Sound-mixing techniques create real problems for public TV’s oldest viewers

On, , Associate GM of Operations and Technology (KPBS, San Diego) writes: Last March I traveled to Florida to celebrate my mother’s 85th birthday. She lives in a typical multi-building condominium development, where many of the residents are advanced in age and share a common limitation: Because of hearing loss, they have trouble understanding dialogue that’s mixed into TV programming over background music or natural sound.

Mom’s hearing challenges became clear to me when I set up her birthday present, a new flat-screen TV. The first thing she did was raise the volume all the way up. She loved the sharper picture, but complained that she couldn’t understand the voices. I returned that TV and tried two others, but eventually gave up and reinstalled her old set. She had the same problem with that TV, just not as bad. Mom told me that many of her neighbors at the development have the same complaint.

This problem is partially due to the way hearing loss commonly progresses. Perception of sound in the higher frequencies falls off as one ages, making it harder to discern voices. For example, consonants like t and s can be hard to hear.


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