Dialogue Is Still Really Hard to Hear nytimes.com

A recent story in the New York Times is the most recent iteration of the theme that people — especially young people — are increasingly using subtitles when watching movies and shows. It is more-or-less a retread of a late June story in IndieWire, which was similar to an early June story in the Atlantic, which was an awful lot like a February article from ABC News, which reflected a January story from the Guardian, which was not dissimilar to a 2021 BBC News article — and I am slowly running out of ways to explain how much reporting there has been about this phenomenon.

Brian X. Chen, of the Times:

“It’s getting worse,” said Si Lewis, who has run Hidden Connections, a home theater installation company in Alameda, Calif., for nearly 40 years. “All of my customers have issues with hearing the dialogue, and many of them use closed captions.”

The garbled prattle in TV shows and movies is now a widely discussed problem that tech and media companies are just beginning to unravel with solutions such as speech-boosting software algorithms, which I tested. […]

In Chen’s reporting, this home theatre installer blames unclear audio on the tiny speakers in flat screen televisions, while a sound engineer blames the difficulty of transitioning from big theatres to smaller devices and a lack of consistent specifications in streaming.

But, surely, none of this represents a complete explanation. Movies have been enjoyed first in a theatre and then at home for decades, and streaming services have been around for long enough to become a known constant. It cannot be an issue only with flat screens, as I have a pair of decent speakers hooked up to my receiver and a lot of media still sounds like muddy garbage; music played through the same system, on the other hand, does not. A home audio system is never going to match a theatre’s quality. But if lots of people are complaining about this problem — and have been doing so for years — it surely means movies and shows are not being mixed for how people actually watch them.