Google Glass helping audiences or pirates?

Friday, 4 July 2014 11:24am

Google Glass has been hailed as a potential access tool for people with disabilities, but two very recent news pieces show how one person’s lifeline can be seen as another’s commercial threat. Commentary by Media Access Australia CEO, Alex Varley.

On the positive side Google Glass is being trialled at some opera performances in the USA as a method for delivering subtitles (or ‘surtitles’ as they are known). The subtitles are being beamed onto the lens of the Google Glass and replace either seat-back displays or subtitles delivered to a mobile device or tablet. The company providing this service is Figaro, which also provides traditional opera subtitling.

The potential for this is huge as it provides an in-line display where the viewer does not have to glance away from the screen or performance to see the subtitles. There are similar systems already created for captioned cinema access made by Sony and Rear Window.

One of the big advantages of incorporating into a broader system like Google Glass is that as Google Glass becomes more widespread, more applications for it are developed and more people end up owning and using the equipment. This leads to price decreases, improvements in usability and standards, and adoption in other media. This contrasts with specialist systems where development becomes fairly static and there is far less competition.

Unfortunately, some of the potential beneficiaries of Bring Your Own mainstream solutions (such as Google Glass) see a big threat. UK cinemas are planning to ban Google Glass from their premises for fear of criminal gangs using the device to record movies and illegally distribute them as pirate copies.

Whilst the specialist suppliers no doubt breathe a sigh of relief, I suspect that the adoption of technology like Google Glass will accelerate and force the cinema market to properly deal with the issues and think about audience access as being more important than pirate access. In the meantime, expect your eyewear to be inspected as well as your ticket before they let you into the cinema.


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