Is there more mumbling in TV shows and films?

  • I was just listening to a Lord's culture & media debate on BBC Parliament and the topic was dialogue on tv shows.

    Several lords were asking why the quality of audio in tv shows has deteriorated so much in recent years and in particular, why so many shows, including high profile ones like Poldark, the dialogue is inaudible with the actors mumbling.

    A few issues were raised, as a result:

    1. The tv technology of today is very different to the tvs of yesterday. TV is/was called a box, because tvs used to be box shaped.

    TVs used to contain large forward facing speakers and audio quality was excellent as a result. Nowadays, tvs are thin, screen sizes are huge and the speakers, such as they are, are small and face backwards in many cases.

    2. One of the Lady Lords said that part of the problem is that of elocution and pronunciation. Simply put, younger people do not talk properly and it is hard to understand them.

    3. It was raised that director's have a responsibility to ensure that dialogue is clear and that actors do not mumble.

    4. David Blunket raised the point that for blind people (and he should know) the issue of clear dialogue is a particular issue for them. They cannot rely on lip reading or subtitles and blind people need clear speech.

    5. Many shows have background "music" or effects which drown out the speech. Remember the Prof Brian Cox incident of 2011:…er-viewer-complaints.html

    That was just a few of the main points raised.

    So, what do think? Can you understand all the dialogue in today's films and tv shows, or do you struggle to hear what is being said due to mumbling, overbearing background noise, or just poor sound quality overall?

    Article on the subject here:…ling-problem-happy-valley

  • Reminds me when I in my mid twenties (20 years ago) picked up my two aging nans for some family do. I remember them nattering away in the back of the car agreeing how people talked a lot quieter on telly these days....

  • It's not just a question of volume, although that is an issue for older people, but one of clear dialogue.

    I mentioned two different examples:

    The BBC's first series of Poldark was widely criticised because the actors were mumbling. So, it's not just a question of audio volume, but clear dialogue.

    Brian Cox's "Wonders of the Universe" had many complaints in 2011 because the background music drowned out his speech. Cox himself, smugly responded that the music was "cinematic" and he couldn't understand the fuss. You would've thought he would want everyone to understand him, but clearly not. I love space, but have never watched a show with him in it again...

  • I watched that Prof Cox series, I didn't know there was an issue.

    One thing I've noticed with movies on demand or bluray films is that speech is quiet but other sound is loud. Everyone in the family notices young and old. I suppose it's like that in the cinema though and they are recreating it.

  • Hoxton, there were scenes in Cox's series where he was standing giving a monologue about something with the night sky behind him and the music totally drowned him out.

    I do admittedly struggle a bit with sound, but that is usually in crowded places and I just feel sick as my ears can't process all the different sounds. Pubs are the worst, I can't hear people in them, full stop.

    On films, this is something my parents used to struggle with, I am fine with it all though. Basically, films are made for surround sound systems, so if you do not have a surround sound system, the sound is being forced through two speakers whereas it should be at least 5 plus the subwoofer. So, the speech is made quieter to allow "room" for the music and other effects. Again, this is not a problem for me, but I know many people do struggle with it. In my bedroom, the centre speaker on my surround sound system is pretty much only for dialogue and its crystal clear.

  • Agree that there is a sound problem. In some films it is so severe you miss quite a lot of dialogue and if you aren't watching in some form where you can go back and try and hear it again, you're buggered for what is often a major comment in a plot.

    The quietness is a problem and so is the mumbling.

  • You're so right about mumbling. Whispering is another problem in many shows. American shows are even harder to follow than the British ones. I quite enjoy lusting after Jennifer Lopez in 'Shades of Blue' which is just as well because even after 3 episodes of a new series I still haven't got a bloody clue what's going on in the script. ;)

  • I watched that Prof Cox series, I didn't know there was an issue.

    One thing I've noticed with movies on demand or bluray films is that speech is quiet but other sound is loud. Everyone in the family notices young and old. I suppose it's like that in the cinema though and they are recreating it.

    Have noticed this too. Sudden enormous sound effects where you nearly jump out of your skin and if you turn it down, you can't hear the dialogue.

  • I have noticed a significant difference between a simple stereo transmission and a full 5.1 surround sound which the dialogue is often much quieter. The effect is most pronounced between the TV's in our house that are driven by the modulator (simple stereo) and the main TV in the front room that comes on HDMI with full 5.1. You can often notice the change when commercials come on in the breaks of a feature film in 5.1 as most are in simple stereo and come booming out.

    History is much like an Endless Waltz. The three beats of war, peace and revolution continue on forever.


  • Ahh, I forgot adverts...

    As said, you have the show on one volume, then on come the ads ten times louder.

    This all used to be controlled by the BBC's tech people, who became the IRA who turned into NTL. Basically, the BBC would set the "standard" that everyone else had to comply with, including things such as sound volume and clear dialogue. Now, in our multi-channel world, it's anything goes.

    I am sure I read somewhere that there was such a argument in Germany over these same issues, that the standards we used to have here 40 years ago have been reimposed over there. If I can find the article, I'll dig it out.

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