Streaming TV’s invisible annoyance | TechHive

In a perfect world, you’d never have to adjust the volume more than once when you sit down to watch TV.

But as many of us have discovered the unpleasant way, it’s rarely that simple. Depending on which streaming service you choose, or even the program you decide to watch, volume levels can vary drastically. Even over the course of a single program, you might need to reach for the remote several times to keep the sound from getting too loud, especially if you’re dealing with sleeping children, sensitive spouses, or nearby neighbors.

While inconsistent sound levels are hardly a new issue in the audio/video world, streaming services seem to have exacerbated the problem by putting so many different companies in charge of the experience. The good news is that the industry is taking some steps toward solving the problem. In the meantime, there are some tricks you can employ on your own to make volume levels more manageable.

Varying volume levels

Before writing this column, I wanted to try and quantify some of the volume differences I’ve noticed while using different streaming services, so I set up a little test: For each streaming service, I’d play the first 10 minutes of an action movie or TV show on Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, with a phone running a decibel meter app about six feet away from my Sony HT-G700 soundbar.

The results from one service to the next weren’t always so different. Netflix’s Lost in Space, Disney+’s The Mandalorian, Legion on Hulu, and CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Picard all averaged in the 47- to 49dB range.

But switching to some other services gave me a jolt. The first 10 minutes of Gods of Egypt on Tubi, for instance, averaged 54.4dB, and another Tubi movie, Precious Cargo, was even louder at 59.7dB. YouTube TV was also on the loud side, with an average volume of 55.7dB in the opening minutes of Aquaman.

streamingvolumes Jared Newman / IDG

In each of these cases, even scenes with quiet dialog seemed extra loud to my ears, and action scenes with dramatic music bordered on uncomfortable. Not that I have plans to watch the entirety of Precious Cargo anytime soon, but I’d have definitely cranked the volume down if I’d been playing these films in my living room.

Why so loud?

As with so many other pain points in the streaming world, you can blame the number of variables involved.

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