I used to enjoy movies back in the day but since going blind, they have lost their appeal for the most part. When I do take in a movie it’s usually alone when I can get my hands on a described version. For those who don’t know, audio descriptions are sometimes available for the blind and visually impaired. This will be a narrator describing the action on screen when there is no dialogue.
While this is great, it’s not easily accessible since it will be in a DVD or Blueray menu and not available at all for streaming movies. B and I have watched a few movies together when he was renting DVDs. If a movie sounded interesting to me he would check to see if it had descriptions and most times it didn’t. So I only got to do a few movies with him that way and while it was great for me, it was annoying for him because sometimes the narration would describe action before it happened on screen. The narrator can only speak when there is no dialogue so often times something is described right before it happens visually on screen. I’ve completely gotten away from enjoying movies, so imagine my intrigue a few weeks ago when I checked the Roof’s mail and found this from a company in Los Angeles that specializes in audio description, hollywoodaccessservices.com.:
“Located in the heart of the entertainment industry, Hollywood Access Services, LLC produces audio description that is faithful and appropriate to the source material, offering a vivid experience to visually impaired consumers of motion pictures, home entertainment, and television programming.
Here’s a little bit about our new product: Solo-Dx Solo-Dx is a new premium audio description MP3 file that you can play along with your favorite movie at home. Each Solo-Dx track is written and produced by experienced entertainment industry professionals. Solo-Dx helps bring movies to life for individuals with visual or cognitive impairments. Solo-Dx works with any standard media player. The only other thing you need is the movie itself on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming, or Video-on-Demand. Simply follow the directions narrated at the start of the Solo-Dx file, sit back, and enjoy! You can learn a little more from our website at solo-dx.com.”
I was able to choose Hunger Games to try this out with and was sent the Solo-Dx track. Time kept passing and I kept not having a good chunk of uninterrupted time to enjoy a movie. It’s amazing how quickly you get out of the habit of setting aside time for movies and television when you no longer enjoy such activities. Finally today I had time so I rented Hunger Games from iTunes. Solo-Dx had sent me the description track and I had that loaded on my iPhone all ready to go.
Wait, back up! I can hear your thoughts. Rented a movie, track on the iPhone, what what? The Solo-Dx track is an mp3 file you download from iTunes or Amazon. Currently the tracks are $1.99 but I was lucky enough to get Hunger Games complimentary. Unfortunately I don’t have a Netflix or other streaming subscription so I needed to rent the movie from iTunes. Lucky I don’t need hi-def so I only had to spend four bucks on the rental. I had never rented a movie before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Once you download it you have thirty days to watch it. Once you press play, you have twenty-four hours to watch it. I couldn’t get the movie to start right back at the beginning again after I messed up the syncing of the track. I was able to get it all lined up though and we’ll get to that in a minute. I was jus able to start the movie again after completing it so I presume you can watch it as many times as you can in that twenty-four hours.
I put the Solo-Dx track on my iPhone but you can put it on any device. I would think it would be difficult to play both on the computer since you would need to play the Solo-Dx track using a different audio player. On the Mac you could do this with Preview by showing the Solo-Dx track in finder and pressing space to play the file at the appropriate time. So this would be possible without another device.
I had misgivings about doing this with my iPhone since it’s a phone and phones interrupt things. We’ll get to that. You sync the track and the movie by first listening to the track and the directions. Using Hunger Games as an example, the instructions said music would play for about ten seconds and then a distinct guitar would sound. When you hear the guitar, start the Solo-DX track. After it told me that, it counted down to three and there was a beep. You pause the track at the beep and wait for your guitar. When this was explained to me I thought it all sounded rather complicated though it made sense and I figured actually doing it would make it clear and it did.
I was disappointed when I had the track all cued up on my iPhone, paused at the beep, and the darned movie was too quiet and I didn’t hear the beginning music. The guitar started but that too was quiet so I quickly paused the movie and tried to find a way to restart it. I couldn’t find how so I got frustrated and thought how will I ever sync this? I checked the time elapsed and it was thirty seconds. The instructions said there was about ten seconds of music so I restarted the Solo-Dx track and paused and unpaused both track and movie until I got it lined up. I was lucky because the description said something about a girl running down the stairs and I got it lined up perfectly with the sounds of running feet. Lesson learned so I’ll be prepared next time. After finishing the movie I replayed the beginning and got it all synced up perfectly the first time and it was pretty sweet that way! I hadn’t missed anything with my syncing attempts before luckily.
So wait, you put the descriptions track thing on your phone? You didn’t get any phone calls or anything interrupting the description track?
That had been my first huge misgiving about this. I could have used my iPod but I didn’t want to use earbuds and I keep it in my room with my audio books on it. I know, luxury problem. I thought I would just use my phone and my Bluetooth earpiece so I’d have the descriptions in one ear while the movie played on my computer speakers. I ran this by Solo-Dx and it was suggested to either use airplane mode or the new do not disturb feature in iOS 6. Perfect! I would just use airplane mode I decided. Do not disturb would still allow favorites to ring through unless I went and changed settings so airplane mode was just easier. Only problem with that was it also disabled my Bluetooth earpiece so I was back at the ear buds issue. I decided to just use the built in speaker on the iPhone.
It turns out that my pickeyness here was a benefit, at least in my opinion. The female narrator’s voice on the Solo-Dx track took on a different audio tone than the movie so it was easy to separate the two. Also, neither ear was taken up with anything so the movie took center stage and the Solo-Dx track was secondary. I was comfortable on the couch with the phone either resting on my shoulder or sitting on the arm of the couch. (Obviously in a theatre or with others I’ll use my earbuds.)
An awesome thing about this was I could control the volume of the audio descriptions. When the movie volume increased, I just put the phone closer to me and when it got quiet again I moved the phone again. This was great, because I’ve noticed when watching movies with audio descriptions built in, sometimes the volume of the narrator isn’t adjusted so when the scenes get loud, you can barely hear the descriptions. It’s either that or sometimes the volume of the action fades out so you can hear the description. Either way it’s disruptive and draws your attention solely to the narration.
With the Solo-Dx track on my phone, the voice of the narrator at a comfortable volume, easy to control when I needed to, the movie was brought to life more than I’ve ever experienced since going blind. It was truly remarkable, being able to completely control both aspects of the movie. I never thought about it before but just like with a bad audio book narrator, a bad descriptions production can really take away from a movie. The Solo-Dx track was clear and easy to understand and the narrator portrayed the emotion of scenes without going overboard or being boring. It was really freaking awesome, no other words I can think of!
I emailed Solo-Dx excited to let them know I’d finally watched it and how cool I thought it was. They let me know some exciting news:
“We just came out with Solo-Dx for the first 4 episodes of the Walking Dead. On iTunes it’s album-only
for $2.99. On Amazon, it’s 99 cents per episode, or $3.96 for the album of all four.”
I’m excited about this because that show has sounded awesome but just like with movies I’ve been unable to really get into TV. I will be checking these out for sure!
So, what do you think? I think this is pretty fantastic. I had a lot of misgivings going in but now that I’ve tried it, I’m very impressed. By the way, Solo-Dx isn’t paying me to write this or anything haha! I feel very lucky to have been considered a good test subject to check this out and help get the word out to the blind and visually impaired community. I think I have a pretty good grasp on this product so please feel free to ask questions in the comments or email me and I’ll see if I can answer your questions or forward them to the Solo-Dx team.
I’m really excited about this. I think the opportunities are great in that we might be able to take descriptions with us to the movies even! I can watch movies with B and have descriptions all to myself. He no longer rents DVDs anymore since he as access to any movie he wants with his streaming subscriptions and since he does that now, descriptions are out of the question since you don’t get cool DVD menus.
Once the Solo-Dx catalogue really expands, maybe I’ll be able to say, “hey, I have this movie available, want to watch it?”
The only real lingering question I have is pausing when I watch a movie with him or someone else. Today it was simple, I just unlocked my screen and put my iPhone on my shoulder. I put my keyboard on my lap and on the second two fingered tap of the pause/play double tap, I pressed the space bar at the same time with my other hand. I paused the movie several times in this manner and only once did I get a little out of sync when my phone didn’t play it. It was easy to get it back but I’m not sure how this would work trying to pause a movie with another. I think B would probably need to let me control that when one of us needs to pause. He would need to just show me the button on the remote I suppose. I hope anyway! I look foreword to trying it eventually.
This is going to make me want to get back into movies and TV, I can tell you that much for sure. And the cool thing about these tracks being on iTunes and Amazon is you can get gift cards from friends and family to help with this. I know even $099 on a tight budget can be a lot for entertainment. I think those of you who have Netflix and such will really benefit. I might look into that myself since if I start doing more movies and TV, that might offset the cost of iTunes rentals. As of right now, Amazon streaming isn’t accessible with my Macbook which is too bad since I have a Prime account and get a lot of free streaming content. I need to email them about that. Ah, I digress.
Is Solo-Dx the next wave of awesome assistive technology for us? Could be! I’m very impressed. Oh and Hunger Games? That’s a hole other blog post. What a messed up movie!
Oh one last note, I listened to the entire credits at the end of the movie as well. The narration reads all the credits and the music was nice at the end. So if you’re wondering who played who and don’t feel like going to IMDB, just listen to the credits haha! Ok, I think that’s it.
Oh except this, follow Solo-Dx on Twitter @SoloDx1