Do not adjust your television set

A mechanism to allow the hard-of-hearing distinguish between foreground dialogue and background music or sound effects in television programmes has been developed by engineers led by Professor Ahmet Kondoz from the University of Surrey.

Called Diction – Digitally Improving the Clarity of Television Narrative – the background noise suppression technology will be beneficial for many hard-of-hearing people, claim researchers.

The new technology works by suppressing changing background noises in television programmes. Similar research focuses only on constant background noises such as car engines and aircraft.

Those that suffer from hearing difficulties say that one of the worst everyday background noises is that caused by a melee of human voices or the hubbub of pub conversation. A prime example is Eastenders’ Queen Vic which is an acoustically hostile environment for the hard-of hearing.

Diction is based around an intelligent algorithm that quickly learns to distinguish between actors’ voices and background sounds. Digital signal processing techniques lower the background sounds without degradation of the main foreground sounds.

Researchers at The University of Surrey claim that Diction is the first tool to successfully suppress television background noise.

The device will work initially as a plug-in black box via the SCART connector at the rear of a televisions receiver but may, in the future, become an integral part of all television sets.

Diction has a range of other applications as well. The technology may be beneficial for mobile ‘phone users as it can reduce distracting background sound from vehicles and general high street noise.

Similarly, it may also benefit the military where personnel communicating in tanks, aircraft, trucks and helicopters can experience debilitating background noise.