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National Theatre Trials Wearables & AR To Deliver Real-Time Performance Subtitles

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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National Theatre trials wearable and augmented reality technologies with Accenture to make the arts more accessible

The National Theatre (NT) is trialling wearable technology to see how it can deliver real time subtitling and audio description (AD) services to every single one of its 2,585 productions each year. 

At present, just four performances of each production have subtitling, which is shown on large screens to the sides of the stage, and just three have AD. 

The NT has been working with Accenture since the start of 2017 to see how technology can improve the viewing experience and encourage participation in the arts. As part of this, the NT was keen to make its productions more accessible. 

National Theatre

National Theatre subtitles 

“Over the last six months, we’ve been working on a closed captioning system with Accenture so people with hearing difficulties can enjoy the theatre [as much as anyone],” declared Jonathan Suffolk, the NT’s Technical Director. 

“The idea is that any sight or hearing impaired visitors can attend any performance.” 

The NT is using Accenture’s Open Access Smart Capture augmented reality (AR) system and Epson Moverio BT-350 smart glasses, which display the subtitles in a similar manner to Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens. 

In a bid to get the system right, the NT is also working with subtitling expert Andrew Lambourne and specialists StageText and VocalEye. 

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National Theatre AR

During a demonstration of the system which saw actor Olivia Coleman take to the stage, Silicon was able to adjust the size, distance, colour and position of the subtitles, using a dedicated controller. 

While it was accurate, and can be used with spectacles, it remains to be seen just how comfortable the smart glasses will be when used for the entirety of a show. 

Over the next year, the NT will trial the wearables in the smaller Dorfman theatre before expanding to the Lyttleton and Olivier theatres for larger scale shows. 

If all goes well, the closed captioning could be in place for all productions by October 2018, with AD following the year after. 

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