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AR solution for subtitled movies

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 27 June 2019, 7:11 pm

Now here's a great idea for an Augmented Reality solution - delivering movie subtitles for the hearing impaired. University of Auckland PhD students Marco Schneider and Tony Tse came up with it while they busy working on other projects, but isn't that often the way?

"Tony was investigating an underwater hearing aid for divers inspired by the mechanism of fish hearing, and Marco was developing a computational framework for analysing joint health from medical imaging data," notes the Auckland University release.

"The idea for the device came out of a late-night conversation, when they were planning to watch a movie and Tony, who is hearing impaired, expressed his wish that more movies came with subtitles."

While subtitle data is included in most movies, New Zealand cinemas rarely show it, and only a few cinemas have special 'subtitle' movie showings. So, a device that enables people who are hearing impaired to watch a movie whenever they want to clearly has a lot of appeal. The '3am idea' won a Velocity Challenge award worth $1000 in 2015, which the pair put towards developing the first prototype.

"The most challenging aspect of the project in the beginning stages was finding someone in the cinema industry to talk to, to find out if their idea was viable and if the industry would support such technology being used in cinemas. Eventually they managed to present their idea to Event cinemas, which thought it a good one and encouraged them to develop the headsets. The pair established the start-up company, Vivify, in 2017."

There have been a number of iterations of the device, as the first prototype was too bulky and subsequent models were modified following user feedback. For example, they needed to find a way to make the subtitles stay in place when people turned their heads. "The subtitles would follow you, which was annoying and distracting," says Tse. "So, we've been trying to make it as seamless as possible."

The current prototype model is connected to an iPhone that comes with the headset, but Schneider and Tse are looking to remove the phone so that the headset is lighter. They are also working on adding languages in addition to English.

The call has gone out for people interested in watching movies with subtitles to trial the latest version of the Vivify product. Those taking part will receive free movie admission and free hire of the viewing headsets, but it is just for a couple of cinemas in Auckland. Potential triallists can choose for subtitles to be delivered in English, Chinese, Korean, Māori, or nominate another language.


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