Captioning video

What is Captioning?

Captioning refers to a word-to-word translation of spoken dialogue from television and film that is typically presented as white text on a black background. Captioning may include sound effects, speaker identification, and any other key information. The text is either overlaid or scrolls on top of the original video and synchronized so that it appears at the same time the words are spoken. The format of the captioning (e.g. amount of text, number of lines, phrasing) is often designed according to industry standards that have been outlined to promote readability.

Who benefits from captioning?

Captioning was originally designed to allow individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to access information through television and film. Captioning is an excellent example of universal design in our technological age: although it was initially created for people with disabilities, it can be used by many others for access to television, for example, people in noisy gyms or pubs, or those learning a second language. For more examples of the benefits of accessible media, read about Who Benefits from Accessible Media.

Types of captioning

Captioning can be created both off-line and online.

Live Captioning

On-line captions, sometimes referred to as “real-time captions,” are created and displayed as the program itself is being created. On-line captions are best suited for live events. Some examples of programming that utilizes on-line captioning include sporting events, news broadcasts, and any event where there is not enough time to create off-line captions. Another example of online captioning is Computer-Aided Real-time Translation (CART), where the captions are projected onto a screen at live events including meetings or school events.

Post-Production Captioning

Off-line captions are designed for programs that are recorded and processed before they are aired to the public. The captions are created and added to the video after it has been recorded, but prior to it being distributed or aired. This type of captioning is often used for television programming, including both TV shows and made-for-TV movies, as well as for various educational videos.

  • Open Captioning: Open captions are “burned on” or permanently affixed to a video and will be displayed whenever the video is played.
  • Closed Captioning: Closed captions are not permanently affixed to the video and will only display on a screen that has a closed caption decoder – a device that is built into most television sets. Captions are usually displayed as white letters on a black background.
  • Open and closed captions may be created differently but would appear identical to the viewer once on the video. Popular video players have automatic captioning features that use the captions that come with the video or generate their own. For an example of regular closed captions, please navigate to the following video Schools Lead the Way, select the “CC” button at the bottom of the screen to add the captions.
  • Subtitles: Subtitles are usually displayed as white or yellow letters surrounded by a black rim known as a “drop shadow.” Subtitles can either be displayed all the time, as with open captioning or only displayed if selected from a menu, like those accompanying DVD videos. The terms subtitles and captions are sometimes used interchangeably, but in some uses, subtitling means a language translation for movies that are written in another language – these subtitles can include dialogue and key information for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, but may not have been designed to provide the additional information, such as sound effects, speaker identification, and other auditory information.
  • ASL Subtitles: Just as subtitles can be created in different languages, dialogue and key information can also be translated and provided in American Sign Language. This would allow individuals who know ASL to access the information being shown in the video, especially if this was their preferred language to receive information. 
    • For an example of a video with ASL subtitles, please watch the following video of the Accessible Media Inc. show Sign of the Times for an example of ASL subtitles. The bottom right corner of the screen holds a picture-in-picture video of a woman signing the spoken narration.
    • Text content can also be provided in sign language, such as the content on the ASL version of the Provincial Schools Branch Website.

The number of captioned films being released is growing, and this is expected to continue as more movie theaters are showing open-captioned movies or using caption display technologies.

Who can provide captioned videos?

SNOW does not endorse any of the following companies. These links are provided for information purposes only. These are a handful of many different captioning companies.