New technology aids impaired moviegoers

5:37 pm | June 3, 2013

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Regal Entertainment Group is installing new equipment in its theaters that will help people with vision or hearing impairments enjoy the movies.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that this summer Regal will begin providing eyeglasses that use holographic technology to project closed-captioning at about 6,000 screens across the country.

Randy Smith, the CEO of Knoxville-based Regal, said the technology is the closest thing to complete access for sight- and hearing-impaired patrons the industry has ever had.

“For the first time since the talkies, the deaf and blind can go see any feature at any show time at any theater that is outfitted with this type of technology,” Smith said.

The glasses weigh three ounces and can be adjusted so the viewer can set the distance to the subtitles. The captions appear to float in front of the view in the direct line of sight to the screen. The system also includes headsets for hearing impaired people who don’t wear hearing aids.

Among those the company tested the technology on is Smith’s 23-year-old son, Ryan, who is deaf.

Smith said his son loved movies when he was growing up, but quit going to the theater because of difficulty understanding. When blockbusters came out, he would have to wait months until DVDs with captions were released.

Students from Tennessee School of the Deaf also tried out the technology.

“When you see a couple of busloads of kids signing ‘I love you’ because they got to see a movie, it certainly tore at my heartstrings,” Smith said.

Regal is spending $12 million to make the glasses available at 520 theaters. They cost about four times as much as seat-mounted screens used elsewhere.

Regal bought digital projections systems from Sony in 2010 and worked with the company to develop the system for glasses.

“The military had amazing headsets,” Smith says. “We knew it was feasible. We just had to get somebody to develop it. I’ve got to say that Sony did a great job. In about an 18-month period, they brought it from concept to prototype.”

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