MDHearingAid, Nordic Semiconductor and the Bluetooth SIG Demonstrate AuracastTM Broadcast Audio at the HLAA Convention
Bluetooth's new Auracast™ Broadcast Audio technology was demonstrated by representatives from MDHearingAid, Nordic Semiconductor, and the Bluetooth SIG at last week’s 2022 Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention in Tampa, Fla. Additionally, a special presentation about how Auracast will impact accessibility for hearing aid wearers was provided by Bluetooth SIG Senior Director of Market Development Chuck Sabin and MDHearingAid CEO Doug Breaker, who were joined by Andrew Thomas, chairman of the International Hearing Loop Manufacturers Association.
As described in early June by HearingTracker, Auracast is part of Bluetooth's latest version (5.2) which will be finalized soon. For the first time, Auracast offers a broadcast solution to Bluetooth, making Bluetooth a true one-to-many solution.
“The HLAA Conference is always a great place to gain real-life feedback about products from consumers who are very knowledgeable about hearing loss and hearing devices,” Breaker told HearingTracker. “We received some extremely positive comments from those who tried out the system with our hearing aids. Today, you need to pair everything with Bluetooth which can sometimes be really inconvenient and cumbersome, particularly for non-technically oriented people. But soon with Auracast, it will be more like subscribing or signing onto a WiFi stream: you’ll just choose the name of the available broadcast on your phone’s hearing aid app and then it will stream wirelessly into your hearing aids.”
Auracast to increase accessibility and versatility
The impact of Auracast on accessibility for hearing aid wearers may be profound. Instead of venues needing to install expensive and labor-intensive hearing systems, they will have the option of installing cost-effective simple Bluetooth Auracast broadcasters to offer direct-to-aid sound transmission. Additionally, a venue could offer many Auracast broadcast streams in the same location. For example, an airport could enable an Auracast stream for each gate to enable anyone to stream announcements about their specific flight directly into their hearing aids, earbuds, headphones, or other listening device.
However, Breaker agrees with Andrew Thomas of the Hearing Loop Manufacturers Association: loop systems and telecoils will retain their exceptional usefulness and functionality for many years to come. “Loops are simpler for the user because you just walk into range of the loop system and it starts working, versus Auracast which requires you to manually select and tune into the broadcast stream,” says Breaker. “Auracast is also still being finalized and then it will doubtlessly take a couple of years for manufacturers to implement it on a widespread basis. So, the promise really is for Auracast and loop systems to work side-by-side for quite some time to come.”
The Auracast booth at HLAA provided attendees a chance to try out the new technology.
Compact and powerful wireless streaming
Also demonstrated at the HLAA Convention was Auracast’s broadcast range and low latency (the amount of time it takes for the wireless signal to travel from the signal source to the ear). Attendees were given an opportunity to listen to the Bluetooth system at the Auracast exhibit booth and were provided with a choice of two signal sources: a person making a live broadcast from a microphone, and a TV that was streaming sound. They could listen via wireless headphones or MDHearingAid's Volt Max hearing aids, special demo devices that incorporated Auracast streaming (which is not yet commercially available). Breaker said some people reported they could hear the broadcasts at ranges up to about 100 yards and were impressed with the ease they could switch between the two broadcast streams. Additionally, the low latency of Auracast means there were no distracting lags between the presenter’s lips and their spoken words.
Nordic Semiconductor also brought several sample broadcast connectors, which resemble USBs, that can be plugged into an audio device like a TV, laptop, tablet, or smartphone—transforming them into a broadcast unit. They’re surprisingly small and powerful.
“For hearing aid manufacturers, this opens a lot of doors in terms of things like TV connectivity,” says Breaker. “Right now, a manufacturer might have to charge a couple hundred dollars for a dedicated TV listening system that plugs into a smart TV and then streams sound to your hearing aids. Instead, with these new Auracast connectors, the price should be substantially reduced and it’s possible you won’t need a proprietary streamer for any particular hearing aid brand.”
Although the MDHearingAid Volt Max hearing aids were for demonstration only and an example of what early adopters of the Auracast chip will look like, it’s a sure bet many hearing aid manufacturers will be employing Auracast in their designs of the near future.