It’s not easy being a theatre-lover if you are hard-of-hearing. The West End doesn’t do much to accommodate this group and as such, many miss out on the amazing shows that London has to offer. Luckily, the National Theatre is now doing its part to open theatre up to a wider audience. In conjunction with Epson and Accenture, it has launched a trial in the past month that sees the deaf and hearing-impaired supplied with the Epson Moverio BT-300 AR smart glasses. This cutting-edge eyewear uses augmented reality to enhance the experience of theatre for the user so that they may enjoy the performance to its fullest.
This is a big move from one of the most renowned theatres in the UK. National Theatre Technical director Jonathan Suffolk remarked that this new technology will give customers “the chance to come anytime they want, matinee or evening, and sit anywhere they want in any size theater.”
The glasses are the latest in a line of technological products that use the power of augmented reality. This new tool has already been used in popular apps like Pokémon Go and Snapchat, overlaying digital images over the real world. But this takes it further by enhancing the entertainment experience of those with medial conditions. Art is being opened up to more people and given a wider appeal by new technology rather than destroyed by it.
The glasses feature a quad-core Intel Atom X5 processor and Android 5.1, as well as a 5-megapixel camera with on-board sensors. These sensors detect real-world objects which enables graphics to be overlaid over the objects in a realistic way.
An upgraded 5 mega-pixel front-facing camera and on-board sensors enable the Moverio BT-300 to determine where objects resided in the real world. Si-OLED projection system renders these objects 3D. The device is also lightweight, unobtrusive and discreet enough to be worn for an entire performance. This is important because the focus of the audience should be on the performance, not on your choice of eyewear.
How is it helping people in theatres?
With the BT-350 smart glasses, Accenture has helped make a system called Open Access Smart Capture, which effectively enables spectators to read subtitles in, real-time during live performances. The subtitles are overlaid in the user’s field of vision so that they are able to enjoy the actor’s performances while simultaneously reading the captions.
You are also able to customize your experience with the headset. Choose the size, color and placement of the subtitles to your liking. You can also decide whether you want the captions to be stable or scrolling. This is done using a small touchpad, which is connected to the glasses.
The software attached can also improve your experience in real-time. It can be programmed to make sure that the captions change to black when the performance is predominantly white, and vice versa. This ensures the captions are always legible.
Improved user experience
The national theatre already provides captions at some of their performances on the side of the stage. But at only four per production run, these performances are few and far between. This solution also makes it difficult for the theatregoer to view the actor’s performance, as they are required to move their line of sight back and forth between the actors and the screens to the side of the stage. They may also be forced to sit on the areas, which afford a close view of the captions themselves.
Open Access Smart Capture will make it easier for the hearing-impaired to go to any National Theatre performance they like, sit anywhere they want and focus fully on the actors and actresses at hand.
The equipment and software has already is already a month into its pilot phrase. It will be tested over the next year in three venues. Once testing is successful, the aim is to roll the glasses out to all National theatre performances by October 2018. Thanks to this collaboration between Epson, Accenture and the National Theatre, over the coming year, the hard-of-hearing lovers of all things thespian will have much celebrate.
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