Sony makes it easier for the visually impaired to watch TV, but will others follow suit?

In a move that could usher in a whole new era of enjoyment for the visually impaired, Sony has officially announced that it will be incorporating Audio Description (AD) (a system already included in some set-top boxes) into all of its new Sony Bravia HDTV

Sony Bravia
Sony Bravia CNET

In a move that could usher in a whole new era of enjoyment for the visually impaired, Sony has officially announced that it will be incorporating Audio Description (AD) (a system already included in some set-top boxes) into all of its new Sony Bravia HDTVs.

Andreas Ditter, vice president of Sony TV Operations Europe, explained the new Sony focus in a recent interview. He explained that, "We are all used to seeing and using subtitles on TV, but what many people don't know is that the technology exists to make a similarly useful service available for the 30 million or so visually impaired people we have in Europe."

"The entire Sony Bravia television range now provides access to Audio Description (AD) as standard which, in combination with a commitment to raise awareness of AD, aims to increase the number of programs, broadcasters and television manufacturers that offer the service."

In the coming months, Sony will be unveiling a host of new HDTVs that the company hopes will raise the bar for picture quality. But for those people who are either blind or whose vision is severely impaired, these quality benefits are of no importance.

As a tech writer and tech fanatic, I sometimes forget that there are people out there that enjoy tech as much as I do, but for one reason or another, simply don't have the ability to enjoy it in a way they wish they could. And it is for this reason that I am extremely excited to report on this development. For the first time in too many years, the visually impaired will be able to enjoy television shows without wondering what is happening on screen. Someone has finally realized that technology is universal and shouldn't ignore an entire group of people.

The premise behind AD is simple: during breaks in dialog, a second voice will explain the visual events on screen to help give the visually impaired person some understanding in what we are looking at.

And while this may sound like the solution to all of the issues with television programming the visually impaired have been forced to deal with since the beginning, it only works when content providers add in the additional soundtrack. And now the question is, will they?

Unfortunately, content providers will probably be slow to utilize AD until more hardware manufacturers have installed a similar system into other HDTVs. Whether we like to admit it or not, recording an additional soundtrack for one company's products describing the events on screen not only cost more, but could easily delay a project that is usually on a tight schedule. And while the idea to include AD into all HDTVs is a fine one, the chances of it becoming mainstream in the next few years are slim unless Sony can adequately appeal to consumers with this benefit.

The simple fact is we need Sony to prevail on this feature. Business be damned, for too long we have been neglecting a significant part of our population just because people believed the visually impaired couldn't enjoy a show like '24' without seeing it. Those people were wrong. With the help of AD, everyone can finally become a part of the enjoyment of TV, and nothing will stand in their way.

The tech world is not an industry where only a select few can enjoy the benefits of using products. What makes technology great is that it's the one bond that ties people of all types together. It doesn't matter if you're blind, you should still be able to enjoy scrolling your thumb around an iPod and working your way around a cell phone. And for goodness sake, any person, whether they are blind, deaf or disabled, should be able to sit in front of a great new HDTV and enjoy their favorite shows without anything (or anyone) standing in their way.

It is that tech world -- the universal, accepting and understanding tech world -- that I embrace, and that is the tech world we should all embrace. If not for yourself, embrace this idea for those who have been waiting for these advancements for too long and until today, have not been able to harness the true potential of technology.

About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.


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