Everyone loves to watch TV. It has become our national pastime it seems. And, with the advent of things like Netflix and Hulu many new options for TV watching have really opened up. But, for those of us with vision impairment, what options do we have. Today, we discuss the most accessible ways of watching TV. From audio description to the actual interfaces, we'll cover the ways that will give you the best TV watching experience you can have!
Let's Talk Options
There are a few different options you have for TV watching these days. No longer is is three channels and some bunny ears. Let's look at the core options we are offered these days.
There is the classic method of watching TV. With this option, you fork out what is usually a lot of money to have equipment installed in your home to give you TV access. Many times, internet is bundled in this package as well. Wires are run. Boxes are set up. Remotes are lost.
There are major companies in this option. Dish Network and Direct TV head up the satellite companies while Comcast and Time Warner are a couple of the cable companies. (I'm sure there are others, but we'll keep it simple.)
For those people who are becoming “cord cutters” this is the category that has helped them do it. Companies such as Netflix and Hulu have changed the face of TV watching as we know it. You can get movies and tv shows when you want them and as much as you want them. No more waiting until the next week to see a new episode. You can binge an entire season in one weekend.
Streaming services have an advantage over cable and stelitte as there is not equpment to set up. You can watch TV from your phone, tablet or computer. Devices like the Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire Stick make it easy to get those services on your big screen as well.
Internet Based Live TV
This option has come around in the last few years. Sling TV was one of the first big services to offer this, with services like Playstation Due and even Direct TV offering Direct Now. Essentially, this is a combination of the first two options. You get a set amount of live channels as well as having the ability to have most of that offered in an on demand version.
The main difference between this and normal cable or satellite is that live channels are streamed over the web. So, if your internet goes down, so goes your TV watching.
Pros and Cons of Each
Interface and Guide
Watching TV today is more than just finding what you want and watching it. It is traveling through the guide and maneuvering the interface. For VIPs, this can be difficult.
For cable and satellite users, this is almost out of the question. The only one I have seen at the time of this episode that has this feature is Comcast aka Xfinity. However, they are very expensive, so I have never used their feature. I had Dish for quite some time and they simply did not offer anything int he way of screen reading. It was either get really close to the screen to read the text or be out of luck.
Streaming services, however, can do much better in this regard. Mainly, this is due to the accessibility features built into the system it is running on. For example, if you are watching Netflix on an iPhone, then VoiceOver does a great job of telling you what each show is, giving a description, telling you how much is left and so on. Also, I am currently using Playstation Due on an Apple TV and it works pretty well. Not perfect, but it's getting there.
Regardless, you'll have a better chance of hearing what is playing from a streaming device then you would a cable box.
This is a big one for visually impaired folks. Audio Description, or A.D., is the feature that tells you what is happening on screen between the dialogue. It has changed the way I watch TV and movies. It is a great feature that I so appreciate having.
For dable and satellite users, it is hit or miss. Some channels have it on an alternate audio feed and some don't. Even the channels that do won't have it for every show. Local channels are supposed to offer it, but it depends on your market.
Streaming services can also bit hit or miss. If it is fairly new, there is a good chance it will have it. And, original stuff will most likely have it also. For example, every Netflix Original Series I have watched has had A.D.
Web Based Live TV is the loser here. Unless I am missing something, I've not found a way to access A.D. on Playstation Vue. Perhaps Dirt Now or Sling offer it, but I can't say ofr sure. (Leave in the comments if you are aware of this.)
My Option on the Best Set Up
If I am pushed to say what is the best, most accessible way to watch TV, I would include a few items:
- An Apple TV 4th Generation – Not only does it have the great accessible features that Apple is known for, it has the great Siri remote for searching and dictation.
- Netflix – It appears to me that Netflix takes accessibility seriously. Their apps are well thought out and work great with VoiceOver and many of their titles have audio description. It is a joy to use Netflix as a VIP.
- A Web Based Live Tv Service – Something like Sling TV or Playstation Due would be a great option. The apps look to be accessible (Playstation Due anyway) and their options are very good. Not perfect yet, but still very good.
With these options, you could really enjoy sitting on the couch and watching TV like you used too in your “sighted days.”