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January 13rd, 2016

About Closed Captions

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What are closed captions?

Closed captions are TV subtitles that you can turn on and off. The term Closed Captions refer to TV subtitles in NTSC, such as the US or Canada. In Europe Teletext (usually page 888) is used for subtitling.

How are closed captions different to DVD subtitles?
There are many technical differences, but these are the two I find more important:
While both provide the user with the same thing (i.e. a transcript of the audio synchronized to it) there are very different from a technical point of view:
- DVD subtitles are image based (they could be anything, not just text) while Closed Captions are text based (they can only be text).
- DVD subtitles are decoded by the DVD player, while Closed Captions are decoded by the TV. This is an important difference because if you are in Europe and buy a DVD from the US that has closed captions but no DVD subtitles you will not be able to use the captions as the TVs in Europe don't have a Closed Caption decoder.

Why do they release DVDs with Captions instead of proper DVD subtitles? It seems that DVD subtitles are better.
I'd say there are two reasons:
- To discourage European people from importing DVDs.
- For TV shows, they already have the closed captions (because they cannot broadcast without them due to legal requirements) but the DVD subtitles need to be made.

Watching a Closed Captioned DVD in Europe
As previously said, European TVs don't come with a built-in decoder, however there are a few options
- Watch the DVDs on a computer using a software player that support Closed Captions (many do).
- Buy a external decoder and put it between the DVD player and the TV. Yes, they do exist. However be aware that your DVD player must help a bit by sending out the Closed Caption data in the video signal, so not all DVD players are good. Anyway here's my setup, which works fine:
    - An Oppo DVD-908h DVD player.
    - A Hitachi Movie-Text external decoder. I bought it around 10 years ago and I can't find any place to get one online, however some alternatives exist, such as the Telemole (I haven't tested it myself though) or the Video Reader VR-20
Note: As far as I know closed captions don't work over HDMI. You will need to use an analog connection between the DVD and the closed caption decoder.

What are closed captions for?
- captioning is essential for people with hearing dissabilities, which is the main reason for captions to be a legal requirement for most primetime TV shows.
- Captions are also incredible useful for people learning a foreign language (usually English, Spanish or French)
- Because captions are plain text, they can be used to store accurate transcripts of newscasts.

How to record closed captions?
Basically, your recording equipment (PC TV card, DVD recorder, whatever) will either be able to record captions or not. In some cards (at least some Hauppauge models) you need to specifically turn on captions recording. Anyway, usually captions are stored inside the video file (or DVD) without you having to do anything special.
A different issue is reencoding the recording, or editing it, etc: Captions are usually lost because video edit tools don't support captions, so you need to save them before editing the recorded file. This is where CCExtractor comes in.