Closed Captioning vs Subtitles: What is the Difference?

August 14, 2016 BY SOFIA ENAMORADO
Updated: March 31, 2021

Is there a difference between closed captioning vs subtitles?

If you’re a foreign movie aficionado, then you are definitely familiar with using video subtitling. But did you know, video subtitles are not interchangeable with captions?

What is video subtitling?

Video subtitles are the reason we can watch movies like Amélie or Life Is Beautiful without feeling lost from the lack of translation. Subtitles translate the dialogue into other languages so the video can be watched by viewers who don’t understand the language spoken. They communicate solely the dialogue and not the sound effects of the audio track.

Video subtitling is an instrumental tool to use for reaching untapped global markets and making your video content accessible to other countries in an array of languages.

Closed captioning vs subtitles

While video subtitles are intended for viewers who can’t understand the language being spoken, captions are intended for viewers who can’t hear the audio. Captions (which can refer to closed captions or open captions) include the dialogue as well as any other relevant audio. They are used to aid the hard-of-hearing by communicating all audio sounds including sound effects, speaker IDs, and other non-speech elements. For most video content, captions are required under the United States law. Users can often change the visual display of captions, and their placement on the screen can move to prevent any obstruction of the visual images being presented.

captions identify speakers, move when obscuring important visual elements, capture non-speech elements, and are required by US laws for most video content   

Video subtitles are translated dialogue and don’t include any sound effects. They are intended for viewers who can hear audio, but cannot understand the language. Video subtitles are often referred to as translations. Users can usually select subtitles by clicking the same CC icon they would use to turn on captions.

subtitles are translations of the audio. they don't include the non-speech elements. they are also not accessible. however, in countries like the UK the term subtitle is used interchangeably with captions 

Though video subtitles and captions have different intentions, they are both always synchronized with the media and, for the most part, give the viewer the ability to turn the captions on or off.

What are “Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing?”

“Subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing,”, or “SDH,” are subtitles in the language being spoken that include non-dialogue audio sound effects and speaker identification. They are displayed in the same format as video subtitles. SDH are intended to provide an accommodation for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers on devices where closed captions are not supported.

Are video subtitles the same everywhere?

Outside of the United States and Canada (for example in the UK, Ireland, and most other countries), video subtitling and captioning merge into one. In other words, the use of the term “video subtitling” does not distinguish between subtitles used for foreign language aid and captioning used to aid the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Instead, subtitles could refer to subtitles as described above or to captions as described above.

beginners guide to captioning

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