Psych Central

Seat by seat subtitles in cinema

04/14/04

FILM subtitles that can be tailored to suit small sections of an audience could go on general release at the end of this year. The system can produce on-screen subtitles for the whole audience, or can instead provide individuals with text on personal mini-screens that only they can see, allowing different language groups, or people who are deaf or hard of hearing to see their own set of subtitles. The Cinema Subtitling System is being launched by Digital Theatre Systems, the US company best known for developing super-scary surround sound for Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. The technology has been developed partly in response to forthcoming European disability legislation, which could mean that cinemas have to provide subtitles for deaf people. Digital Theatre Systems now provides sound for most new releases.

Digital soundtracks are usually sent out separately to the film print, in several different languages, on a CD-ROM or hard disc. The film studios prefer this system because the same film print can be screened in many different countries. However, subtitling the film normally means etching the words onto the film print. Not only does this cost at least 5000 a throw, the print is limited to one language. Instead of this, the new system encodes the subtitle text on the soundtrack disc, in many different languages. When the film is shown, a separate video projector simply superimposes the titles on the bottom of the screen. The video projector is far cheaper than a film projector because it only fills a small part of the screen. The total cost of the CSS system is 8000. CSS also has a feature dubbed Reverse Window (see Graphic), which can provide subtitles for specific seats, so that not everyone has to see them. The subtitles are displayed in mirror-image text on an electronic screen at the rear of the cinema. The selected seats each have a screen in front of them, like the autocue screens that politicians use to make speeches.

The top part is clear, allowing the person to see the film, while the bottom part is silvered so that it acts as a mirror and reflects the subtitle text from the back of the theatre. Trials of the system over the past year have proved popular, and Hollywood has prepared subtitles for more than a hundred major movies, including The Lord of the Rings, The Last Samurai and Starsky and Hutch. However, deaf people are worried that the Reverse Window system could ghettoise them in the cinema. "The system works," says David Pope of Digital Theatre Systems, "but disabled people feel it draws attention to them." "Reverse Window sounds a wonderful idea but we think it's second best to subtitles on the main screen," says Mark Morris, of the UK's Royal National Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. "I've seen a demonstration and you have to sit behind an obvious mirror and stay in the right position- you can't slouch in your seat."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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