Smart TVs – basic guide for blind and low vision users

Listen to the audio guide to SmartTVs


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What are smart TVs?

A smart TV can connect to the internet and home networks, like your computer or smartphone.

It also has accessibility tools built in, like enabling audio description (AD) on TV programs and voice guidance while you switch between options like increasing the volume or changing channels.

A connected smart TV can:

  • Use your home wifi so you can stream media from your computer or phone.
  • Use apps like Netflix, Stan, ABC iview, SBS on Demand etc. so you can watch online content.
  • Announce the program, channel and time on free to air TV.

The more modern the TV, the greater the chance it will have advanced built in settings for viewers who are blind or have low vision. Anything from around 2014 will have accessibility tools, but for those that don’t, a set top box can help add voice controls.

 

Voice guidance

Voice guidance allows people who are blind or have low vision to control their TVs. The TV will vocalise your selections, for instance when you change a channel or increase the volume. It can also read out the TV guide, select audio description for your program and help you adjust display settings to suit your vision.

It’s a helpful tool to make watching TV hassle free.

Each brand has a different name for voice guidance. Below is some common brands and what they call their voice guidance service.

 
Brand Voice guidance name
Samsung Voice guide
LG Audio guidance
Sony Voice guide
Hisense Audio guide
Toshiba Voice recognition
Kogan Voice control
Panasonic Voice guidance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Using your remote as a microphone

Some smart TVs allow you to talk into the remote to operate the TV.

You press the microphone button on the remote control and hold it down while you speak your commands into the remote, holding it like a microphone

 You can also use your Android or Apple phone as a voice controller, through the apps that come with the TV. For example, Samsung has its own ‘Smart Things’ app.

You’ll hear a beep when your TV is ready to listen, and it will prompt you to speak when it says “I’m listening” or “We’re live”. As you speak, it will type your instructions on-screen.

Android TV

Some smart TVs use the Android TV operating system, similar to those used by phones and tablets, but through a TV it is accessible with a remote and voice guidance.

Android TV has a number of connected apps to make it easy to switch between free to air TV and streaming.

It has all the streaming services like Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and Disney +.

It also has a YouTube and Spotify app.

Android TV is also connected to Google Assistant and Chromecast. Google Assistant is voice operated, so just say “Ok Google”, to wake it up, and give it a command. For example, “Ok Google, turn on the TV” or “Ok Google, increase the TV volume”.

In the case of Chromecast, you can send whatever you’re watching on your tablet or phone to the TV screen.

TalkBack is also a Google-created screen-reading tool built into Android TV. It provides narration of on-screen elements, with audible information about actions and reading text aloud.

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Accessing audio description

Audio description provides a narration track that weaves in an out of dialogue, to vocalise what is happening on the screen.

Important movements, gestures, transitions, props, settings, costumes and scenery are all captured without giving away plot points.

The ABC and SBS provide 14 hours a week of audio described content on some of their programs. Streaming services like Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime also provide audio descriptions on a number of their shows, particularly those produced by the company i.e. all Netflix original movies have audio description.

There are a range of ways people can turn on the audio description features depending on the television that they use.

To add AD on free to air TV:

  • The easiest way is to turn on AD via the accessibility features on your television, which can be found through the menu option.
  • Otherwise, check your remote for a button with the words Accessibility, AD or audio description. Press this button and follow the screen instructions to activate AD.

For streaming services like Netflix or Stan:

  • When playing a program, go to settings, then audio language and turn on audio description.
  • This only ever needs to be done once.

Troubleshooting older TVs without voice guidance or audio description built in

Some older devices (manufactured before 2014) may not support audio description.

Voice guidance is also relatively new to TV, so double check if the TV you’re purchasing has this as an option.

For TVs that are older that do not have any accessibility features, you can purchase devices such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick or a Google Chromecast provided the TV has a HDMI port.

The Amazon Fire Stick comes with an Alexa Voice Remote Lite where you can use your voice to easily search and launch shows and movies across multiple apps like Netflix, Prime Video, ABC iview and more. The remote has a button you can press and you can speak into it like a microphone to give it commands. For example, you can say, “Alexa, find Australian movies”.

The Google Chromecast is also another option to plug into an older TV. Using the included remote, you can activate Google Assistant to help you search for your favourite movies, TV shows, or music by pressing the microphone button on your remote.

These products take the place of the smart side of the TV.

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Changing text size, contrast and zoom

Smart TVs also give users who are partially sighted the chance to customise their TV to their preference.

That means TVs can:

  • Increase the menus’ text size.
  • Change to a clearer font style, if needed
  • Change colour contrast
  • Increase screen magnification

Of course, some brands might have all, some or none of these options.

It is worth consulting your TV’s manual for its full suite of accessibility services.

Note: closed caption text cannot be enlarged on any TV.

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Technology advice from Vision Australia

Vision Australia's Access Technology team can help you set up your smart TV and teach you how to use it efficiently.

The team is available Monday to Friday between the hours of 9:00am and 5:00pm EST to troubleshoot any issues.

Contact the AT Helpdesk at Vision Australia

Phone: 1300 84 74 66

Email: athelp@visionaustralia.org