TV with enhancement settings preferred by visually impaired people: OPO study

MUMBAI: A scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) Dr.Eli Peli, found that increasing the contrast of details of certain sizes was of special importance in making television watching more enjoyable for the visually impaired.

The goal of the current OPO study was to determine if people with impaired vision benefited from an individually tuned contrast enhancement of their TV. People who may benefit from such a device include those suffering from macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other causes of low vision.

The study, published in the current (November/December) issue of Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics (OPO), provides information that will aid in the development of an electronic device to help millions suffering eye diseases.

"Most of us take seeing the television for granted," says Peli, "But for the visually impaired,it is very difficult.This is a source of great frustration and discouragement since so much news and entertainment comes from tuning into the 'tube'."

Peli and his colleagues used an image-processing device developed for them by *DigiVision, Inc. that allows them to manipulate, in real time, the contrast of different sized details in the video screen to their individual liking. "This is a very flexible device but also quite expensive and complex, and thus could not be brought to market easily," says Peli.

Using this device and similar approaches, Peli and his team learned that certain details in an image that are too small will not be visible to someone with central vision loss even with the highest contrast. They also learned, through patients' responses, that the large details in an image were fully visible to visually impaired persons without modification.

Peli and his team found that patients did like the images that reflected their own individual settings for contrast and details better than the un-enhanced video. However, personal preferences were only slightly higher for those individual settings than for the arbitrarily enhanced images.These results mean that enhancement levels could be selected that will be acceptable to most people, simplifying the type of device needed.

Peli envisions a small box that could be attached to any television and would offer only a few enhancement settings, making it less expansive and less complicated to use.

As a low vision rehabilitation expert, Peli sees hundreds of patients suffering from vision impairments caused by diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy and other diseases that impair the central vision. AMD destroys the tiny central part of the retina called the macula. This makes activities such as reading, driving, and watching television extremely difficult.

Peli, an electrical engineer and an optometrist by training, has devoted his career to creating and evaluating new technologies to help low-vision patients regain their ability to do these tasks.

Belkin, an international technology company, has recently released a video enhancement cable product, RazorVision, which enhances video for normal sighted TV viewers.

*DigiVision, the company that developed the Belkin device and holds a patent pending on the technology, is interested in creating another version of the product for visually impaired viewers based on results from this and other image studies by Peli and his colleagues,

*DigiVision,Inc. was awarded a "Connect 2005 Most Innovative New Product Award" for their "Video Enhancement Cable."

Though not part of the study results, Peli says that people with normal sight who have been exposed to these enhanced videos do not see them as interfering with their enjoyment of viewing.

"In fact, they usually don't seem to be aware that the image has been enhanced," he says. "This means that the visually impaired and their family and friends with normal sight could enjoy watching television together.

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