Listeners sought for TV sound experiment

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PEOPLE with hearing difficulties are taking part in an experiment in Salford to improve our experience of watching TV.
Researchers at the University of Salford say that there may be more to creating easy to understand TV programmes than just turning up the volume of speech. Other sounds, including sound effects, can play a vital role too.
Using a state-of-the-art laboratory in the University’s Acoustic Research Centre, they will play a series of recordings to people with hearing difficulties and compare their comprehension to that of people with normal hearing.

PhD student Lauren Ward said: “Most shows use sound effects to aid understanding of a plotline or a news package and some do it better than others. For example Channel 4’s Humans, employs distinct sounds to differential the Synths from regular humans.

“These sound effects aim to help the viewer to follow the story, but most work in accessible TV audio has assumed that these non-speech sounds only provide distraction. So our research is testing that out to see which sounds enhance and which hinder. Ultimately we want to learn how to balance these sounds and clarity of speech to improve the overall quality of TV sound, particularly for hearing impaired listeners.

The Salford team specialise in new audio techniques for broadcast, working closely with the BBC, DTS and other organisations on next-generation listening experiences, which they say are vital given that an estimated15.6 million people in the UK will be living with hearing loss by 2035. 

Recent research by Lauren and the team at the University of Salford found that ‘normal hearing’ listeners, can be ‘guided’ by the inclusion of relevant sound effects, which aids understanding. The results were presented to other academics and industry professionals at an Institute of Acoustics conference last week.

If members of the public – particularly anyone who is hard-of-hearing – wish to take part in the experiments, they should contact Lauren Ward, Acoustics Research Centre, University of Salford, M5 4WT l.ward7@edu.salford.ac.uk