Theater chain to offer deaf patrons holographic closed-captioning glasses

Regal Entertainment invested $10-million in the glasses developed by Sony. 6,000 Regal Edwards Cinema theaters will be equipped by them across the country by the end of May.
Regal Entertainment invested $10-million in the glasses developed by Sony. 6,000 Regal Edwards Cinema theaters will be equipped by them across the country by the end of May.

Raymond Smith has two shoes to fill: he’s the senior executive of Regal Entertainment Group, and he’s the father of a 23-year-old aspiring screenwriter who can’t hear. But now Smith might have found a way to squeeze those shoes onto the same foot.

Smith has finally found a way for his deaf son Ryan to be able to go to the movies.

Next month, the 6,000 Regal theaters across the country will offer new closed-captioning glasses to deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers.

Sony's Entertainment Access Glasses have clear lenses and look almost like 3D glasses. They work by projecting holographic captions in front of the movie patron’s eyes in a way that looks like the letters are floating in the air. Only the person wearing the glasses is able to see the text, and he or she can adjust the font size as needed.

The glasses also come equipped with audio functionalities. A direct audio input allows hard-of-hearing moviegoers to wire the movie audio directly through their headphones, rather than relying upon hearing aid microphones to boost the volume. Blind moviegoers can also turn on an audio description feature, which narrates important visual aspects of the movie plot that are otherwise left out of the dialogue.

For Smith, pushing the device through has been a moving experience. He recently received an email from a deaf movie patron who expressed his joy of finally being able to watch movies with his kids.

“It’s hard to read it without tearing up just a little bit,” Smith said. “This has been a long term effort. There have been a lot of people involved. I don’t want to sit here and take credit for this. Yes, I was one of the cheerleaders out there trying to do this, but there was a lot of effort.”

 A game-changer

Accessibility options for moviegoers with hearing impairments are not totally new. Many theater chains have offered audio headsets that look like the devices you clip onto your belt when you go on a museum tour. And for deaf movie patrons, theater chains like AMC have offered big, clunky devices that display movie captions and fit into the cup holder on the seat.

But then, that’s probably the exact reason why you’ve never seen them. Hard-of-hearing moviegoers don’t like how obvious these devices are, and so they often avoid going to the movies altogether.

Smith said that his son played an important part in the long testing process.

“He was my guinea pig, but he enjoyed it,” Smith said. “This is probably ten years of testing different devices. I’d take them out, and he’d try them out, and he’d tell me what he liked and didn’t like, and we’d go back and tell the manufacturer, and they’d tweak them and make the changes.”

After they finally got it right, the young Smith could not wait to put the glasses to use.

“When we first got them installed here in Knoxville, the first thing he did was go to a midnight showtime, because he’d never been to one,” Smith, père, said. “The next day, he couldn’t stop talking about it.”

“It makes you feel really good,” he said.

But for Smith, it doesn’t stop there. He thinks the future holds even more possibilities.

“It’s really phenomenal, and I don’t want to sit on our laurels, and I don’t want to say we’re finished,” Smith said. “There’s no reason to stop. We need to keep moving forward and we need to see if there are ways to improve the technologies to make them even better than they are today.”

Regal Entertainment Group is the biggest movie theater company in the country. It owns Regal Cinemas, Edwards Theatres, and United Artists Theatres. Regal has 95 theaters throughout California. Smith said they will all be equipped with the new glasses.

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