“Welcome to the Year of the Whores” has to top the list as one of the best real-time TV subtitle whoopsies of them all, as BBC’s Tina Daheley described the Chinese Year of the Horse in 2014. Close behind is certainly presenter Dan Walker who refers to the English seaside town of Cromer as famous for “rubbish” (rather than crabbing), and Manchester United midfielder Adnan Januzaj who was once subtitled as “Janet Jazz Jazz Jam”.
Last weekend I watched Formula 1 on a pub TV and noticed how many words the subtitles got wrong (although none to the same bewilderment of those notorious blunder examples) or simply overlooked. Live subtitles are, of course, a must-have service for the deaf and hard of hearing, and I’m not here to bash the efforts of hard-working captioners at all.
But that experience in the F1 pub reminded me of a new audio broadcasting technology I first heard about last summer that could make the experience of audio content in public spaces much better for many people.
Called Auracast, it essentially allows a source device, such as a TV or phone, to broadcast one or more audio streams to an unlimited number of audio receivers such as earbuds, speakers, or hearing aids, whose owners can then choose which audio stream (s) ) what they want their eavesdropping device to tune to. So in a pub with numerous TVs showing different sports, the audio from each TV can be broadcast so that publoafers can dial in their earbuds if they want, so they get the right commentary instead of relying on watching imperfect subtitles.
Now I know what you’re going to say – “how antisocial is that?” But for solo drinkers or even killing time in airport bars, Auracast could be the perfect solution for a perfect situation. Honestly, even if you’re in the pub with your mates, you can just put one earbud on a low volume and enjoy both social banter and commentary – the best of both worlds. It could even be an excuse to shut out that one partner who has had a pint too many and decided to personify a world-class coach. Oh the potential!
And of course, when you’re not at the pub, Auracast lets you share your music library with any headphone carrier in your train car, so fellow travelers nearby can tune in if they want. Instead of the audio commentary for the Wimbledon Championships blasting loudly through loudspeakers in every square and green space in London, spectators can simply choose to listen through their Bluetooth headphones without any audible disturbance to passers-by.
Perhaps an airplane’s PA system could work similarly, so those blaring music through their headphones don’t miss that all-important meal announcement. At the gym? You can replace the subtitles of the TV screen with audio in your headphones. You get the picture. An Auracast transmitter could supposedly be picked up within a 30,000 square foot radius, so you can imagine its potential.
And this also applies to people who use hearing aids, but more seriously, as Auracast will be able to send streams directly to the ear canals through the (compatible) hearing aid, as opposed to the hearing aid processing sound from the environment. Indeed, one of Auracast’s goals is to become a “sophisticated, new assistive listening system.”
Expanding the horizons of Bluetooth
I’ve mentioned Bluetooth a few times now because yes, Auracast is a Bluetooth feature. It is one of the features that the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (opens in new tab) (Bluetooth SIG) — a global community of 36,000 companies responsible for setting standards for Bluetooth technology — has included in its latest specifications the relatively new Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) audio standard (which, by the way, also introduced the LC3 codec for supposedly better quality audio at lower data rates and greater power efficiency compared to the ‘standard’ SBC Bluetooth).
It’s actually a rebranded version of a feature SIG introduced much earlier – Audio Sharing – which focused more on sharing audio between source devices than broadcasting multiple channels. The Bluetooth SIG compares the technology to how a radio signal is transmitted, in that a standard radio transmitter transmits a single signal that any number of radio receivers within range can tune to.
To support Auracast, a device must support Bluetooth 5.2 (as many wireless headphones of the past two years do) and the Public Broadcast Profile (PBP) specification within the new LE Audio standard. Auracast will be supported by Android 13 (no word on iOS yet) as well as Qualcomm’s next-gen chips that will make their way into this year’s and next year’s earbuds and phones. TVs would also need built-in Auracast support, or alternatively some kind of plug-in Auracast transmitter that is sure to appear. But true nameable Auracast-enabled products are few and far between at the moment – Philips’ Fidelio L4 headphones are one example. So now we wait.
It’s a promising path for Bluetooth to go down. I was – very briefly – most excited about the near future of Bluetooth, particularly in terms of its potential to deliver lossless hi-res audio quality between phones and headphones, but it seems that level of wireless audio quality for portable devices is actually in owns Ultra Wide Band and SCL6 technologies. Auracast, on the other hand, is very real and could really open up a whole new world of audio experiences, not least for people with hearing loss.
Bluetooth LE and the LC3 codec will not improve audio quality
aptX Lossless: what is the breakthrough Bluetooth codec? How can you get it?
It’s official, the first “high resolution” wireless headphones are coming