual.
Transcripts and voice recognition features can run through the GalaPro app. This way, patrons could purchase their own pairs of glasses, removing any obstacles that could come with connecting to the theater’s systems.
Some concerns over the technology still linger. At their current price, the glasses will be viable for theaters but may be too expensive for some theatergoers who wish to own a pair.
Another potential issue comes with different people’s visual needs. Fitting for a standard pair of glasses generally takes into consideration factors such as face shape and pupillary distance to ensure the glasses are comfortable and safe for their wearers. Accounting for variations such as this may prove challenging for the hi-tech frames.
Indeed, some viewers who’ve tested the glasses did find them uncomfortable. The advantages offered by the smart glasses don’t mean much if they hinder audience members’ immersion by feeling awkward.
Despite these obstacles, the smart captioning glasses represent a significant step forward in technology. GalaPro even hopes the technology can serve more people than just those with hearing loss as well. The service can translate the text into other languages, allowing non-English speakers to understand the dialogue better. Companies hope they can one day help those with vision loss or autism as they continue to develop their wearable technology.
Gadgets like GalaPro’s Epson glasses are opening up new possibilities for people of all conditions and abilities. As technology develops, companies will hopefully be able to offer help to more people!