Today, Amazon Fire TV announced the launch of Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA) on Fire TV Cube (2nd gen) for compatible Bluetooth hearing aids from Starkey. This will be the first-ever streaming media player in the U.S. to support ASHA.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that 15% (37.5 million) of Americans over the age of 18 reports some hearing loss, and nearly 29 million American adults could benefit from using hearing aids. According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 billion people in the world experience hearing loss and the number continues to rise.
According to Amazon, improving TV sound quality was one of the most requested features among hearing aid users.
Customers can connect compatible hearing aids directly to Fire TV Cube for private listening. This gives them the ability to enjoy audio from streaming services, apps, games and even Alexa. ASHA on Fire TV Cube works by using data that encodes the sound straight to the hearing aid’s tiny antenna in digital form.
Compatible hearing aid models in the U.S. include Starkey, which manufactures the Audibel, NuEar, MicroTech and Audigy brands.
To pair the hearing aids, visit Fire TV Settings, Accessibility, then select Hearing Aids and follow the instructions to connect them. The steps are somewhat similar to connecting Bluetooth headphones. Customers use the Fire TV remote to control volume and can disconnect by holding the “Home” button and selecting “Disconnect Hearing Aids.”
One drawback is that customers need to sit within 10 feet and in line of sight to their Fire TV Cube in order to get the best connection. Amazon also recommends that customers connect over a 5 Ghz WiFi network, however, those with 2.4 GHz WiFi can use the feature “with range that varies depending on spectrum congestion.”
Achin Bhowmik, chief technology officer and executive vice president of Engineering at Starkey, said,
At Starkey, we are transforming hearing aids into multifunctional devices, enabling our patients to connect and communicate with the world via our technology. Through this strategic collaboration with Amazon, we are paving the way for cutting-edge products to connect with and stream audio to our state-of-the-art hearing devices.
Later this year, Amazon will expand ASHA support to more devices.
Peter Korn, Amazon’s director of accessibility for devices told CNET that the additional devices include the Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV streaming device. The company is also apparently exploring connecting cochlear implants to Amazon Fire TV.
Although top competitor Roku has many accessibility features, such as a text-to-speech screen reader, closed captioning and voice search, there are no signs on the site of the company supporting compatible hearing aids. Apple TV gives users the ability to adjust hearing controls and turn on closed captioning, however, nothing similar to Amazon’s Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids. Another rival, Google, has more or less the same accessibility features as Roku and Apple.
The Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids on Fire TV Cube is a step in the right direction for more accessibility across entertainment devices.