Understanding the difference between subtitles and closed captions is important because it allows video makers to make the right choice in relation to the audience they are hoping to capture, the results they are looking to achieve and the budget they need to stick to. For audiences outside of the subtitling industry, little is known about how subtitling and closed captioning differs but for those working with services for the deaf, subtitle translations, video production, broadcasting and subtitles for video on demand services, the differences can be stark.
Closed Captions and Subtitles Intended Audiences
Closed captions are intended for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Subtitles can be useful for viewers who are deaf or hard or hearing but are not as in-depth in terms of what is included. Foreign subtitles are often used for translating video content to appeal to global audiences. Both closed captioning and subtitling are highly effective when used for SEO (search engine optimisation) purposes online.
Encoding Closed Captions and Burning Subtitles
In terms of the method used to include onscreen text with a video, there is a very important difference between and subtitles and closed captions. Closed caption files are created and encoded onto a video stream. They are ‘closed’ which means the viewer has the ability to switch them on or off as required. Closed captions are encoded into Line-21 of the television signal. They are also known as the formats EIA-608 or CEA-608.
In contrast, subtitles are burned onto a video as an image which displays. When subtitles are turned on, effectively a different video file is playing to display them, rather than closed captions where it is only the onscreen text that changes and is encoded in text format rather than as an image.
Subtitling and Closed Captioning Inclusions
Subtitles include spoken dialogue in a video. As they are not intended for hard of hearing audiences, there are not regulations in place for the use of subtitles in terms of accessibility.
Closed captions include spoken dialogue and any sounds or comments necessary to aid deaf viewers in accessing video content. Speakers are identified and names are included during speech which takes place off-screen. Sound effects and music are also included. In both the US and the UK subtitles, there are currently subtitling and closed captioning regulations in place to ensure TV broadcasts are closed captioned. Video on demand regulations for closed captions and subtitles are also currently being introduced.
The Cost Difference between Subtitles and Closed Captions
Cost is a significant factor in the difference between subtitles and closed captions. Typically, closed captions are more expensive than subtitles (sometimes costing almost twice as much). This is because of the extra care and attention taken in the transcription process and timings. Because closed captions are often included as part of regulations, broadcasters will often have stipulations and guidelines on specific formatting, styles and inclusions that will need to be adhered to. Following these guidelines can take a large amount of skill from subtitlers and time will be spent in creating client specific templates. For subtitles, styles and guidelines often differ from project to project and are typically more flexible. Less guidelines, formatting and writing skill needed equals lower price.
Closed Captioning and Subtitling Work
When it comes to working as a subtitler, there is a very important difference between subtitles and closed captions that needs to be considered. Namely, the price of software. Subtitles are often written in more basic or generic formats that can be created using software online that is often free. For example, Subtitle Workshop, Aegisub or Subtitle Editor. These basic formats can be edited and styled as plain text using Notepad.
In contrast, closed captions files are often created for broadcast purposes and are encoded and virtually (if not completely) unreadable outside of the professional software which is used to create and display them. This means when working with broadcast closed captions, more specialised, professional software may be required. For example WINCAPS, SWIFT or EZTitles. These software can be comparably very expensive but for any transcriptionists or subtitlers looking to move into broadcast subtitling work, their purchase will likely prove essential.