Amazon Prime Video introduces Dialogue Boost to reduce reliance on subtitles

Daniel Sims

Posts: 1,082   +39
What's the deal? Barely audible dialogue has been a widespread complaint against movies and TV shows in recent years. Investigations indicate multiple causes, from the production process to the consumer's preferences and viewing habits. Amazon thinks it has a solution that works for all its subscribers, regardless of their viewing situation.

Amazon added a new audio mode to Prime Video this week that boosts dialogue so viewers can better hear what characters say in movies and TV shows. The feature is now available in the audio and subtitles menu of Prime-exclusive programs like Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Harlem, The Big Sick, Beautiful Boy, and Being the Ricardos. More Amazon Originals will support Dialogue Boost later this year.

Studies reveal that the proportion of viewers using subtitles while watching TV has exploded recently. The reasons behind the trend are varied: the rising popularity of foreign content (including programming in English but with thick UK accents), viewers using subtitles to learn English, the hearing-impaired, and viewers watching while multitasking.

However, possibly the most common audience complaint is that the dialogue is comparatively too quiet. If you have ever had to turn down the volume during an action-packed gunfight, you can relate. Even movie theaters often turn down speakers to make action scenes less ear-splitting.

Research and interviews reveal that sound mixing and playback have broken down at every production stage, from initial recording to final output. Audio teams have complained about being ignored on sets. Professional mixers have to edit sound without knowing what audiences use. Video compression and lower TV speaker quality also contribute to the issue.

Many soundbars now include functionality to boost center channels to enhance dialogue. Amazon's solution attacks the problem at the mixing and compression stage. Dialogue Boost uses AI to analyze speech patterns and target segments where music or sound effects might overpower the dialogue. The main advantage of Amazon's solution is that it works on all devices that support Prime Video. Unlike soundbars which customers only install in living rooms, the boosted audio tracks – available in medium and high modes – work on simple TV speakers, headphones, phone and tablet speakers, or any other audio-out device.

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Posts: 4,783   +7,380
That's actually kind of great. My biggest complaint about the production on newer shows is how weak the midrange volume is.


Posts: 232   +260
Great job Amazon. I do find if I turn the volume up to hear the dialogue, when the music and other sound affects kick in the volume is too loud. This is listening using a dedicated amp and 3 front speakers (L,C,R)


Posts: 2,356   +4,674
I honestly do not see this as a positive, but probably not for the reasons you're thinking.

Let's think about how the train of events lead here for a moment

1) Film makers know how to normalize audio levels and have known about it for decades, is probably one of the first lessons in audio production: sync audio, check audio levels, etc.
2) Film makers then intentionally decide to use very different audio levels (a.k.a. Audio dynamics) to emphasize a certain aspect of the film in question, so they deliberately wanted lines of dialogue to be hard or near impossible to hear and some others to feel overwhelming as an artistic expression with purpose. This works well and I'm sure a lot of people that study or really like film can point to examples of (Probably classic/older) films where this works really well
3) The tv and movie industry collectively are so hyper-commercialized that creative expression is actively hindered in favor of assuring a return-of-investment to executive producers and their production companies and big media enterprises: It's more and more difficult to give any sort of consideration to more discerning audiences and peers or critics outside of the very limited framework of movies specifically designed to bring in prestige (A.k.a. Oscar bait)
4) Because the techniques of audio dynamics get so overused along with other common ones (Shaky cam, fast editing, speed-slow-speed sequences, etc.) due to market forces from the above step this becomes a problem for even popular audiences
5) Instead of acknowledging how a profit motive is negatively impacting creative decisions to the point that even the lowest common denominator viewer is bothered by it, a patch-work and unnecessary solution is introduced because well, why have humans go through the labor intensive work of offering an audio remastering when you can just get AI to do it on the fly and on demand?

Now this might seem like I'm making too much out of a genuinely positive development, "People who dislike varying audio levels get to have a better experience instantly" but this is only because I honestly do not think it will end there: AI will not stop at audio correction and ML upscaling, soon enough there will be options to remove other aspects enough people find annoying like not having proper subtitles or dubbing available (Which will be really bad for an already difficult part of the process which is dubbing and translation) or even the final frontier of undoing more film related creative decisions: Don't like shaky cam? AI stabilized. Don't like overuse of slow motion? Speed normalization on the fly, Annoyed by a film you considered too dark? Just don't like certain color schemes? On the fly selective filters that only apply to certain user-defined thresholds, etc.

And after we cross those lines in the sand, and I believe we will, then this will mean even less incentive for the Hollywood industrial complex to correct the actual issue at hand which is point 3) and instead just give you the 20th Spiderman reboot in 30 years because it doesn't really matter how it is produced, it's no longer art it's just an endless stream of meaningless, yet endlessly AI customizable content.