Sennheiser, a Germany-based manufacturer of microphones, headphones and wireless transmission systems, has partnered with researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute on a special project to develop smartphone apps that offer support for hearing impaired users via mobile applications for public events.

Change app settings by sliding a finger across the touch screen

Users change app settings during an event or movie by sliding a finger across the touch screen.

Attending a public event, such as a theater performance, movie, oral presentation, or sports event can be severely compromised if an individual has difficulty understanding speech. With this in mind, Sennheiser developed MobileConnect and CinemaConnect, two smartphone apps that allow attendees to enjoy the live sound of a public event via WLAN streaming using their smartphones. As a result of Sennheiser’s partnership with Fraunhofer, the two apps now feature a new signal processing function called “Personal Hearing,” which allows users to change the volume level of the audio signal they receive and to optimize speech intelligibility and sound quality according to their individual hearing requirements.

Sennheiser reports that both MobileConnect and CinemaConnect are intended to be used mainly by hearing impaired people who do not wear a hearing aid. The “Personal Hearing” signal processing technology for the apps was developed by the Project Group for Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology of Fraunhofer IDMT. For users to adjust the audio signal themselves, the Fraunhofer IDMT researchers developed an intuitive user interface. Settings can be changed easily during an event by sliding a finger across the touch screen until the desired sound quality is reached.

According to an announcement from Sennheiser and Fraunhofer, to develop the hearing support technology, the Fraunhofer IDMT experts reduced the complex signal processing strategies commonly used in hearing aid devices to a limited number of characteristic default settings. These default settings can compensate for a large number of known hearing impairments, say the Fraunhofer researchers.

“In cooperation with Hörzentrum Oldenburg, we conducted comprehensive usability tests on our signal processing strategies for hearing support,” said Jan Rennies, PhD, of Faunhofer IDMT. “The tests revealed that subjects suffering from a slight or medium hearing loss perceived a substantial improvement in speech intelligibility and sound quality after the sound had been processed by our technology.”

Individuals wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants may also use the free Sennheiser apps to connect the live sound of a public event directly to their hearing device via smartphone. For movies, MobileConnect and CinemaConnect can also be used for streaming different language versions onto the user’s smartphone, while visually impaired people may use the apps for taking advantage of the audio description track. According to the announcement, the streaming hardware is distributed to movie theater operators and public event managers by Sennheiser Streaming Technologies GmbH, a subsidiary of Sennheiser electronics GmbH & Co. Users can go to the “Culture Inclusive” culture portal to find out which cinemas and theaters offer the technology.*

“In developing further MobileConnect and CinemaConnect, Sennheiser intends to simplify technology used by people with impaired hearing, so that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a public event in all its dimensions,” said Jörn Erkau, the managing director of Sennheiser Streaming Technologies. “Building on this technology, we will develop more streaming technology solutions for specific applications, such as conference settings, for example.”

Additional information about Sennheiser’s two new apps may be found in a previous announcement about the technology on the Sennheiser website.

According to the iTunes preview page for MobileConnect, this app requires you to use your own headphones/earbuds, as it is a “BYOD – Bring your own device and use your own smartphone and headphones. There’s no need to borrow any external device.”

According to the iTunes preview page for the CinemaConnect app, this is a “BYOD – Bring your own device app. CinemaConnect makes all other technical aids unnecessary. You need nothing more than your own smartphone or tablet and bring your headphones for watching movies. No matter where you sit in the movie theater, you will understand everything from any seat in the best possible quality.”

Source: Sennheiser, and the Project Group Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT