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Subtitling and Closed Captioning Software – Free Versus Professional

Subtitling and Closed Captioning Software

There’s a lot of subtitling software out there nowadays and a lot of methods for creating subtitles or closed captions. For amateurs captioning their own videos, it can be hard to spot the difference between professional closed captioning software and free online downloads. So this blog checks out the reasons why it’s worth splashing out on more advanced subtitling and closed captioning software for your projects.

Manual Subtitle Writing, Amateur and Professional Software Definitions

  • Free subtitle software typically refers to programmes like Subtitle Workshop or Aegisub, which can be downloaded online for free and used to create basic format subtitles.
  • Manual subtitle writing refers to writing subtitles and time codes manually using a plain text editor such as Notepad or Word and saving as a plain text file.
  • Professional Software refers to subtitle and closed captioning software that is purchased from a reputable software developer, such as SWIFT, WINCAPS, EZ-Titles and others…

Flagging up Subtitle Errors

When creating video captions, errors in the coding, timings or structure of your subtitles can mean that they display incorrectly on the video or even worse, not at all.

Manual subtitle software – Working to manually write closed captions or subtitles means relying entirely on yourself to check for errors.

Free subtitle software – Basic subtitling software can typically flag up overlapping subtitles or timings which are too short or too long.

Professional subtitle software – Professional subtitle software is used to detect serious errors as well as specification inconsistencies in subtitles. In free software, typically errors are flagged in red or highlighted. In contrast, professional software usually has options to block users making amendments which may cause serious errors. These options including preventing overlapping subtitles, over or under length subtitle lines and proximity to shot changes.

Quality Checks for Subtitle and Caption Reading Speeds and Timings

Manual subtitle software – Absolutely no quality checking capacity. The only option is to watch the complete subtitled video back, to ensure adequate reading speeds and timings.

Free subtitle software – Quality checks can typically be run to flag up captions which run for too long or too little time. Some will also highlight frame gaps between subtitles which are below the specified amount.

Professional subtitle software – This is where professional programmes really come into their own. Professional software typically has options to create helper files which index shot changes. They also visually show the audio stream to help with accuracy in subtitle timings. Specifications can be made on subtitle duration, as well as the timing gaps between subtitles.

Reading speeds (characters per second and words per minute) can be specified according to client and/or video type and when the reading speed exceeds specifications, the caption will be flagged.

Broadcast Closed Captioning using Advanced Formats

Manual subtitle software – It’s possible to create basic .srt or even .vtt subtitles or closed captions using a manual approach. However, this will be incredibly time consuming. For some formats, it may be technically possible, but incredibly difficult to create more complex or encoded caption formats in this way. Formatting conversions for use on multiple platforms means starting the writing process from scratch.

Free subtitle software – The closed caption formats available on free subtitle software are typically very limited. There is a lot of disparency between which software supports which format, so converting caption formats can be tough. If working a lot with free software, it may be necessary to download and switch between programmes depending on project.

Professional subtitle software – Most professional software supports the most commonly used encoded closed caption formats. These include EBU-STL, DFXP, XML, PAC and 890. Subtitle formats can also be easily converted for use on multiple platforms. Some professional captioning software is also programmed and coded to create caption files that can be exported directly to video editing software in order to seamlessly burn subtitles.

Fast and Easy Subtitle Translations

Manual subtitle software – High quality closed caption translation using manual methods is near on impossible. Caption timings would need to be written from scratch to comply with line lengths. Extreme care would also need to be taken with the encoding of the finished file. Coding mistakes can cause errors in the display of foreign characters as well as the functionality of captions.

Free subtitle software – Closed caption translation can be done usually with free subtitle software. However, due to limitations in the coding options available and quality checking markers, it would be difficult to ensure the best quality translation for the final video.

Professional subtitle software – Top of the range closed caption software is built with translation in mind. Most professional software contains options to directly import  the target foreign subtitles. This means foreign captions display alongside English subtitles to ensure no mistakes are made. Coding is done automatically by selecting the desired language when inserting or creating captions in both the source and target language.

Summary – Subtitling and Closed Captioning Software: Amateur or Professional? 

Overall, as expected, it would seem that professional subtitle software definitely wins out. It’s triumphed in the fight against free subtitle software downloads and manual caption writing. Professional software (once the user has learned the basics) is easier to use overall. It provides much more scope for ensuring easy to read, well timed and accurate subtitles.

For closed captioning for television broadcast or video on demand services, professional software is a must. Most free captioning programmes just don’t have the capability to encode closed captions effectively (if at all). Professional software is a must for videos where high levels of accuracy and exact specifications are required. Broadcast and Video on Demand subtitle formats are complex. They require a huge amount of quality assurance to ensure compliance with regulations.

It seems that for those on a budget, a lot is possible in creating basic captions using manual methods and free subtitling and closed captioning software. The difference isn’t in the ability to subtitle, but rather in the overall quality of those subtitles. Also, if looking to add video subtitles in this way, it’s important to weigh time against money. Yes, you save money in taking on work a professional subtitling company could do for you, but you’re not making true cost savings if it takes you a whole week to subtitle one 10 minute video!

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