Criticism of the acoustic intelligibility of TV films is felt to be directed particularly often at the ARD “Tatort” series – which may also have something to do with the fact that the Sunday crime thrillers of the first are particularly often given reviews, under which angry viewers can put their comments.

Nevertheless, comments such as “Genuschel, which no one understands anymore” are by no means limited to the Franconian “crime scene”, this criticism was particularly often leveled at the episodes with Til Schweiger as Hamburg Chief Inspector Nick Tschiller.

However, ZDF films such as the Austrian “Landkrimi” episode “Vier” are also affected. On Wednesday, both ARD and ZDF reacted to the repeated disapproval of difficult-to-understand dialogues.

First we received the press release from ZDF. In it, ZDF announces an acoustically improved soundtrack called “Clear Language”. According to the broadcaster, the new sound offer has been available since June 1st. It is intended to emphasize the language more clearly and thus improve speech intelligibility. “The offer is now available for the ZDF main program, the programs ZDFneo, 3sat and ZDFinfo will follow gradually,” ZDF further announced.

According to the broadcaster, the new soundtrack will be integrated into the existing sound options (stereo, Dolby Digital, audio description, original sound) as an additional option. This is available via satellite, cable, DVB-T2 HD and in the program live streams in the ZDFmediathek app. The new service will also be offered shortly in the program live streams on the ZDF website. The “Clear Language” audio track must be selected on the end device or on the video player.

ARD followed with a very similar press release. “The ‘Klare Sprach’ offer will initially be introduced in the program Das Erste as well as on NDR, WDR and rbb. Additional third-party ARD programs will be added at a later date. The introduction of “Klare Sprach” in the joint programs as well as in the cooperated programs is planned for autumn 2022.

ARD broadcasts the audio track for “Klare Sprach” initially via satellite HD and DVB-T2 HD. Das Erste and WDR also offer the additional audio track in the live stream. Depending on the decision of the respective provider, the offer could be made available at any time for everyone who watches television via cable or the Internet.

“With the “clear language” we react to a variety of comments from our audience, who above all wanted better speech intelligibility. We are very pleased that we can now offer a solution for this through the use of AI,” says Christoph Augenstein, Chairman of the ARD Production and Technology Commission (PTKO) and Operations and Production Director at Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg ( rbb)

Viewers can select the Clear Speech feature using their TV remote control. In the audio menu you can choose between “Original Sound”, “Audio Description”, “Multi-channel Sound” and the “Clear Speech” sound track. The language-optimized audio track can also be activated via the HbbTV star bar, the ARD further reports.

One could also go back to the manual art of sound mixing of the past, when one could not plug a thousand effects into the (analogue) mixing console and one always had an eye on the limits of the receiving devices.

ZDF, in turn, tried to explain why programs are sometimes perceived as difficult to understand. According to ZDF, this not only depends on the mixing ratio of the contribution, but also on the reception conditions or individual hearing ability.

The broadcaster emphasizes that television films and documentaries are often produced at great expense and that the mixture of speech and accompanying sounds (noise and music) is part of the dramaturgy of the contribution. This could be perceived as insufficiently intelligible. “The additionally selectable sound track ‘Klare Sprach’ uses artificial intelligence algorithms to generate a broadcast sound that makes the spoken word much more present.

Technical solutions to improve voice quality already existed before. Some soundbars, which are used as a supplement to the television and allow a fuller sound, offer options for emphasizing the frequency spectrum of the human voice more. There is a section on the website that is specifically dedicated to this topic and provides an overview of the relevant devices.

It remains difficult to understand: Why couldn’t ARD and ZDF announce this innovation, which is both welcome and long overdue, in a joint press release?