Review of the “Assistive Hearing Device” featured at the Tyrone Mall Cobb 10 Theatre, St. Petersburg

I decided to attend the premier showing of “Inferno” last Friday at the Cobb 10 Theatre, at Tyrone Square Mall and see what “assistive hearing devices” they have available and try it out. When I purchased tickets for my wife and me, I asked if any “assistive hearing devices” were available because I did not see any advertised or noted on the wall…nor displayed on the guest services desk. The clerk said they have a device available which features captions, so I requested to use one and she reached under the desk and brought one out for me. You have to give your drivers license to hold for security and return purposes, like other assistive hearing devices used at other theatres. My device description is not totally accurate in this review, because I didn’t have anything to measure the device with. I am guessing and estimating the devices dimensions and measurements.

The device was rather strange looking, about 18 to 22 inches long, black in color and made out of metal and plastic. One end was fashioned to fit inside the cup holder and the other end was a small viewer box, with about a 5 x 2 inch viewing area inside…the two ends were connected by a gooseneck lamp like bendable stiff wire (see diagrams below.) The clerk said, “You simply connect one end to the cup holder and the other end (the viewer) and then adjust it to a comfortable viewing height to the screen. When the feature movie starts, the captions will appear inside the viewing box.” She also mentioned that the previews do not have captions available.

Of course I didn’t understand everything she was saying (I am hard of hearing) and I then asked if she had written instructions or guidelines for use for the device and she said no. I then had to ask my wife everything she said and explained…a great argument for having and needing written guidelines and instructions. If I didn’t have my wife with me to repeat back everything the staff member said, I would have spent a long time asking her to repeat things, write them down or just given up and tried to figure things out on my own (welcome to my world!)

After I got the device, my wife and I proceeded to buy popcorn and a soft drink. When we got our refreshments, I only had one hand available to carry tickets and refreshments in, since the device occupied my entire other hand. Good thing I had my wife to help share the load, since she had only her purse to carry. We gave our tickets to the attendant and then I decided to use the restroom before going into the theatre. My wife held the popcorn and drinks and I took the device to the restroom with me. It was rather cumbersome and embarrassing to take the device with me, but I didn’t want to leave it unattended while I used the restroom. I was given some interesting stares when I was trying to find a place to lay it down while I used the restroom. If you have a walker or cane or other devices you need to carry with you, or transport carrying the device might cause some concern for you.

We entered the theatre and I noticed the large reclining chair seats with cup holders. We sat down and I then installed the one end of the device into the cup holder and then I tried to adjust the viewer box to a comfortable and effective viewing height. Because the movie had not yet started I wasn’t able do that yet, so I just waited until the movie and previews started. One thing I didn’t know was you must tighten the device as tight as it will go into the cup holder, otherwise it will lean over or pop out. I was trying to be careful and cautious not too tighten it in too hard as I didn’t want to break it.

When the previews started and nothing came on in the viewer box, as I was told previews were not captioned. I was not given an Instruction booklet or handout to study or read about the device, so I studied it while I waited for the movie to start. On the device I noticed there is no on or off switch, there is no unit is full charged light, and there was total darkness in the viewer box, so I couldn’t tell if my unit was even going to work. I suddenly was getting an uneasy feeling like the unit they gave me was not going to work. I can’t explain the feeling, but it was like something was wrong or just not right. I unfastened the device from the cup holder and went to seek assistance and reassurance from a theatre staff member. I went up to the ticket taker and he said he didn’t know a thing about those devices and could not help me. Just then a staff member came out of the office and the ticket taker called him over to talk to me. This staff member was familiar with the device and he looked at the device and said it wasn’t lit up and probably wasn’t working or charged, and he went back to the guest services desk to get me another one.

He then accompanied me back to my seat with the replacement unit, fastened the device securely into the cup holder, and told me when the movie started I would see the captions. He left and I started to adjust my viewer box and to my surprise the captions for the previews were being displayed in the viewer box! Strange I thought, because the staff member who gave me the device said previews are not captioned. It took a little bit of adjusting to try and find a comfortable height and distance to see the captions clearly and comfortably. It was difficult to try and watch the movie on the screen and catch the captions in a separate viewing device…I had two different places to watch and concentrate on, the screen and device. The captions were inside of the viewer box…that box is about 5 inches long and maybe 2 inches high. It was a very compressed area to view and read especially when 2 lines of captioning appeared at one time. If you changed position in your seat, you had to change the position of the viewer box. If you are eating or drinking, you will have to sort of immobilize your movements and position, so you don’t lose sight of the viewer box. If the viewer box is too close you block the screen, if too far away, it’s harder to read the captions. It can be frustrating and fatiguing to decide if sometimes you want to just study and watch the screen, or read the captions on the viewer box. I felt like my eyes were engaged in a conflict between the screen and the viewer box. It’s so much easier when the captions are embedded in the screen, so you don’t have to engage in that conflict. I didn’t want to use the recliner mode of the chair, because I felt it would just complicate matters in adjusting the viewer box. I thought it would just add another angular dimension to deal with.

The captions were digital and an electronic blue color. The captions were confined to that small viewing area. I was able to read about 85 percent of the captions, so it was a successful device in that regard, but it came with some disadvantages. How did I like the device and experience? I gave it a letter grade of C. Would I use it again if given a choice? No, I prefer closed captions embedded in the screen much better over the SONY viewing glasses…this is probably because it’s what I use at home and what I was used to, when captioning became available in theaters a few years back.

Being the “hearing loss advocate” that I am, before I left the theatre I spoke with the manager and gave some important feedback of my experience. I especially encouraged and recommended that they give out instructions in writing, on the use and operation of the device. All the staff should know if a device is fully charged, if it is the device lights up with product information in the viewer box until the movies and previews start. Some previews come captioned and others don’t, they need to know that and pass that information on. All staff should be educated as to their use and operation, in case problems or questions arise. An advertisement of the device should be noticeable on the wall, or on the guest services counter. This would alert people who need or could benefit from them, know that the devices are accessible and available at no additional cost. I wonder why the vendor who made the product didn’t think of that. I couldn’t find an exact replica of the theater chair at the Cobb, but I found a similar looking one and that is the one I used for this review. I hope this information and my experience is helpful and useful. I am also going to locate the vendor of this product and write to their customer service support staff to share this review.

Hearing Device on ChairHearing Device in bathroom

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