Friday, May 18, 2012

My Experience - What to Expect From a Rear Window Captioning System at the Movies

On Thursday evening my husband and I decided to go see a movie. It was our wedding anniversary, so we went out for a nice dinner and then decided to go see Avengers at our local AMC theater. The trip to the movies gave me my first experience using a Rear Window Captioning System so I thought I would give an overview of how the process worked and how well I think it will work for me.

I first looked at Captionfish at home and then double checked it on my smartphone before the movie to make sure that this theater was showing an accessible screening of Avengers at a good time. Captionfish allowed me to see that AMC was showing the movie with a Rear Window system 40 minutes earlier than another nearby theater, so I went with them.

I also took a look at exactly what Rear Window Captioning Systems are. Basically, a theater is equipped with a screen on the back wall of the room near where the projection comes from. This screen displays the captions throughout the movie, mirror-image reversed. A movie patron takes the rear window device into the theater. It is mounted with a reflective panel which can be moved into position. The captions show up the correct way in the panel and it can be positioned over the screen.

The Rear Window device.
On the marquee at the theater there were 3 listings for Avengers: AVENGERS D3, AVENGERS D and AVENGERS D-AV. I bypassed their electronic ordering system to ask the employee what the different listings meant. He said D3 stood for "3D" and that "AV means it's for the hearing impaired but it won't affect your viewing at all." He said the last part so quickly I had to wonder how many people he had to explain that to every day.

I told him I wanted the "AV" showing, got tickets and headed inside. I asked the person taking tickets how the system works and she gave me a quick rundown, including telling me I needed to pick up the device itself from the customer service desk. I didn't have to give an ID or anything like that, which I liked. We had a funny moment when the employee handed me the device with a sock on the display screen. Another employee made sure the sock was removed before I took it in the theater, but it made me laugh.

The shape of the device is also funny (if you have a funny sense of humor). It has a base which sits perfectly in the cupholder (so you will be a little annoying if you have a drink, using two cupholders). A long flexible stalk leads up to where the reflective panel is positioned. It looks a lot like you are carrying around a flag.

Anyway, I got into the theater with my husband and we set up the device to my left. We sat in the middle of the theater, towards the front. The screen had a generic "Welcome to AMC Theatres"-type message while the opening ads were being displayed. This allowed me to situate the device exactly where I wanted it without having to fiddle with it during the movie.

I was a little worried initially because the wording was fairly small from where we were sitting. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to read it easily and also watch the movie. I thought about moving from our spot up a few rows but ultimately decided against it.

The generic message disappeared when the previews began. The previews weren't captioned, so if you got to the theater during the previews and needed to set up your Rear Window system you would end up having to wait till the movie begins.

Once the movie started I was happy with the system. The words were a little small but not too bad. The captions were well-timed with the dialogue. However, "outside noises" beyond dialogue, such as a helicopter, crowd noise, etc were not captioned the way they normally would be during a TV show.

The only other problem I had was the positioning of the device. I needed to leave once to use the restroom but I didn't want to have to adjust the positioning by moving it out of the way, so I had to slide under it. It was just a little annoying and made me look a little silly.

As the movie progressed I actually forgot the device was there. In fact when I got up to use the restroom I glanced at the screen and was surprised not to see the captions there. I forgot about it entirely.

We left the theater and handed the device back to an employee. No fuss about it at all.

All in all I enjoyed the experience. There were just a few clunky moments which may be ironed out as I get more experience using it. The employees couldn't have been nicer.

I hope this post helps you get a feel for what using a Rear Window Captioning System will be like if you haven't tried it yet!


  1. Yesterday was our anniversary and we also decided to see a movie. My husband generally uses the 'earphone amplification' devices most theatres have. When we went to the desk at our local AMC he noticed a card w/instructions for the rear window captioning and inquired. Clearly the girl working there didn't really know the whole story. She gave him the device (taking my driver's license for security) and off we went. The 'welcome message' never showed nor did the captions once the movie began. I went back out and found a more informed employee who then informed me that only one screen (out of 12) has the captioning technology, so unless we wanted to see "Battleship" we were out of luck. Ironically that was the movie my husband really wanted to see, but we compromised on a romantic comedy instead!! I traded in the captioning device for the amplification headphones and we watched the rest of the movie.

  2. I've tried the amplification headphones once - it made everything loud not just the voice, then the batteries died. Plus I thought the headset centered me out.

    The rear window plate also gives me that "centered out" feeling but I preferred it to headsets. Once it's positioned correctly it is a decent experience. I wondered what it was like for people sitting behind me. Would they also see reflections in the screen, would it be distracting?

    I have the same experience as Anonymous...very few theatres offer Rear Window and when they do it's for the poorly rated movies. All movies should be available to the hearing impaired. I'm shocked that they are not legislated to provide Rear Window for every movie.


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