You're Not Alone
At first, I thought my wife and I were just getting hard of hearing. Night after night of watching shows and movies on TV, we found ourselves turning to each other and asking things like, "Did you catch what she said?" and, "Go back–I didn't hear that." It turns out, we aren't the only ones having trouble hearing the dialogue while streaming content, and it's not due to hearing loss. The sound issue with streaming content has gotten worse recently, and many people are struggling to hear what's going on.
It's Technology's Fault
There are several reasons why we're having trouble hearing dialogue:
1. Movies are generally made to be seen (and heard) in a movie theater with huge and expensive speakers that are able to handle a very large range of sounds–whispers to explosions. When we stream the same movie through Netflix, for example, on our TV, the audio gets what's called "down mixed." This is a compression of the sound, designed to enable it to be heard through much smaller, cheaper speakers like those on your computer, phone, and yes, your TV.
2. Most TV speakers are not well made. Despite, or rather because of, the high-tech nature of the video screen, the speakers get short shrift. Manufacturers focus on picture display quality. In addition, they make the screen as flat and lightweight as possible. This only leaves a small amount of room to add the speakers, many of which are facing behind or down underneath the display, rather than toward the listener.
3. Streaming shows do not have to comply with the same loudness restrictions as broadcast TV shows. I still remember watching Magnum P.I. and Seinfeld at one steady volume level back in the day. I generally heard all of the dialogue. Now, while watching Jack Ryan or Stranger Things, we find ourselves viewing with one finger on the volume button. Turn it up when the character is speaking in a dramatic, mumbly whisper, then immediately turn it down when the music soundtrack or explosions blast us. I continuously fail at trying to keep the volume at one single level.
What Can We Do?
1. Turn on captions. Many cable and streaming devices have remote controls with a built-in microphone these days. Simply hold the button down and say, "Turn on captions." Interestingly, captions aren't just for older adults, either. According to research content provider, YPulse, over half of Millennials and Gen-Z watch TV with captions on, too.
2. Add a soundbar. This is an enhanced speaker that generally sits right at the base of your TV, making up for the subpar speakers that came with your flatscreen. In fact, many of these soundbars even have a "dialogue boost" setting for even clearer speech.
We don't have to put up with inaudible dialogue anymore. We can take back control of the situation, without feeling like the problem is our fault for not having top-notch hearing. If you need help with turning on captions or choosing the right soundbar and setting it up, please feel free to contact me.