Closed/Open Captions, Subtitles and Rear-Window Captioning

I thought I would take the opportunity to explain, with my very basic knowledge, the differences between the types of captioning.

Closed captions and subtitles are used with your regular at home TV/VHS player/DVD player. Closed captions are produced with your TV decoder. Most TVs now days have decoders in them, but if you do not have one already built in, you can purchase them to attach to the television. Closed captions have the capability of being turned on or off anywhere in the program by using your TV remote. Usually what happens is while the TV show is going on, it is sending some sort of signal to your decoder that then translates it into captions. If something were breaking news, then the news station would generally hire a captionist.

Open captions and subtitles are often confused because they are very similar. I like to think of open captions as the type you see at the movies theaters and subtitles as the type you find on your DVD. Although, curiously enough, if you go to a foreign film the translation is often called subtitles.

The way I understood open captions at the movie theaters was that they use two different reels, one for the movie and one for the captions and some how place them together to produce the desired effect. I could be totally off base with this. However, the general idea is that if you go to see an open caption movie, you can’t very well turn them off whenever you like.

Subtitles are generally “etched” into the DVD or foreign film. You can turn them off at home by going to the menu and changing that option, but not at the movie theater. For a DVD movie, I wonder if there are actually two versions of the movie on the DVD, one with subtitles and one without? If so, the reason why the subtitles are called subtitles on both a DVD and a foreign film would make sense. You can also see why subtitles and open captions are very similar.

Rear-window captioning is my least favorite. The reason why is because the person has to borrow a “flag” (as I like to call them) from the front desk. It is basically a bendable stick that goes in your drink holder and has a see-through mirror at the top. It often makes me feel like the woman in the “Scarlet Letter” when I have to walk around the theater with that thing (hence the “flag” nickname… you’re flagging people to let them know you’re deaf!). When you get all comfy in your seat and stick the flag in your drink holder, you have to adjust it so that you can see the reflection of light up “inside out” captions in the back of the theater. I believe it was created because of the unfortunate number of complaints that the theaters were getting because of certain individuals who had a problem with sitting through the open caption film that happened either at 2 p.m. or 11 p.m. on a Wednesday in the middle of the week. And this happened only once a week folks. If these unfortunate individuals do not like the open captioning, then they have 20 other viewings to choose from of the same movie at more convenient hours. I wouldn’t be surprised if these folks were younger (like teenagers) because of the hours these movies were at – most adults would be at work or in bed. How nice of movie theaters to take their thoughts into opinion.

And while I’m still on my rant, people who make DVDs can stay away from “Subtitles from the Hearing Impaired”, a simple “Subtitles” will be fine, unless you have two types of subtitles: one that shows the noises happening and the other that doesn’t.

OK, I’m done with my little rant.

So you get the general idea. If you’re looking for a captioned viewing in a movie theater, it’s always a good idea to check out Fomdi (see my links).

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2 responses to “Closed/Open Captions, Subtitles and Rear-Window Captioning

  1. You ask: “I wonder if there are actually two versions of the movie on the DVD, one with subtitles and one without?” The answer is no. The subtitles are stored as images that are overlayed on top of the movie when it plays. This saves a lot of space vs having two copies of the movie. Because the subtitles are images (and not text), you can’t load a DVD onto your computer and change the font of the subtitle. Also, this makes it impossible to screenread (like for the blind) DVD subtitles.

    Closed captioning (on TV) is actually text, not images.

  2. Can you use a Braille reader with Closed Captioning?

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