The image shows the describer position in an outdoors theatre. There's a table with sound equipment, a pair of headphones with a microphone and two audio description headsets. From there, the describer has a direct line of sight to the stage and the seats, the later of which are visible in the background of this image.

The perfect theatre audio description technology

That title might have caught your attention. But I’m afraid that it doesn’t exist yet. Between August 2018 and June 2019 we published three articles about the different systems currently used to broadcast audio description in the theatre. Each article covered one of the three main broadcast technologies: infrared, radio and WiFi. While they all have advantages, none of these systems, and the hardware that accompanies them, are perfect. So, as we look forward to the re-opening of the theatres after The Interval, we want you – the people who use audio description in the theatre  – to tell us what you think would make the perfect audio description system.

For this exercise, money and technology are no barrier – imagine a research and development fund in the tens of millions of pounds! You also don’t have to worry about any practicalities – we just want you, the user, to tell us (as the Spice Girls put it) what you really, really want. Perhaps between trips to the theatre, you have already thought “if only the receiver was…”, then please share those thoughts. Alternatively, if you’re unsure what your perfect system would be, I have written some  prompts below to try and encourage your thoughts.

But whether you have one tiny specific wish, or you have thought through an entire system – we want to hear from you!

We will collate the responses to see if there are any trends in people’s thinking and publish a second article here. Perhaps this could form a brief for a technology company interested in pursuing some of the ideas. No system is ever likely to be perfect, but perhaps they can be improved significantly?

Not sure what your perfect system would be? These prompts may help…

  • How should the description be broadcast? Do you find the sound quality or reliability of signal better with infrared, radio or WiFi?
  • Would you like a purpose built-receiver or to Bring Your Own Device, i.e. a smartphone?
  • If a purpose-built receiver, what shape and size would it be? All in one like the traditional stethoset, all in one to a different design or a receiver with headphones?
  • What controls would you want? As simple as possible? Or as adaptable as possible? Or to have the choice of standard and personalised modes?
  • Specific controls – On/Off? Volume? The ability to change channels to also receive show sound? To alter the bass or treble? To alter the sound balance? To live mix two inputs such as audio description and show sound? Something else?
  • How should controls be operated?
  • Do you want information supplied about signal strength, signal drop-out, volume level, battery level or anything else? How should this be conveyed?
  • If the system involves headphones, what type would you prefer? 2 ear-pieces or one ear-piece? In-ear? On-ear? Over-ear? Bone-conducting headphones?

Please share your ideas in the comments section below, via VocalEyesAD on Facebook, @VocalEyesAD on Twitter, e-mail Michael, Theatre Programme Manager, or call me on 07511 928739.

Comments

  1. The main thing I’d really love to have is bone connective headphones. Sometimes when a play has a lot of music or audience reaction I really want to take my headphones off so that I can hear properly – but then of course I miss AD! Bone connective headphones are the answer. Apart from that I have little opinion, except that I don’t like the stethoscope-style headsets very much.

  2. In York theatres we have two systems: infra red and radio. The radio system is much preferable for us since the infra red is severely limited by interference from line of sight obstacles such as the lower edge of a balcony and a customer sitting behind someone who is extremely tall! We have no experience of wi-fi systems.
    It would be more convenient if customers could plug their own receiver into our offered headphones. One of our customers uses this facility.
    Simplicity is the byword for receiver controls: a simple on/off switch and volume control with no accessible frequency-changing controls.is required.
    If the radio receiver could be built into the headset, that would be most convenient. “Bose” offer a version of this with their radio spectacles.

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