Amazon has partnered with Cochlear to offer an improved TV watching experience for those who wear hearing implants from the latter brand.
Customers with the Cochlear Nucleus 8, Nucleus 7, Nucleus Kanso 2, and Baha 6 Max hearing aids can connect directly to a compatible Fire TV for private listening, with audio delivered directly to their sound processors via the open-source Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA) protocol. ASHA works with Fire TV Cube (3rd Gen), Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen), Fire TV Omni QLED Series, Fire TV Omni Series, and Fire TV 4-Series. Hearing aids connect with Fire TV on a system level, so you can enjoy private audio from your favourite streaming services, apps, and games, as well as Alexa.
The technology was tested by Amazon software engineer Michael Forzano, a skilled programmer who was born blind and has used cochlear implants since he lost his hearing in early childhood. He found that it “takes the strain” out of watching TV, which he found he would typically miss close to half the words because of echoing and poor sound quality.
Cochlear started streaming audio from smartphones to hearing aids and implants in 2019, and this move to TV represents the next step in the process. “TV is a big part of our lives,” says Ryan Lopez, Cochlear’s Director of Nucleus Product Management and Marketing. “We get our news and information through television, our entertainment, sports, music. When we started to work with [Amazon], what really came to light was their dedication to accessibility, effective communication, and collaborating on how we can combine these technologies. At Cochlear, we were really proud to be a part of this.”
“When we talked to customers who use hearing aids, audiologists, and other experts in the field, the majority told us that the first thing you really want if you’ve got hearing loss is to be able to hear clearly the people around you,” adds Peter Korn, Director of Accessibility for Amazon Devices. “The second thing you want is the ability to hear the television, to enjoy entertainment.”
Korn and his team found a way to bypass the implant’s microphones, stream audio from Fire TV directly into the implants, and prevent the audio from being degraded by noise and echoes.
“We send the audio in little packets over to the hearing device,” he explains. “The hearing device acknowledges receipt of those packets of audio, and then more are sent, and so on. We also did the work to ensure that this protocol works over living room distances.”
This means wearers can sit within three metres (10 feet) of their TV and continue to enjoy entertainment.
Fire TVs also come with additional accessibility features, including Closed Captions, VoiceView, Text Banner, Screen Magnifier, and Audio Descriptions. They also include High Contrast Text that makes text easier to read by making most text black or white and adding a border of the opposite colour; and Alexa for using voice to turn the TV on and off.
To pair a hearing implant sound processor and Fire TV device, follow the instructions on the Amazon website.