Fixes for Muffled Video Streaming Dialogue

Imagine that, after a long day at work, looking after the grandchildren, or finishing a home project, you can finally settle down on the sofa to watch your favourite show with loved ones.  But even with a decent television, the dialogue in movies and television through video streaming services may be difficult to discern, leading viewers to crank up the volume or turn on subtitles. 

According to a recent New York Times Tech Fix report, even people who are not hard of hearing are watching video with subtitles turned on all the time.  About 50 percent of Americans and most young people watch this way so they don’t miss dialogue that can be difficult to catch. We now watch most of our videos on small devices like televisions, tablets, and smartphones. Still, technology has yet to meet the challenge of making this sized-down content, and especially dialogue, crisp and clear.

Tech and media companies are working on software that will boost speech clarity, but there are many challenges – especially for compressed content delivered through small, often hidden speakers.  Streaming services also vary widely in their volume delivery, which is why you may have to turn up or down the volume significantly when switching between platforms like Netflix or Hulu.  

Although turning subtitles on has become the norm for many households, sound can also be improved significantly by adding an external speaker like a soundbar to direct richer sound at the viewer.   Certain soundbars may also contain a speech enhancer that can make dialogue easier to decipher. 

With more attention to accessibility, tech and streaming companies are also working to build dialogue-enhancing features directly into their apps.  Amazon recently introduced Dialogue Boost for a small selection of content in its Prime Video streaming app.  To turn on the feature, open the language option, and select “English Dialogue Boost: High”.   For people who are hearing impaired, or for scenes with soft-spoken or mumbling actors, speech enhancement can make a significant difference. 

When all else fails – turn on the subtitles, and save the rest of the household from the startling blast when the scene changes from a quiet fireside conversation to a clanging, rumbling battlefield.