I have a CI and my wife is normal hearing. A week ago we saw the stage production of Hamilton in San Francisco. The play has a lot of fast dialog, jazz, hip hop, and rap singing. Prior to our performance date, the theater announced availability of a new app for smart phones and tablets called GalaPro. You download the app from your App Store prior to going to the theater. Once in the theater, you put your device on airplane mode (so as not to make noise during the performance), connect to the theater’s Wi-Fi, and launch the app. “Real time” captions appeared on our devices, in sync with what was happening on stage. The captions are a dark red font on a black background, so it doesn’t distract others. But it’s easily readable. When I looked over at my wife’s phone, I could hardly tell she was looking at captions. The performance was SO much more enjoyable for both of us.
How does it work? It’s not 100% clear. The GalaPro web site says that it uses real time speech recognition and can translate to any target language in real time. Our assumption is that the captions (which were perfect) have been created ahead of time, and someone is either “backstage” or “listening in” and paging through them in time with what’s happening on stage. The captions also had the name of the person speaking or singing – which would not happen if it was pure speech recognition.
On occasion the captions would lag or get ahead as if someone backstage was hitting “next page” while distracted looking at Facebook. Theater captions are currently only available for certain cities and certain shows (New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Berkeley, Costa Mesa, Pittsburgh, Melbourne, Buffalo, London, Sarasota are cities currently listed).
The GalaPro website says that they are also in the process of bringing this to movie theaters so you’d use your smart phone or tablet to get captions instead of using the clumsy (but appreciated) devices that sit in your cup holder – and that you will be able to walk into a comedy improv (where the dialog is unpredictable) and get real time captions. They may not be there yet.
GalaPro was a great experience for us. We’ll be watching to see if GalaPro becomes more widely available and usable for different types of productions.
About the Authors
Suzy & Mike live an hour north of San Francisco. Mike is a retired telecommunications engineer from Hewlett Packard. He is an adjunct professor at Arizona State University in the Speech and Hearing Sciences, and works with both the ASU and UCSF CI teams trying to improve low frequencies and music for CIs using his hand-built speech processor.