Sennheiser is to launch CinemaConnect, which enables cinemas to stream audio from films to the mobile devices of members of the audience. The product is particularly aimed at providing audio description and assistive listening for people with hearing or sight impairments, but it could also be used to provide foreign-language tracks or even directors' commentaries.
The system, which will be available in Europe this autumn, consists of two hardware components: a ConnectStation processor, which connects to the cinema's movie server, and a WLAN router. Cinemas install these in each of their screening rooms. For cinema visitors, there is an app (for Apple iOS and Android) which identifies which cinemas are equipped with CinemaConnect; when seated in the auditorium, users log into a dedicated Wi-fi network and can select their preferred audio track. Latency in the system is no more than 50ms, so audiences hear dialogue synchronised to the movie on the screen.
The decision to base the system around viewers' own devices was taken early on in the development process, as it gives control to the user, and people can use it without drawing attention to themselves. Research indicates that over 30% of Europeans with hearing difficulties forgo attending cultural events, and 12% believe that they receive too little help when visiting the opera, theatre or cinema. In addition, the use of Wi-fi technology is a discreet and simpler alternative to more disruptive hearing assistance solutions such as induction loops. It also means that cinemas do not need to hand out, retrieve, store and clean individual hearing devices (such as tour guide systems, which are sometimes used in this context).
Sennheiser has created a new division, Sennheiser Streaming Technologies, to concentrate on streaming audio solutions. Based in Hamburg, it is headed by managing director Jörn Erkau (left of picture, with Sennheiser CEO Daniel Sennheiser). “Our aim with CinemaConnect is to make cultural events accessible to everyone," he said. "In the coming years, we will continue drive the development of innovative technologies – and not just in the field of inclusion. That is why CinemaConnect is an important first step for us.”
Daniel Sennheiser told Installation that early feedback on Cinema Connect has been "great'. At a 'sneak preview' event held at the Abaton cinema in Hamburg, the company showed a video testimonial from two blind people who were able to use the app without instruction, and were enthused by the prospect of going to the cinema more often and getting more from films. Sennheiser added: "We've also got some very positive feedback from the installers and the cinemas; there are other systems around, but now comes a very reliable system from Sennheiser, who everyone knows. We've been in the market for 70 years, for 40 years in assistive listening... this isn't a small idea and a start-up, we're really serious about this business long term."