We are not huge TV watchers, but we enjoy it when we do it — usually for movies or some evening downtime before bed. For this reason, and maybe others, we still have the same TV we purchased 12 years ago when we moved into our home. It is a fine TV — flat screen, hangs on the wall, decent picture — but it is outdated. It was time for an upgrade.
My husband’s primary mission was a larger screen and a higher quality picture. I was more concerned with the sound quality. If we were going to make enhancements, I wanted a more hearing-loss friendly TV.
We quickly learned that you can’t buy just a TV anymore. As TVs have gotten thinner, the speakers have shrunk to the point that they are almost non-existent. In order to enjoy good audio, you need a sound bar, which is a separate item that plugs into the TV and acts as the speakers. This adds complexity, but also improved sound.
I was starting to get excited. Closed captions are my faithful and much appreciated TV companion, but hearing the dialogue in addition to reading it, would be a nice improvement.
Finding The Right Sound Bar For Hearing Loss
There are many types of sound bars. Most have two speakers which are better than what comes with the TV, but since both the background track and the dialogue track run through both speakers, there is no way to enhance one over the other. Some sound bars come as part of a full audio system with 5 different speakers to create a surround sound effect, but this seemed like overkill.
For the most hearing loss friendly sound, we needed a sound bar with three speakers. The left and right speakers operate as traditional speakers do, but only for the background sounds. The dialogue has a dedicated third speaker in the center, which means you can enhance its volume separately from the other sounds. That makes a big difference.
Only a few three-speaker sound bars exist — we only found two. Perhaps there are others we missed. In the end we chose the Sonos Playbar. It is expensive, but since we keep electronics for a long time, we hope to amortize the cost over the next 10-15 years of TV viewing. Luckily, it should stay current through free software upgrades.
We recently installed the new TV and sound bar and the difference is noticeable. The voices sound crisper making them easier for me to understand. With the speech enhancement feature activated, the dialogue plays at a consistent level while other loud sounds are minimized, lessening distracting background noise. I still need to use the closed captions, but not for every word like I usually do. Overall, it is a much better listening experience for me.
Other TV Watching Options For Hearing Loss
You don’t need to spend a fortune for better TV viewing. There are several other options that can help enhance TV listening at reasonable prices. These include TV amplifier systems, portable speakers, and infrared systems. An interesting on article on WikiHow describes many of these options in more detail. Consumer Reports also recently published an interesting article on this topic.
And of course there is closed captioning, which can be used in conjunction with any of these options or on its own, and is a critical component of any TV watching solution.
Readers, what do you use to enhance your TV watching experience?