Watching TV can be a challenge for people with hearing loss. In my home, I have things set up just the way I want them. I use a sound bar that enhances speech over background noise and always watch with closed captions. But when I am elsewhere, it can be trickier. People are sometimes resistant to putting on the closed captioning or don’t know how to work that feature on their particular television set. The acoustics are often not ideal either, especially if the TV is far across the room like in a waiting room or hotel room. In the exhibit hall at HLAA’s 2018 Convention, I discovered a new tool that might help.
It is a free app called Tunity that lets you listen to a current TV broadcast on your smart phone, even when the TV is muted. It works with more than 100 channels in the United States, but not with streaming services like Netflix or Hulu or with previously recorded programs. The show must be airing at that time to use the app.
Tunity was originally designed for use by hearing people in loud bars, the gym or places like waiting rooms where TVs are hard to hear for everyone. Picture football fans watching the big game in a noisy sports bar and you have the original target market. Recently the company realized this product could also be useful for people with hearing loss. I agree. I encourage Tunity to continue to engage with the hearing loss community as it develops further applications.
How it Works
To start, open Tunity and align the TV you are watching within the blue box on the home screen. You can use your fingers to zoom in or out as needed. Once the TV is centered in the box, press the scan button. Hold the phone still until the scan is complete. When the channel is recognized, the sound starts streaming to the smart phone. You can listen to the TV directly from your phone, or link it via bluetooth to AirPods, your hearing aid or any other bluetooth enabled device. Or simply connect headphones. Pretty clever!
I tried it in a hotel room recently and it worked well. Opening the app and scanning the TV image was easy — it is just like taking a photo of the TV screen. After a few seconds the program was found and began streaming to my phone.
At first the sound was not synchronized perfectly with the TV so I needed to fine-tune it. On the bottom of the screen where it lists the channel you are watching, there is a caret key (∧). Press it and a number line will appear. Use the arrow keys to speed up or slow down the sound on your phone until it matches the feed from the TV. This took me a few minutes to do the first time, including some help from my hearing family, but it became easier with practice. Once the sound was matched to the lip movements, I was set.
I tried Tunity on several channels — some with news programs, others with sitcoms, and one with a movie. Each time I changed the channel, I needed to fine-tune the synchronization, but once it was synched, it stayed that way for the duration of the program.
While it takes time to get used to fine tuning the synchronization, once mastered, I found Tunity a useful tool to help with TV watching when outside my home. You can download the app here.
Readers, would you use an app like this?