[blindkid] Audio Described Holiday Programs On TV

Richard Holloway rholloway at gopbc.org
Mon Dec 9 23:27:03 UTC 2013

The "Spanish" option seems to be where many people find DVS these days. The major exceptions seem to be TBS and TNT stations, both being Turner Networks, and I suspect that is not a coincidence.

I have not found audio description by selecting the "Audio Description" option ever. I have actually checked for many years, and nobody of which I'm aware has found this works for them either, but that doesn't mean no system has used this option. It is entirely dependent on the setup the broadcaster chooses combined with the available choices on your receiver. I know this is confusing to many, and may discourage some from searching, but again, once you find the right combination, it gets a lot easier.

Many receivers also have an "SAP" or "Separate Audio Program" setting which can (at least on some systems) be selected independently of the the language selection. If memory serves, "SAP" dates back to the years well before the digital conversion. I'm pretty certain a Sony set I bought roughly 25 years ago had this feature, so the term probably applies to a wide variety of applications, some of which would have been forced to change when all TV broadcasts went digital a few years ago.

I am actually a formally trained, professional audio recording engineer. I'm not trying to impress anyone, only to suggest that with my having a lot of training in working with audio, you might assume I could figure al this out with ease, but that is not the case-- this is a messy thing to work through, but I find the rewards for my daughter are very much worth the effort.

I have discussed this matter with more than one professional Broadcast Television Engineer. I get differing responses from various different broadcast professionals, and from what I can figure out, nobody has a complete and comprehensive answer. Certainly many of the engineers with cable providers as well as TiVo have been rather uninformed about all of this. I have tried reading various published documentation about broadcast standards, and I haven't gained much from that either. I think a lot of the issue is that the TV receiver specifications have been largely unregulated, so from TV to TV, cable receiver to cable receiver, and DVR to DVR, settings and various menu operations are simply not consistent. 

I would liken this confusion to buying a a motor vehicle. Many of the same standards apply to cars and trucks, but there are variations-- automatic or manual transmissions. Some have more or fewer doors. Some can tow huge loads. The list is nearly endless, even though all vehicles are federally regulated and all are forms of motorized transport. And just in case it all starts to make sense, something like a hybrid or a totally electric electric car appears in the market. Until specific details are regulated (virtually all cars must now have seat belts, for example) you may not have the same things available from vehicle to vehicle. So it seems to be with audio description. At last they are forcing it to be offered, but they haven't yet regulated how to ACCESS it. That too is in the works, however.

What I can tell you is that TBS and TNT seem to offer DVS (when available) under Portuguese, NOT Spanish, and that is important because they seem to run all three language options at all times. If they simulcast Spanish, that tends to show under "Spanish", and DVS, when offered, runs under "Portuguese". It is absolutely possible for them to run English, Spanish and DVS at the same time. In fact, it appears quite possible for stations to run many more languages at once, and it also appears that every single language can have a sub-setting which is apparently the SAP setting, and I assume what we are seeing with the "Audio Described" menu option is actually a different label for the "SAP" setting, though I have yet to officially confirm this.

For the time being, about the only way to access these controls non-visually is my knowing what buttons to push in what sequence, and since the sequence varies per network, that is a real challenge. On my TiVo system, the audio also reverts back to english every time I change channels. It actually records all options, but you have to keep selecting the DVS again on each replay, or each channel change.

As a bonus (but possibly important) piece of technical minutiae,  when I check TNT and TBS on my TiVo, I have language options of English, Spanish, and Portuguese, yet on my Comcast cable box (same exact time, same house, same exact cable feed), I have English, Spanish, and FRENCH. Portuguese isn't an option (on the exact same broadcasts) and so far, I can't get "French" to produce DVS when it is supposed to be running. My key point, however, is that just because I find DVS under Portuguese on my TiVo, it may show up under some alternative language on another system. It is not clear to me AT ALL what assigns the names of languages, as well as terms like "SAP", vs "Audio Description". And just to be clear, I can generally find English running on all four language feeds unless a special option is being sent, but once in a while, the options are running silent, or running entirely unrelated audio. One channel, for example, feeds a weather report all the time on a separate audio feed here in Atlanta, Georgia, and someone else has reported  the same thing happening on a Station in Dallas, Texas.

All this is supposed to get sorted out in the future as they add legally mandated and accessible controls are mandated for the future as well for virtually all systems. Not just TV tuners and DVD players, but even computers, tablets, etc.

Sorry if I have taken the discussion too far-- I'm happy to discuss off-line more if others are interested.


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