Samuel Dore: What I thought of Sony’s subtitled glasses for cinemas

Posted on February 28, 2016

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Earlier this week I was invited by Tim Potter, Sony Professional Europe’s Business Development Manager, to a demonstration of their Entertainment Access Glasses.

I expressed an interest in how they could be a solution for a more personal cinema experience and give deaf people the chance to watch any film at any time without worrying about finding a subtitled showing.

I was joined by a representative from the Cinema Exhibitors Association who are very keen to see how they could encourage cinemas in the UK to incorporate the glasses in their screenings.

At present cinemas in the US have already adopted the glasses and the UK are yet to catch up.

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Firstly, the glasses works by connecting wirelessly to the DCP (Digital Cinema Package that contains the films) in the projector booth and finds the captions of the film you are watching.

It then projects green holographic subtitles in front of the wearer’s eyes. You are able to adjust their distance from your eyes, their brightness and angle of your glasses, you even can choose the language of the subtitles you want and can latch 3D lenses on top of them.

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As soon as I put the glasses on I felt a niggle about how people with certain needs have to have specialised equipment for an experience that is supposed to be relaxing and comfortable – such as going to the cinema.

I didn’t really mind wearing fairly bulky and strange-looking glasses in the cinema – after all we’ve been wearing 3D glasses – but what was important was how the captions worked and they do work very well.

You have closed captions, your own captions and I could see the possibilities were endless, that, as long as the DCP had captions, you could walk into any screening with a pair of those glasses.

But for me it’s not about access it’s about comfort when viewing the film.

The main problem was my eyesight, as I’m short sighted in my left eye which meant I struggled to focus on the captions then to the film and back again. The best way was to close my left eye which helped but I couldn’t possibly keep it closed for two hours unless I wore a pirates’ eye patch.

The CEA representative, who had 20/20 vision, said she could read the captions comfortably but I was left with a headache and slight nausea after just 10 minutes, not unlike how I felt after watching 3D films.

So, essentially if you had bad eyesight then you would have to wear the glasses over your everyday glasses or put contact lenses in – like my wife does whenever we watch 3D films.

As the captions appear in front of your glasses this means that wherever you look the captions follow so it was very disorientating, especially when I was looking at an area of the screen and the captions would be there even if they were obscuring a character’s face or if I looked at my colleagues sitting next to me and the captions would still be there on their faces.

On one hand this would mean you’d never miss a single line of dialogue (even if you went to the toilet next door) but on the other hand if a scene had lots of action and colour happening obscuring the captions, I had to look at the black space around the screen to be able to read them clearly.

After the demonstration I expressed my honesty to Tim about not enjoying the cinema glasses experience as much as I had hoped but I was speaking as someone who’s very particular about how I watch films, and the large majority of people don’t, they just want to kick back and switch off when watching films.

I always want to get the most out of my film watching experience and enjoy it, so the best way for me is open captions (i.e. subtitles on the lower middle part of the screen) all the way through.

I find I engage with a film much more if the subtitles are in their traditional position – they become part of the film. I don’t even mind when films like Man on Fire (2004) experiments with the position and typography of their subtitles as long as they are open captions.

Tim mentioned that during pilots with the glasses, the majority of people said they preferred open captions.

I assume they found them to be uncomfortable and a hindrance and Tim was blunt about the fact the glasses was not an ideal solution but it was forward-thinking, that there are people who like to use them but there are not enough of them available.

The other problem is in the UK cinemas are under no obligation to provide access, they are instead given recommendations and they already find subtitled screenings fairly problematic whether it’s scheduling, technical problems and gaining revenue from. So the fact they have to update their cinema projection technology as well as paying £700 for each pair of glasses hasn’t got them any more enthusiastic.

Tim said they are keen for the cost of the glasses to drop significantly. Perhaps the prices would be low enough for people to purchase their own pairs but I said I wouldn’t want to pay for my own pair anyway, so the CEA and Sony plan on finding a solution to get the cinemas to incorporate the glasses.

It was refreshing to be honest with someone like Tim about the fact that if we continue with open caption screenings, there are always hearing people and cinemas who will find them a hindrance.

Equally, there will always be Deaf / Hard of Hearing people who complain about wearing bulky glasses even if it means they can go to any film they like. There isn’t a real solution at the moment but at least we have options.

With thanks to Tim Potter and Sony Professional Europe

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