Blog Date: 
Monday, January 14, 2013
Amy Mason

So, who doesn't love watching a good movie now and then?  It's fun to sit down with a bucket of popcorn, a couple of friends (or cats), and get really engaged in a good story.  

Unfortunately, movies can sometimes be difficult to follow.  This is hardly insurmountable, but it’s nice to have a bit of description of the action to add to the dialog on screen.  Many DVD's have begun to be available with description recently. Hats off to the companies that have been adding it lately.  It's exciting to know that if I were to rent or buy  The Muppets, Toy Story 3, Pitch Perfect, Titanic, (recently re-released version) and several other films, I can settle in and watch with description if I choose.  Sadly, there are several problems with that scenario:  First, I love a lot of movies that have never had description tracks included with the DVD.  Second, I stream a lot of content, and a number of providers are not offering audio description with the films that might otherwise have it available.  Third, my sighted friends and family don't want to hear it.  It's distracting to them to have this information they can see on screen also described to them. I get that, so often, even when I am watching a film that has description, I will watch it without, so as not to detract from their experience.  (The cats won't care, but most of the others I watch with aren’t quite so ok with it).  
Therefore, I was really excited when I heard about a new company called Solo DX.  This company makes description tracks for DVD’s and streaming films that are separate from the DVD.  In order to fully describe the way this works, it’s best to give a little, seemingly unrelated, history.  

Long ago, in a world far, far, away… Oh, wait, um... let’s try that about,   In the distant future.  There are some people watching films on a space ship… really bad films.  They take to making fun of these films, and somehow we get to watch them watching and commenting on movies.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 is born.  Fast forward… or rewind, to today.  There are a lot of folks around the world who believe that they are pretty funny (including the crew from MST3k), and can and should do the same thing to popular movies of today.  Copyright generally prevents them from sharing their masterpieces with the world with video included, so they got around this by creating “Riff Trax”.  These “Riff” tracks are MP3’s that can be synced with a movie so that a viewer can watch the video and hear the “hilarity” that ensues when other people make witty commentary about their favorite (or least favorite) movie.  Fair enough, these guys can make a buck or two poking fun at movies.  I’m cool with that, but the Solo DX guys have actually done something pretty useful with the same general idea.  They are selling Audio Description tracks which sync up the same way.  So instead of hearing rude jokes about the main villain’s hair, a Solo DX user hears professional quality description of their favorite movie that didn’t have any description before.  They can listen to this on an MP3 player for private non-intrusive enjoyment of description, or they can play it out loud with the movie depending on the makeup of the crowd watching the film.  

In my case, it was just me and the cats so I bought a copy of the description track for the Princess Bride for iTunes, dropped my iPhone in the Speaker Dock, and set the movie up on my DVD player.  The track gives brief instructions at the beginning on how the track is to be synced, (In this case, they explained at the beginning of the track that a user should pause the description track when a beep is heard, listen for the roar of the MGM lion on the DVD and start the description track again when that roar is heard.  This is a little tricky to get just right, and I spent a minute or two starting and stopping my description and the DVD to get things syncing up properly, but with a bit of practice I expect it will get easier.  (Of course I haven’t come up with a way to get back on track after falling asleep in the middle of the movie, but that’s probably just my problem.).  The narration was high quality and professional. They did a nice job of not overdoing the description, while providing the really pertinent details, though some of the descriptions of actions, and facial expressions were rather unusual.  (“A turtle-like smile” comes to mind).  All in all, I was highly pleased with the experience, and I am thrilled that since the description isn’t tied to the movie, I can enjoy it without bothering others.  

Right now, they have a small collection of tracks (3 movies, and the first season of 2 television shows) but as more movies I care about come available in their catalogue, I will be scooping them up.  Sadly, I fear that some of my favorites are just too niche for this kind of treatment, (I would love to hear some of the scenes in “Spirited Away” described) but one can always live in hope, and there are a number of others that would be fairly good candidates for the service (“Wizard of Oz” or “Futurama” maybe?).  Either way, I’m excited to see what else Solo DX has in store.

Solo DX tracks are available from both the Amazon and iTunes MP3 Stores so you have a choice of providers, and they have helpfully listed both the tracks they are selling, and the amazon store link for DVD copies of the films and TV shows they have described, on their “Buy Solo DX.”  Happy Watching!