Captioning at the movie theater

This week I learned more about how captions work at the movie theater. I went to a Regal cinema and saw the new Ghostbusters (2016) movie.

The captions at the theater aren’t projected on the screen, where everyone would be able to see them, and possibly be distracted by them. (The exception, of course, is for foreign language films that have been subtitled – though subtitles typically don’t describe other audio effects and music, while captions for the deaf and hard of hearing will contain descriptions of important sounds). Theaters that offer captions typically have special equipment available to support this feature.

Update 2016-08-15: The DC Deaf Moviegoers group has informed me that words on the screen are also an option.

I asked if a closed captioning system was available, and about ten minutes later a manager from the theater came down with a special pair of electronic glasses and another device – perhaps with a radio receiver and battery – that connected to the glasses. This system is known as Sony Entertainment Access Glasses. Regal theaters have been offering this system since Summer of 2013, according to this article from NPR’s All Tech Considered.

Sony Access Entertainment Glasses

The experience was mostly good. During the movie, and some of the preview, captions appeared to be projected in front of me in the glasses. I can’t find a good image of the font, but imagine a low resolution green monochrome monitor from the olden days of computer terminals, and imagine that the font is one that would look approximately the same on a low quality dot matrix printer from around the same era. I think that the technology for the smoothness of the fonts will improve with time, but I actually enjoyed this type of font. The green color and the look of the font fit in well with the Ghostbusters film, and I imagine that it would look especially good while viewing WarGames (1983).

The glasses fit over my own eyeglasses, and this whole setup was surprisingly comfortable. I’m not sure how all this would work on top of 3D glasses that might also be on top of ordinary eyeglasses.

When I moved my head, the captions would move along with it. This was challenging at first, because it’s different from watching captions on television without the special electronic glasses, where the location of the titles are for the most part, fixed. The floating quality of the captions, though, is a feature, in a way. If the wearer prefers to see the captions on a different part of the screen, this can be done by adjusting the glasses on the bridge of the nose, or by moving the head slightly.

The theater provided a nice instruction sheet for the glasses, but it was missing some critical information, and seemed to differ from the practices in place at the theater I visited.

Access System Instructions

I accidentally shut the system off before the film started. I had to get assistance to turn it back on again because there were no instructions on the sheet, and it wasn’t obvious how to do that. Also, the instructions to adjust the caption size and brightness didn’t work for me at all, and I followed them to the letter.

Incidentally, the captions for the Ghostbusters film are quite good. Not much stood out as problematic. I thought that I noticed an unusual and confusing error in one title, but it actually turned out to be part of the setup for a joke involving the name of a receptionist’s pet. The title was correct.

If you try this, you might want to show up early to the theater, or call ahead. This wasn’t ready to go when I went there, and it requires some set up time and finding a manager, at least at the location that I visited. And bring a cleaning cloth, in case the lenses are smudged with fingerprints.

If you are at all interested in this sort of thing, I recommend visiting a Regal theater and asking to use the access system for closed captions. This is interesting technology that can improve entertainment for people. And if you have a reason to use captions to view television in locations where you’re not able to control the closed caption settings on the television yourself, you might look for apps that can put subtitles on your phone or tablet, such as Subtitles Viewer by Craig Grummit.


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