What is Closed Captioning?

January 17, 2020 Samantha

One of the most frequently asked questions we come across when it comes to video accessibility is ‘What is closed captioning?’ or more specifically, ‘What is the difference between subtitling and closed captioning?’ It’s a valid question – on first glance, both closed captions and subtitles look identical, and, actually have a lot of similarities. In fact, closed captioning is a form of subtitling often referred to as subtitles for the deaf or hard of hearing or SDH.

What is a Subtitle?

A subtitle is essentially a timed transcript which is displayed on screen in sync with the audio of a visual display (usually a video). There are many rules that of course come in to play when creating a subtitle file to ensure that the text is as easy to read and interpret as possible. These include

  • Placing text onscreen where it is easily read and does not interfere with the visual aspect of a video.
  • Limiting the amount of text on the screen at any one time so that it is for readability and not covering any important visuals.
  • Timing the display of text to sync with the video and not keeping text onscreen for too long or not long enough to read.
  • Arranging text in such a way so to avoid line breaks where possible.

There are of course many, many more options when it comes to creating a subtitle file depending on your needs, but the most common reasons for adding subtitles to your videos include (but are not limited to)

  • SDH subtitling (or closed captioning) to ensure a video is accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Subtitling in different languages to ensure that viewers who do not speak the source language of the video are still able to understand the full content of the video.
  • For SEO purposes to ensure that the content of the video can be accurately picked up and interpreted by the search engines.

What is SDH Subtitling?

SDH stands for Subtitles for the Deaf or Hard of hearing. SDH subtitles and Closed captioning are two ways of describing the same type of subtitling. To explain, while standard subtitles are at their most basic timed text of dialogue contained within a video, SDH or closed captioning go a step further and also include sounds are essential to understanding the full meaning of the video but are not obvious to an audience viewing without sound.

An example of this would be if during a film, the phone rings – this may be an essential part of the plot but is not detectable if the audio cannot be heard, especially if say for instance the phone is not answered, but later referred to as an important detail later as a crucial part of the plot development.

With closed captioning and SDH subtitling, the text for non verbal audio cues will often be displayed differently from the text indicating speech either by colour, text style or by placing the non verbal cues in brackets.

What is Closed Captioning and Is there Open Captioning?

Closed captioning is as described above, however ‘closed’ captioning means that viewers have the ability to switch the captions on or off as required. There is also a form of subtitling called open captioning ‘open’ captioning means that the captions are permanently displayed onscreen (as a part of the video itself) and cannot be switched on and off. While SDH subtitling can be in the form of either closed captioning or open captioning generally speaking most subtitles are in the form of closed captioning.

Can Closed Captioning be used for Subtitle Translations?

Closed captions can of course be utilised to create SDH subtitles in different languages. In fact is SDH subtitling is probably the most sensible approach to creating multilingual subtitles for your videos as it means that your footage is accessible to all worldwide.

If you would like more information about our transcription services, multilingual transcription services, closed captioning services, subtitling services, open captioning services or subtitle translation services, why not get in touch? We are always happy to help!

For further reading on closed captioning, video accessibility, open captioning and SDH subtitles, visit this useful website.

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Samantha

Transcriptionist and Virtual Assistant.

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