Fully accessible TVs, despite being more accessible than tablets and computers over the years, are still relatively new. Amazon now offers two types of accessible smart TVs: one from Insignia, the other from Toshiba. They run on the Fire TV operating system.
This review will be focused on the TV’s hardware and software. We will also discuss the Fire TV operating system, VoiceView screen readers, and other features.
Hardware and documentation
Before we move on to the functions, let’s examine the hardware. Flat-screen TVs use a single button to turn on the input and power buttons. You will find most ports on the left side. These ports include a 3.5 mm headset jack and a Digital Optical Audio output.
The coaxial antenna/cable connector is located on the back of the device, along with a set of RCA audio/video connectors as well as an Ethernet port. The power connector can be found on the right side.
The TV is supported by two bases, one on each side. The bases are slightly bent inwardly, and the back is slightly shorter than the front. This makes it easy to determine which base should go on which side. The bases are held in position by screws. The holes to insert these are reasonably tactile, making it easy to attach them without visual aid.
The remote is similar to the Fire TV or Echo remotes, but there are differences that make it more complicated to use. The Fire TV remote should be familiar to you, or you have read the Voice View help page. You’ll be able to identify the buttons on the remote if you have. VoiceView provides a detailed and helpful description of the remote after it is launched. There were no online descriptions for the remote TV.
Fire TV remote includes all the standard buttons (Microphone, Left/Right/Up/Down navigation rings and Select, Back, and Home), as well as a TV button and vertical volume rocker. You can also launch different streaming services such as Prime or Netflix with rectangular buttons. You can find the power button on the remote in the upper right.
Two manuals are available for the TV. Both manuals can be found in PDF format on the Insignia product pages. Adobe reader automatically tags PDFs even though they aren’t marked. This allows you to access the manual or guide as well as any linked sections with decent ease.
The main problem I had with the manual and guide was the confusing diagrams. Although the guide and manual provide instructions for the TV, they do not give much information about Fire TV’s operating system. This PDF has been correctly tagged for screen readers. The TV has a few extra functions but the main interface is the same.
Setting up the Fire TV
When you turn on your TV, you will hear a variety of sounds. Once you hear a steady tone in your TV’s speakers, hold down the Back and Menu buttons for two seconds to activate VoiceView. The Navigation Ring’s row is made up of three buttons. They are located above the navigation ring. These are the “BACK”, and “MENU” buttons. After activating VoiceView, you will be asked for a VoiceView tutorial. This tutorial will provide a detailed description of Fire TV’s remote and key descriptions as well as tips for using VoiceView. The remote was very well-written, but I would have liked more information on VoiceView.
There are many options. This will enable you to connect to your wireless internet. You can also sign in to Amazon to select your language, and adjust a few settings.
It is worth exploring the VoiceView screen reader functions before you dive into the Fire TV operating system. VoiceView displays information about the items you are currently highlighting and provides additional information as you navigate through the interface.
VoiceView will notify me when I highlight a TV series or movie. After a pause, VoiceView will then alert me to the name of the item or the information for the current screen. Then, following navigation information and a pause, VoiceView will display the information for that item or the information for the entire item. VoiceView can be stopped at any time by pressing the Play/Pause, Fast Forward, or Rewind buttons.
You can use the Menu button to display additional information and navigation instructions. To activate the original function you will need to press twice on this Menu button.
VoiceView allows for direct interaction with the interface. VoiceView offers Review Mode. This works the same as browsing modes in Windows screen readers. This mode can be toggled by pressing the Menu button until VoiceView displays Review Mode Off/On.
This mode allows for linear scrolling through the content of your screen by using Left and Right. You can also change the granularity of your navigation using Up or Down. I was able to understand a particular item by listening to it being said. After turning on Review Mode I used the Right Key for the item. Once I was there, I used the Down key to cycle the granularity until I heard the word “character”. I pressed the Right key again to hear each character.
Review Mode provides several options for granularity, including Heading and Word, Link, Form Control, List, and Link. The granularity options available for HTML elements such as Heading and Link can only be used when the content is visible on screen. Review Mode is a useful feature for Fire TV’s Web browser apps.
Fire TV offers a high-contrast mode and a screen magnifier to aid those with low vision. During setup, the screen magnifier can be activated using the Fast Forward and Back buttons. The magnifier can magnify any non-video content, including captions, and it has 10 magnification levels. When you adjust the zoom level, an indicator will show you where you have zoomed in. Fire TV Accessibility Page contains more information about low vision features.
The Fire TV Launcher
Fire TV Launcher is Fire TV’s main interface. You can access all functions, features, and apps on your TV through this launcher. Seven tabs are located at the top of your screen: Search and Home; Movies; TV Shows and Apps; Settings and Your Videos. When you press the Home key, the Home tab will appear. You can navigate between the rows of tabs using the Left, Right and Down keys for each tab.
There are many tabs with different categories such as Home and Your Videos. The Up and Down keys allow you to switch between rows, and Left and Right allow for the movement within a row.
It is most likely that the Home tab will be where you spend the majority of your time. You will also find the most interesting categories. You can only access certain categories after taking a particular action. For example, the Recent category is only available after you have viewed content or opened applications.
The first row of Featured is the one that appears when you click the Home tab. This is similar to a carousel that runs at a constant speed. A trailer will be shown for each item. You can alter the audio and video previews by going to Settings > Preferences> Featured content.
As you go down, the Recent row will appear. This row will contain a mix of apps and content that you just opened. Under Recent, you will see the Your Apps row. This row will display a list of all apps you have downloaded and the channels you have subscribed to.
Shortcuts can be used to access the most popular third-party applications in this list. This includes Netflix and Sling TV. At the end of the page, you will see a See All button. This will launch a grid that includes all your apps.
Below the row is a sponsored ad, followed by the category “On Now.” This row will be displayed after scanning the available channels over the air. VoiceView will inform you when the current program begins playing. VoiceView will inform you about any remaining program.
VoiceView might display “Nightly News 50%” if you’re watching a show that runs for 30 minutes at 10:15. VoiceView may sometimes stutter during loading of the current program. The antenna quality could be to blame. There are other ways to choose channels that work better. Click the Select button to view this channel. The channel will start playing regularly from that point onwards.
Below is a list of inputs that the TV will accept. Antenna, HDMI1-3 are two examples of inputs. It’s helpful to know that any device connected to one of these ports will be listed first. If multiple HDMI devices are connected, HDMI ports will be listed in the correct order. Rows below this category will list different movies or shows.
Similar lists will appear if you return to the top of your screen and then look at other tabs such as Your Videos, Movies, and TV Shows. Your Watchlist is the key row for Your Videos. You can find genre rows in the Movies and TV Show tabs. These tabs allow you to launch content lists within a particular genre.
One problem that I encountered when browsing genre lists was that the items you have selected will be read first, even if you move to the next item in the genre. Let’s assume that I focus on “Bosch” and then move one item to my right. Before I highlight the item, I will hear “Bosch”, the first thing that comes into my mind.
The last tabs are Apps and Settings. The Settings tab contains a single row that includes settings menus. Clicking on one will open a vertical menu. This button is used to rewind settings menus.
The apps tab allows you to download apps to your phone. These apps are often created by third parties, so VoiceView may not be able to access them. The Apps tab includes three sub-tabs: Featured and Game. Similar to the rows of the suggested content in other tabs, the Games and Featured tabs are similar.
The Categories tab lists several app categories, which when activated will launch their pages. VoiceView is not available for the first row of the Featured or Games tabs, but these are carousels of bicycle parts similar to those under the Home tab.
Clicking on an app opens a details screen. This allows you to view information about the app, download it, and review it. An app’s details screen has incorrect row labels. The row label for the Reviews row is “Trailers and Screenshots”, for example.
The Search tab allows you to search across Fire TV’s interface. There are three options: Voice Search, the on-screen keyboard, and a physical keyboard. The arrows can be used to find a character but you cannot use the on-screen keyboard to enter it. For most of my typing, I prefer a wireless or wired USB keyboard. You will find a list with search options below the keyboard. A bug exists in which the list may contain more items than it actually contains.
When I search for Football, a search result might read “Football 1 out of 19”, but there are actually only 18 suggestions. Once you have selected a search suggestion, a screen will appear that displays rows of search results for different categories. This screen also includes streaming content, apps, and other search suggestions. If you use Voice Search, this screen will also be displayed. You can ask Alexa for a program to be played on your TV. You don’t have to look through a list and it will start playing immediately.
Watching Live TV
You will first need to connect an antenna, scan the channels, and then you can view live TV over the air. You can do this by opening the Settings menu or pressing the TV button on the remote. The TV Guide will open. You can also scan channels the first time you turn on the TV. The TV Guide can be accessed by clicking the On Now tab under the Home tab or using the TV button on the remote to launch it.
The TV guide will launch automatically. The TV guide will automatically launch. You can navigate between channels by using the Up- and Down keys or through programs using the Left- and Right keys.
Once you have started playing a channel, press the Down key to display the On Now row. This will allow you to change channels. Click on the channel you are interested in and then click Select. By pressing Left or Right, you can fast-forward or rewind the current channel. The Select button can be used to pause or rewind the program. To pause the program, you can also use the Select button or the ring.
The TV supports audio description. I highly recommend the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project for audio-described content. Double-press the Menu button during a program to open more options. Select Captions and Audio Languages. Next, choose the option “Audio Languages”. Select the Spa Ad item. You can also change the name of the item by clicking “Spa Ad”.
You can find the audio description track on the Secondary Audio Programming channel. It may be labeled as “Spanish”. The Accessibility menu under Settings allows you to adjust the volume of audio description tracks relative TV audio.
Streaming TV and streaming audio description
Many streaming services allow you to stream media, some with audio descriptions. Because Prime content is not the only streaming service, we will focus on it. Netflix seems to use the screen reader while YouTube uses the Web browser.
Audio description and navigation settings may differ between apps. To get the best experience with Netflix, you can interact with it.
Prime titles are much more entertaining than live TV. The name of the TV show or movie is all you are given, which I find much more entertaining. You can play/pause, rewind and seek the same way for live TV.
Follow the same steps as Live TV to enable audio description for Prime titles. It is however more difficult due to a bug. First, navigate to Surround Sound Preferences from the menu. This will enable audio descriptions for any program currently being played. The screen will allow you to choose the language and audio description you want.
There will be an option called “Subtitles & Audio Languages”, however, it only offers sub-titles options. This was the first time I encountered this bug. The help page for Prime Content audio description directed me to the sub-titles, and languages settings.
Amazon confirmed that they are aware of the bug and are working on fixing it. This is a minor bug that you may not be able to fix without the right instructions. It is temporary but it would be helpful to have an audio description help page that describes the bug as well as the modifications required to enable audio description.
The bottom line
Although the Fire TV is my first choice when it comes to Prime content viewing, I find the interfaces of YouTube and Netflix more difficult than the Fire TV. When trying to view Prime content, I find myself switching to other services. Streaming might be more efficient if apps allow streaming from a smartphone/tablet or to the TV.
Although the Fire TV operating system is not perfect, the VoiceView screen reader and Fire TV both work well. It was easy to test the TV-specific functions of the device because of this accessibility. It was an absolute joy to find that TV-specific functions were accessible.
The TV can also provide speech to many other useful features, such as turning off the TV and letting users know if an input has been connected.
Fire TV’s operating systems can seem a bit overwhelming. By long-pressing the Home button, you can jump to TV-specific features such as Channel Guide and Inputs. These items will be displayed in a simplified vertical list. There were some instances of lag, most commonly when I used the Web browser application.
Although the TV has good sound quality, it lacks bass. During my testing, I did not have any issues with wireless connections. Before you make a purchase, it is a smart idea to check out reviews on Amazon.
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