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How to Better Hear Your TV

New ways to boost volume and clarity

Hear Your TV Better

Courtesy of Yamaha

Sound bars sit just above or below the television screen and can better amplify audio than a TV’s built-in speakers.

En español |  Considering nearly 50 million Americans now live with hearing loss, you bet a large number struggle to hear their TV clearly. And whether you’re the person with hearing loss, or the person sitting next to him on the couch, you know that turning up the volume on the TV isn’t always the best solution. Doing so not only can disturb others, it can actually make the TV audio sound even more garbled, especially if the sound is not well mixed between dialog, music and sound effects.

Sound familiar? The good news is there are solutions that can help. Which one you go with depends on a few factors like the severity of hearing loss and what’s most comfortable or feasible for you.

Sound bars

These sleek horizontal speakers that sit just above or below the television screen can better amplify audio than your TV’s built-in speakers will. Sound bars house multiple speakers inside of them, and some models even simulate surround-sound like a movie-theater experience. On the whole, their sound is similar to what you’d get if you combined an audio-video (AV) receiver plus multiple speakers placed throughout the room, but for less money and in less space.

What’s more, many sound bars ship with a wireless subwoofer to place somewhere else in the room, to deliver low-end bass (like feeling the rumble of a helicopter or roar of a dinosaur). Plus, nearly all new models have integrated Bluetooth technology, allowing you to stream music to the soundbar from your smartphone, tablet or computer.

Wireless headphones

For private listening, you could also go with headphones that use wireless technology like Bluetooth, RF (radio-frequency) or IR (infrared). Typically, these headphones work with a base that plugs directly into the headphone jack of the television, and then transmits to the headphones. Most of these headphones go over the ears, therefore, they can be used with hearing aids.

Some Bluetooth-enabled smart TVs let you skip the base station and just sync your Bluetooth headphones with the TV itself. While the setup process will vary depending on the television manufacturer, in most cases you’ll open your TV’s Settings or Accessories menu, select Bluetooth options, and then set your TV to “pairing mode.” Then, you’ll simply put your Bluetooth headphones into pairing mode, too. 

Hearing aids, loop systems

You probably already know that hearing aids are smaller and more powerful than ever. But newer models can also make a big difference with televisions in particular. Why? They have built-in Bluetooth connectivity, which means they are designed to pick up sound from digital devices.

What’s required is a small Bluetooth streaming box that connects to the TV, which acts as a middleman, of sorts. Whenever you're within range of this small transmitter box (about 33 feet, on average), you’ll be able to hear the television in your hearing aids — loud and clear, and without any echoes or delays — and yes, you can adjust the TV’s volume independently from others in the room via a small remote or an app on your phone or tablet.

If a call comes in when you’re watching TV, choosing to answer it will switch you from the TV’s audio to that of your smartphone (or a Bluetooth cordless phone). When you hang up, the sound switches back to TV mode.

Another option is a “loop system” (sometimes called an “audio induction” loop), which is powered by a wireless magnetic field generated by a small hub plugged into the audio output of a television. The audio can then be picked up by a loop worn around the listener’s neck, compatible hearing aids or cochlear implant processors.

Closed captioning

However you choose to improve your TV’s sound, turning on its closed captioning option can help you catch even more of what’s being said on screen. Since 2006, according to the FCC, Congress has required that all television programs display audio content as text onscreen. Cable operators, satellite distributors and online providers are also required to provide closed captioning — though the latter, for example, wasn’t mandated until 2012, when the National Association of the Deaf sued Netflix in a Massachusetts court.

According to law, such captions need to be accurate (they must match the spoken words and background noises, to the greatest extent possible), synchronous (words onscreen must coincide with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the fullest extent possible), complete (captions must run from the beginning of the program to the end) and properly placed (captions should not block other important visual information on the screen or run off the edge of the screen). In other words, they’re a pretty complete transcription of what’s being heard on screen.

How to enable closed captioning may vary slightly, but usually involves press Settings on your TV remote, and then selecting Closed Captioning in one of the submenus (such as Display).