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 It is a fine TV — flat screen, hangs on the wall, decent picture — but it is outdated.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?
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45 thoughts on “When It’s Time for A Hearing Loss Friendly TV”
Thank you for writing about a real subject. Most articles about hearing loss only deal with whether or not to get a hearing aid. Living with hearing loss is so much more than that.
Yes it is. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
I’ve been so overwhelmed with all the choices and info on sound enhancements I just get paralyzed and do nothing. There seem to be a zillion products. Also, I’d hate to purchase items just to find out they don’t work for me.
It can be challenging to wade through it all but the payoff is great if you can make your way through it.
I used to have a TV link that connected to my Compilot – the TV link plugged into the audio out on the TV. We bought a new TV last year that didn’t have an audio out (salesman told us it did ). However the TV has Bluetooth so I paired my Compilot to the TV. However there is not a volume adjustment for the TV Bluetooth and it’s very loud. The Compilot has a volume adjustment but it’s still loud.
There are also inexpensive devices you can plug into your non Bluetooth TV and pair to your Compilot. It is called a Bluetooth audio streamer but I’ve barely used it.
Interesting. Thanks for the information.
I had my volume level adjusted on my Compilot by my Hearing Aid Dispenser. They do it through computer adjustments.
here’s a cheap affordable and effective option if you have bluetooth ready hearing aids and using a telecoil. You do have to confirm that when you plug in the splitter your tv sound will not cut out to the others in the room…but this device will give you audio directly to your hearing aids.
Love your blog!
Thanks for sharing the information!
Sometimes the newer TV’s have options to handle that. We bought a Samsung and there were accessibility options that allow both. Had to call Samsung to find it.
Thank you for this blog post. I have been wondering for a couple of years why the tv in our living room is so much more enjoyable to watch, and easier to follow the closed captioning, then the one in our bedroom. Our living room tv has the audio going to 2 old fashioned tower speakers on either side of the tv through an audio controller. We don’t even have the volume on the tv itself turned above “0”. The tv in the bedroom has the audio going through the obviously insufficient speakers from the tv. That tv has audio that is muddy and no matter where I have the base level at, it is overwhelming to me and my hearing aides.
The best thing about the living room tv is that it is a 60 inch tv, and the closed captioning is nice and big as compared to the 40 inch in the bedroom.
The TV speakers are so weak now. Glad the closed captioning helps too! Thanks for sharing your experience.
Good morning Shari. For me, relying solely on the audio output from the TV is a non-starter. Having a cochlear implant and a hearing aid my options are different. Bluetooth and telecoil streaming are the only methods that consistently deliver anything approaching a satisfying TV experience for me. The audio is delivered directly to my devices. Even so, subtitles are still an essential aid for me. I never even heard of a Sound Bar! 🙂 That probably tells you more about the level of my sophistication than I want you to know.
We also got a new flat screen TV this past year. It calls itself a “Smart TV”. It is. CA, my partner in life with normal hearing, says the sound is great. The picture is wonderful. We watch reruns of favorite things, news and movies. Regardless of the source and in spite of my wonderful assistive listening devices, the TV experience remains an ongoing challenge.
There are so many methods available. Closed captioning is always a big help in addition. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Understanding TV dialogue was once a problem for me. That’s no longer the case. The perfect solution turned out to be an Oticon ConnectLine TV adapter, used in conjunction with a StreamerPro neck loop and Bluetooth enabled BTE aids with earmolds. The ConnectLine is fed from the TV’s optical-out audio connection. This package works great. I can control the volume in my aids independently of other’s listening to the TV via speakers or a sound bar. If there is distracting ambient noise in the background, I can turn off the ambient sound receivers in my aids. Since I have earmolds, very little ambient sound gets through. There is no perceptible delay between the video and the audio heard via my aids. (Before getting the system, I was worried there might be.) I can only think of two downsides. The technology is relatively expensive and it’s not possible to converse with other viewers in the room if my aids’ ambient receivers are turned off.
Before going with the setup I just described, I had tried an expensive sound bar and a Sennheiser Infrared headset. The soundbar was useless and I took it back after two days. The IR headset was usable but far inferior to the ConnectLine and StreamerPro.
Nothing that I tried compares to the clarity of hearing TV audio directly from my hearing aid speakers, especially with ambient sound blocked.
I am glad you found a good solution that works for you! Thanks for sharing the details.
Well I certainly learned something today, I had no idea there was any such thing as a sound bar. Now, just out of curiosity, I’ll be looking for them.
Excellent. I hope they are helpful.
I tend to watch less traditional TV nowadays and usually consume most shows or movies on my iPhone or iPad.
For watching live sports, however, I do watch the TV itself. I have a TV Adapter that streams directly to my Oticon OPN hearing aids. I like to watch basketball games and always had trouble hearing the commentators over the crowd noises. With the Bluetooth streaming to my aids, I can usually hear the announcers loud and clear.
I do have closed captions turned on for everything because movies nowadays tend to overpower the speech with special effects or whatnot making it hard to understand everything that is said.
Closed captioning is so helpful. Glad it works well for you!
It is way past time for a hearing loss friendly TV. A few years back when everything went digital it caused problems with my old TV. I hated giving it up. It had a speaker right in front and closed captioning. So I purchased a new HD TV. The picture was very good and it had closed captioning but I had trouble hearing it. After looking it over I realized the speaker was underneath the set and in back. Who are the idiots designing these sets? I went out to look for another TV with the speaker in front. I couldn’t find any. Apparently the picture is the only concern of the designers. I was totally frustrated. The only alternative these days is to get a sound bar or other assistive device. With technology you take two steps forward and four steps back. It would be wonderful if the designers could put the speaker back in front. Thanks for writing about this. I was beginning to think I was the only one experiencing this.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with this issue.
My flat screen TV is pretty old but like yours, has still been working just fine. I have a set of Sony FM headphones that I use in conjunction with closed captions. I adjust the volume for just me in the headphones while everyone else can hear through the TV speakers. This works great for regular television shows, but when using a Roku for Netflix, etc. which requires plug-in headphones, it cuts out the audio for everyone else watching and I haven’t found a solution to that yet.
The headphones are also great if you want to watch TV late at night and not bother the other person.
On the newer TV we do have a sound bar. However, I need to have it cranked up pretty loud along with the captions and find there is some clarity lost and the headphones work better for me.
The key for the soundbar is to find one that has a dedicated speaker for speech so you can control that volume separately. I’m glad that you have something that works well for you.
I’ve realized that not all new TVs have an audio jack which I need for headphones – wireless or otherwise. That is very important for me.
It is very important to check before buying. Thanks for pointing this out.
TV EARS. Wireless headset. Allows each viewer to adjust sound to meet own hearing needs. Can get on line. For us it is a life changer!
Thanks for sharing what works for you!
Serene innovation- TV Soundbox works great for our teen daughter. She is able to take it from its base and set it where ever she sits and turn it up to her preference while we can keep the Tv at a comfortable level for the rest of the family. Set up was easy.
Sounds great! Thanks for sharing what works for your family.
Thanks for sharing such a valuable information for hearing aids and hearing loss. Love your blog and we are glad you shared it.
Jo Alex from Hearing Me New Zealand
Thanks so much for your comment. I am glad you found it helpful.
I use Sennheiser head phones. They are bluetooth activated. The sound is so natural, it is like I don’t have any hearing loss at all. Also the sound can be muted on the tv so I am not bothering anyone else. Tv is now my joy of news and entertainment.
Excellent! So glad they work well for you!
Boosts my TV sound, improved quality. Set up was simple. Remote could be improved with bigger and easier to read buttons. Have to have direct line of sight to infrared on speaker, with remote to work well. Good deal for money. Fit in my small space. Long but narrow.
Thanks for sharing your information.
We also bought a Sonos Playbar when we got a new TV. But, as much as I love the sound from the Playbar, we have a definite problem with syncing the sound to the video, which makes lip reading difficult. Since I lip read while watching TV to help make out the dialogs, it hinders me a bit.
After looking into it, I found that it’s a common problem with the particular TV we have (Sony Bravia). So if you’re considering a Sonos system, it’s worthwhile to check into syncing with the brand/model TV you have.
So far, we haven’t found a solution for it. But I still don’t regret the Sonos – you’re absolutely correct on the sound quality. We’ll just be very thorough on researching the sync issue for the next TV we buy. If you don’t mind sharing, what brand/model TV do you have?
How interesting. I was not aware of the sync issue with certain TVs. We have a Samsung Smart TV with no issues. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Your comment couldn’t come at a better time. We just bought a Samsung Smart TV two weeks ago and the sound does not sync with the picture. I’ve been in touch with Samsung AND our cable company and it’s still not resolved. This is apart from any hearing devices.
How frustrating. Good luck getting it resolved.
There is another option which can be much cheaper than a soundbar, a Bluetooth TV Transmitter.
The Transmitter connects to your TV audio output port and transmits the TV sound via Bluetooth.
You need a good headset with Bluetooth connection and you can stream sound directly to your ears.
Here is a link to one solution – https://www.wearandhear.com/products/hearlink-tv-transmitter/
Thank you for sharing what works for you.