Tech to Help You Hear the TV More Easily
Here’s how to watch TV together at different volumes
Two years ago, I wrote a blog article about not being able to hear dialog on TV. That article still has some solid tips for improving the TV watching experience for people with different levels of hearing loss.
So which recommendation did I follow through on for myself? Well, none.
My thoughtful husband surprised me with pricey Bose Quiet Comfort over-ear noise cancelling headphones. The thought was logical—we have a Bose sound system. Interestingly, the Bose headphones are not compatible with the sound system.
The only way I can use my Bose headphones to hear TV dialog better (without buying additional equipment) is to run a cable across the living room floor to the headphone jack on the TV. That’s not very convenient where we walk around and our dog chases her ball. When the headphones are connected into the TV jack, no sound comes out of the TV speakers or sound system, so this solution only works for one person viewing at a time. There are some work-arounds, but we enjoy watching TV together in the evening. I don’t want to cut myself off from my husband socially.
I have now dug a little deeper into equipment solutions. If you would like to hear TV better, especially while watching with a partner or others in the room, I have some new thoughts and equipment recommendations.
To cut to the chase, I am going to recommend a Bluetooth transmitter-receiver that can connect to at least two receiving devices wirelessly. That can be two sets of quality earbuds or one set of earbuds and a sound system, or any other audio device. Depending on the Bluetooth technology you choose and equipment compatibility, the receiver device could even be a hearing aid.
Who needs these solutions?
Even if you don’t need assisted listening technology (yet) someone in your household or family might benefit from this knowledge. More than 50 million people of all ages in the U.S. suffer from hearing loss in some form. Hearing loss worsens with age, especially for men. According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, men are twice as likely to experience hearing loss, but are less likely than women to seek help. A holiday gift of an enhanced TV sound system for Dad might bring many years of media enjoyment.
First off, I learned audiophiles use a lot of technology terms that are helpful to get to know. The descriptions below focus on what is pertinent to TV to listening device performance. This will help you make better equipment decisions.
Bluetooth 5.0 vs. 5.1 vs. 5.2: Bluetooth uses UHF radio waves to efficiently transmit information over short distances, such as from a box near your TV to your living room couch. Most wireless headphones use Bluetooth.
Bluetooth 5.0 took a big leap forward by increasing transmission speeds over its predecessor, 4.2.
With Bluetooth 5.1, small advances were achieved in creating faster connections with less power spent. Connection improvements also randomize available channels so there is less risk of interference between devices you might be using on the same bandwidth, and better synchronization between devices. However, the main focus of 5.1 is location tracking of devices. For example, if you’re carrying a smartphone with Bluetooth 5.1, things like indoor navigation—seeing where everything is in a store, at what price and what’s on sale—becomes more efficient. Merchants can throw up an ad customized to you as you near a display. Interesting, but not terribly relevant to our problem.
Next gen Bluetooth 5.2 incorporates LE (Low Energy) audio while maintaining range and fidelity. It contains new LC3 compression technology, with superior sound over existing codecs, while using less battery.
There are so many exciting applications for Bluetooth 5.2, including taking your headphones into a movie theater for a personalized listening experience.
The protocol adds features allowing one set of headphones to connect to multiple audio sources or multiple headphones to connect to one source. There is native support for true wireless earbuds and also Bluetooth features for hearing aids. With a TV transmitter or Bluetooth 5.2 enabled TV, media sound could be delivered right to a person’s hearing aid.
However, utilizing Bluetooth 5.2 will mean new hardware all around, from the transmitter to the headphones, and possibly the soundbar. So far, only a smattering of earbuds and headphones are starting to appear with the technology.
Low latency: A delay in processing data, such as sending TV audio to your headphones, is called latency. You want latency to be as low as possible so you are hearing TV volume in sync with the visuals.
AptX Low Latency: This technology compresses and then decompresses audio as it travels from a source device like a transmitter-receiver to earbuds or other devices. AptX does this over Bluetooth without a noticeable drop in quality. There is also AptX HD for near CD quality sound delivery. AptX LL is an essential feature to look for in TV listening enhancement.
HearID: Being incorporated into newer earbuds and headphones, HearID software essentially gives the listener a hearing test, then customizes a tailor-made sound profile just for that individual’s ears. Since hearing loss can change over time, especially for men, this is a good way to keep your headphones in sync with your listening ability.
Ear tips and ear wings: Ear tips and wings are essentially covers that go over the part of an earbud that goes in your ear. They come in different sizes to fit larger or smaller ear openings, and can make all the difference in comfort and blocking outside noise. They can also be removed for cleaning or replaced without having to replace the whole earbud unit.
Bluetooth multipoint: Allowing you to monitor several audio signals at once, Bluetooth multipoint lets you listen to a TV show while still monitoring any work notifications that come through on your phone or other connected device. Allowing multiple connections also solves another irritating problem. My current Bluetooth headphones will only connect with two devices at one time. If I want to keep more than two connected, I have to open my laptop or other device and turn off Bluetooth.
Digital optical output: Newer TV’s have this connection, which is a port for a fiber optic cable. Fiber optic is the fastest data transmission currently available.
True wireless headphones: Just like traditional wireless headphones, true wireless headphones receive a Bluetooth signal from your phone or other device via a 2.4GHz wavelength. The path of transfer renders your phone a transmitter and the earbuds receivers. Unlike typical wireless earbuds—which receive the signal simultaneously since the earbuds are connected by wire—truly wireless earbuds designate one earbud as the primary receiver, and the other becomes the secondary receiver. However, many current TV receiver-transmitters will not work with true or truly wireless headphones.
Putting it all together
The set up you are trying to achieve may vary slightly from mine. However, the key to putting an enhanced TV listening package together is making sure all the components are compatible. Here is an example of what is possible with my system, and what I have in my shopping cart to buy.
First of all, my current Bose sound system uses the digital optical connection to the TV.
The new transmitter-receiver: The Avantree Oasis Plus Bluetooth 5.0 Transmitter Receiver for TV has a digital optical connection. It also has aptX LL, a fairly long range, and some other nice features like a voice guide and touch screen. There is a bypass mode, which should allow me to connect to the Bose system with a digital optical cable, while transmitting wirelessly to earbuds. There is also a splitter allowing for wired and wireless headsets to be used at the same time. This particular transmitter-receiver is $80 on Amazon.
There are much cheaper transmitters out there. Just be sure you are matching up equipment if you select a different model.
For example, my Bose headset does not support aptX or the other high quality codec, LDAC. That’s ok, I didn’t want to wear an over the ear set anyway.
The Avantree transmitter-receiver won’t work with True Wireless, and headsets must have multipoint capability. In fact, over the ear headphones are recommended by the manufacturer, but I think as long as the earbuds are aptX LL with multipoint, I should be golden.
The new headphones: I selected Creative Aurvana Trio Wireless – Bluetooth 5.0, Triple-Driver Neckband Headphones that have the necessary features, and 20 hours of playtime before they need to be recharged. They are $100 on Amazon. I did have a previous choice picked out that incorporated HearID software, but they did not support Bluetooth multipoint.
The wild card
From what I have read, Bluetooth 5.2 is going to be a game changer, especially for those with hearing problems. So, do I wait some more for manufacturers to create the peripheral transmitter and more earbud choices? Will Smart TVs come out with Bluetooth 5.2 built in, eliminating the need for a separate transmitter?
It may be a while before all of the components line up again, and $180 is not that much to spend to be able to hear TV dialog over the next couple of years, right? I’ll check back in with you on the topic after Bluetooth 5.2 becomes a little more widespread.