Your Television Is Smarter Than You Think!

The term Television actually means “to see at a distance”. It has been instrumental in keeping us informed, entertained, teaching us about the world, and keeping us “company” at times. A noise in the background as we read or do other mundane things that wouldn’t be as much fun in a totally quiet room. But imagine if your whole world was silent, without any sound at all.

May is National Hearing Awareness Month, and a good time to talk about this and become aware that we don’t just use Television to see things. We hear things and feel things from it. Surely, emotions can run from anger to happiness in images we see and sounds we hear, but what if one or the other is missing? Our local Sertoma Club is celebrating May by promoting awareness about hearing loss with their “Celebrate Sound, Don’t Walk In Silence” walk on May 2. Here’s the link for more information on their fundraising activity next week.

Your modern day digital television set is a complicated device, but it has some really cool features you should explore. If you are suffering from hearing loss or visual impairment, your TV can help you enjoy the many shows it features without missing a thing.

The main thing we all should know is that every program on TV in America contains closed captioning of the dialog for people having trouble hearing. Even if you don’t need it, it’s a great feature to have on. If the phone rings, mute the volume and you can continue watching your show and keep up with the dialog by reading the text on the screen. It can also help you learn to read faster! Programmers use several tricks to help you understand which character is talking. Often they lead the line of text with the person’s name that is speaking. Other shows, the text shifts position on the screen to align with the person speaking if more than one is on the screen at the same time. The person on the right side of the screen will have their text below them, while the text will shift to the left of the screen when the other person speaks.

Most modern sets allow you to change the color of the letters, as well as the background and font. I tend to like the white letters on the black background since that’s what I am used to, but it can be customized for your personal preference. While most programs are pre-recorded, the people who enter the text, called captioners, can ensure the text is synchronized with the words the actors are saying.

Now, our local news is a little different. WNCN has used live captioners for many years. This means the captioner listens to every word and transcribes them to text that is displayed on your TV. The actual process means when our Anchors speak, the sound travels over the phone system to the captioner’s ear. They type what they hear which is sent back to the station on a modem to our encoder that embeds the data in the picture that is broadcast to your home. Live news captions tend to be about three to five seconds behind the audio as the anchors speak. We make every effort to get that time down as short as possible, but there’s only so much you can do to prevent some delay. The best part about live captions is that every word is captioned during the newscast, including interviews, weather and sports.

Naturally, typing that fast can introduce some mistakes. You would not want to see any text I type really fast! Some are amusing, but still get the point across. You may often see the “Neuse River” spelled “Noose River”. It happens, but we try to make sure these captioners are up to date on local spellings as best we can. We never know who the captioners are for any given show. They live anywhere across the country and most work from home, so it just depends on who is available when we need them. The company we currently use is named Caption Colorado, and they are one of the biggest caption suppliers in the country.

It is very important to have a stable signal from your antenna for captions to display correctly. A weak signal will sometimes cause the letters to get scrambled on the screen making it difficult to read. That’s why I always recommend a great antenna to get the best reception possible.

Another feature of your TV many people may not use is called SAP, short for Secondary Audio Program. Originally it was used mainly for a Spanish audio track, but could be any language supplied by the network or program provider. Most NFL Games as well as the Olympics will still offer Spanish on the SAP channel.

Just recently, a new use was added for visually impaired users. The SAP channel is used by a narrator that describes what the actors are doing on the screen for people who cannot see. The first wide use of it was on the annual showing of “It’s A Wonderful Life” narrated by George Herbert Walker Bush. This is my favorite way to watch this classic movie each year because it’s amazing to think a former president is describing the action in a classic movie. Today, several shows during primetime will have Descriptive Audio anyone can listen to. It’s pretty cool to switch over and listen to it, and imagine how exciting it is for someone that has only been able to hear TV shows in the past!

Coming up later in May, the FCC has mandated that all emergency messages must be “spoken” on the SAP channel for visually impaired people to stay updated on severe weather and other emergencies in the area. This one is a bit trickier than the other special features, and its doubtful most stations will be able to make the deadline. It’s a lot harder for software to read text and convert it to speech, which is recognizable. We are working with the vendors to get this in place, but it’s not going to be easy. The concept is whenever we air a crawl for a tornado warning, for example, we must also have it verbally air on the SAP channel. There are some major flaws in the new law and broadcasters are working to meet the deadline, but it’s going to be tough. If the crawl is updated often, the audio will switch to the audio of the text and knock out descriptive audio or second language audio. It’s a great idea, but the technology is not where it needs to be at this time and the vendors are trying to keep up with supplying stations with this new equipment.

Hopefully you will play with these features on your TV set and try to imagine how Americans with disabilities have to cope with everyday things that we often take for granted. Oh yeah, my hearing assessment appointment is scheduled for May 11. Take a minute to think about how many times you have said “What? Repeat that?” Or the spouse’s favorite, “You always mumble”. Don’t suffer from hearing loss any longer, but if it is irreversible, remember the features of your digital television are there to help!

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