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February 2, 2023

Why we all need subtitles now

Wrote Kottke:

Dialogue from movies and TV shows has become more difficult to hear in recent years, prompting many to switch on subtitles for much of what they watch.

As this video from Vox details, the reasons for this shift come down to a desire for realism, choices that filmmakers have access to because of technology, and mediocre at-home sound systems on TVs, computers, and devices.

I dislike watching movies and shows with subtitles on (unless there's non-English dialogue) because if there are words on the screen, they capture 95% of my attention and I find it extremely difficult to pay attention to all of the other things going on — physical acting, cinematography, pacing, effects, etc.

Movies and TV shows are much more than plot-delivery mechanisms and all of that other stuff is important!

But with dialogue harder than ever to hear these days (and with my mild misophonia), it does mean more rewinding and not watching anything unless I'm in a quiet room or using noise-cancelling AirPods.

February 2, 2023 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


I think all the new actors just tend to mumble a lot or they are high on drugs. The voices are so hard to hear but all the other sounds are LOUD and clear. Just got a new TV and it has a ClearVoice audio setting that really seems to help.

Posted by: Mike | Feb 3, 2023 11:53:17 AM

I know I'm in a fortunate minority of people able to afford to build a high-fidelity home theater, which is a hobby of mine and something I've invested time and money into. I have no problem hearing dialog. Christopher Nolan's Tenet, for example, was a movie that I thought had really specacular audio, but I understand that many people found it unintelligible due to inadequate audio equiment.

So I'm sad when I hear popular opinion suggesting that movie audio needs to be "dumbed down" to play to the lowest common denominator (TV speakers, poorly-setup soundbars, bad room acoustics, etc.).

I agree that a solution is needed, and everyone should have the opportunity to hear what they're watching.

But I hope that it doesn't mean that movie makers stop making movies that sound good on a good sound system ... I fear that this uproar over "I can't hear dialog" means movies are going to become what music has become in the last 20 years: overly compressed with no dynamic range and a flat "loudness."

Integrating user options for high dynamic range versus low dynamic range ("night mode" or similar) to play on inadequate equipment would be a good solution.

Posted by: g-bull | Feb 2, 2023 5:02:16 PM

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