I’ve got a Regal Theaters movie complex near my home, and last night I finally got to try out Sony’s new Entertainment Access Glasses. Magically projecting holographic text captions right in front of my eyes, where they appeared to be embedded at the bottom of the screen, the Sony glasses were a closed-caption dream come true.
Regal Entertainment Group, the giant movie chain with more than 500 theaters and 47,000 screens, announced last spring it would put the Access Glasses into all its theaters. In the complex near my home it has certainly made good on that promise, with the captioning system available for every movie it was showing.
The person at the service counter who showed me how to use the glasses said they’ve been well received by patrons, which isn’t a surprise based on my experience. The green captions were easy to read once I’d adjusted the glasses, and pretty soon I’d forgotten I was depending on the captions in the same way I no longer notice I’m reading the closed captions on a DVD movie at home. (Thank goodness they are not filled with the kind of errors you get with the closed captions on live TV).
Viewing Experience: You have to adjust the glasses on your nose so the captions show up at the bottom of the screen, but it didn’t take more than a minute or two to get a comfortable view. The captions themselves were very clear and unobtrusive, providing what Sony calls “a natural subtitle movie experience.”
Cosmetics: The Sony glasses are oversized (they fit comfortably over my eyeglasses), and with a none-too-subtle high-tech design, you may worry they’ll attract undue attention from other theater goers. But I found them to look no more ridiculous than the many pairs of 3D-viewing glasses I’ve worn before, and it turns out no one else in the theater gave me so much as a sidelong look.
Ease of Use: Using the Sony glasses was a snap. They come tethered to a small receiver, but with neck cords for both the receiver and the glasses, they don’t get in your way once you have them on. The service desk attendant tuned the receiver to the captions being broadcast in the theater we were entering, so all I had to do was put them on.
Comfort: The glasses sit comfortably on your nose and are light enough that pretty quickly you forget you have them on. My wife Barbara tried the glasses out as well, and because she was hearing the movie well enough not to need them, she slid them up to the top of her head like you would a pair of sunglasses when you go indoors and forgot about them.
Compared to Other Solutions: I’ve used rear-window viewers before, where you get a horizontal strip of plexiglass with an arm that sticks in your drink holder.You’ve got to position it to reflect captions that are projected in reverse at the back of the theater, and you’re able to follow along pretty well. But I find it bulky and distracting, whereas the glasses are about as unobtrusive as normal eyeglasses.
You can still get the theater’s headphones to get audio along with the captions, but in my experience headphones in theaters often provide poor sound quality and/or a lot of interference. And given the over-amplification in most theaters today, you end up with to much volume giving you problems with speech intelligibility even when the headphones are working — so in almost every respect the captioning glasses are a godsend.
Technology: I won’t even begin to try to explain the seeming magic trick involved in projecting the holograms from the electronics built into the sides of the glasses onto the clear lenses through which you view the movie. But if you are adventurous, here is a technical paper authored by Sony that explains more completely how the glasses work.
It’s also important to note that the glasses come with an audio capabiity that enables connection of third-party headphones to the caption glasses’ receiver box. The cinema audio system helps people with hearing difficulties and with visual impairments by supporting both HI audio providing amplification of dialogue for hearing-impaired patrons and VI-N audio providing audio description of what’s on the screen for the visually impaired.
There’s only one problem I’ve encountered with Sony’s Entertainment Access Glasses — so far they appear to be available only in Regal Theaters, even though they are designed to work with industry-standard projection systems used by all theater chains. But this is a good enough solution that is could start to create a competitive advantage for those theaters that have it. So check your CaptionFish listings of showtimes at theaters showing captioned movies, and don’t be surprised if you see there’s a theater with the Sony captioned glasses near you.