Home Business Why the dialogues on Netflix and other platforms are not well understood

Why the dialogues on Netflix and other platforms are not well understood

Why the dialogues on Netflix and other platforms are not well understood

“What did he say?”.

Those are some of the most pronounced words in my house. No matter how much my wife and I turn up the volume on the TV, it is increasingly difficult to understand the actors in movies and series that are broadcast continuously. At the end, we usually put the subtitles, although we do not have hearing problems.

We are not the only ones. In the era of streaming, as video consumption shifts from movie theaters to content that is tailored for TVs, tablets, and smartphones, making dialogue crisp and clear has become the biggest challenge. . technology in the world of entertainment. According to surveys, about 50 percent of Americans — and most young people — watch videos with closed captions most of the time, mostly because they have a hard time deciphering what the actors are saying.

“It’s getting worse,” said Si Lewis, who has run Hidden Connections, a home entertainment installation company in Alameda, California, for nearly 40 years. “All of my clients have trouble hearing dialogue and many of them use subtitles.”

Slurred chatter in TV shows and movies is now a hotly debated problem that media and tech companies are just beginning to crack with solutions like speech enhancement software algorithms, which I’ve already put to the test. (I’ll come back to this later.)

The matter is complex due to the infinity of factors in the game. In large film productions, professional sound mixers calibrate audio levels for traditional movie theaters that feature rugged speaker systems capable of delivering a wide range of sounds, from spoken words to loud gunshots. However, when streaming that content via an app to a TV, smartphone or tablet, the audio has already been “mixed” or compressed to deliver the sounds through tiny, relatively weak speakers, explained Marina Killion, an engineer audio from the media production company Optimus.

It doesn’t help that the design of televisions is becoming thinner and more minimalist. To emphasize the picture, many modern flat-panel TVs hide the speakers, thereby directing sound away from the viewer’s ears, Lewis said.

There are also characteristic problems of continuous broadcasting. Unlike TV shows, which must comply with regulations that prohibit exceeding certain volume levels, streaming apps are not governed by those regulations, Killion said. That means sound can vary a lot from app to app and show to show, so if you watch a show on Amazon Prime Video and then switch to a movie on Netflix, you may have to adjust the volume several times. . to hear what people say.

“The Internet is like the Wild West,” Killion opined.

Closed captioning is far from an ideal solution to all of this, so here are some resources you can try, like add-ons for your home entertainment system and voice-enhancing features.

Decades ago, dialogue on television could be heard loud and clear. It was obvious where the speakers were in a TV: behind a plastic grill embedded in the front of the TV, from where it could send sound directly to you. These days, even in the most expensive TVs, the speakers are small and crammed to the back or bottom of the screen.

“A TV is meant to be a TV, but it will never feature sound,” said Paul Peace, director of audio platform engineering at Sonos, the Santa Barbara, California-based speaker technology company. “They are too skinny, they are down, and their exits are not directed at the public.”

Anyone with a modern TV will benefit from connecting a standalone speaker, such as a sound bar, a stick speaker. I’ve tried many sound bars over the past decade and they’ve gotten a whole lot better. Priced from $80 to $900, they can be more complicated than a multi-speaker surround sound system and are easier to install.

A few weeks ago I tried the Sonos Arc, a bar that I set up in minutes, plugging it into an electrical outlet, connecting it to the TV with an HDMI cable, and using the Sonos app to calibrate the sound for my living room space. With deep bass and crisp dialogue, they produced much richer sound quality than my TV’s built-in speakers.

The Sonos Arc is expensive, retailing for $900. However, it’s one of the few soundbars on the market with a voice enhancement feature, a button you can press in the Sonos app to make speech clearer. It made a world of difference in understanding the babbling villain from the latest James Bond movie, No time to die.

But the Sonos soundbar’s speech enhancer reached its limit with the jarring colloquialisms of the Netflix show, The Wizard. She couldn’t make lines of dialogue like “we’re looking for a girl and a warlock, she with ashen hair and a patrician countenance, he a pale, mannerless brute” more understandable.

Then again, I’m not sure any speaker can help with that. I left closed captioning on for that show.

Not everyone wants to spend more money fixing the sound on a TV that already costs hundreds of dollars. Luckily, some tech companies are starting to incorporate their own dialogue enhancers into their streaming apps.

In April, Amazon rolled out an accessibility feature, called “dialogue boost,” for a small number of shows and movies on its Prime Video streaming app. To use it, you have to open the language options and choose “English Dialogue Boost: High”. Try the tool on jack ryanthe spy series with a cast of men with particularly deep and unintelligible voices.

With dialogue enhancement on (and the Sonos sound bar off), I picked hard-to-hear scenes and jotted down what I thought the actors had said. He then went back to watch each scene with the subtitles on to check my answers.

At the beginning of the show, I thought an actor had said, “That’s right, she had the ring you gave her… I thought you two were trying to work things out.”

The actor actually said, “Oh, sorry, you still had the ring on… I thought you two were trying to work things out.”


I had better luck with another scene where there was a phone conversation where Jack Ryan and his old boss were making plans to meet up. After checking my results, he was happy to realize that he had correctly understood all the words.

Minutes later, however, Jack Ryan’s boss, James Greer, muttered a phrase I couldn’t even guess: “Yeah, they used that in Karachi before I left.” Not even dialogue enhancers can fix an actor’s lack of diction.

The Sonos Arc soundbar came in handy for hearing dialogue without the voice enhancer on most of the time in movies and TV shows. The voice enhancer made it easier to hear words in some situations, such as scenes with actors who have very low voices, which could be useful for the hard of hearing. For everyone else, the good news is that installing even a cheaper speaker that lacks a dialog mode can go a long way.

Amazon’s dialog enhancer isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s better than nothing and a good start. I’d love to see more features like this in other streaming apps. A Netflix spokesperson said the company had no plans to release a similar tool.

My last piece of advice is mixed: don’t do anything with your TV’s sound settings. Lewis said modern TVs have software that automatically calibrates sound levels, and if you tweak the settings on one show, the audio may not work on the next.

And if all else fails, of course, there are subtitles.

Brian X Chen is the lead consumer technology columnist for The Times. He reviews products and writes Tech Fix, a column on the social implications of the technology we use. Before joining The Times in 2011, he reported on Apple and the wireless industry for Wired. More from Brian X. Chen


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