Closed captions are video subtitles that display in words or symbols all the significant audio content to the viewer. This content includes spoken dialogue as well as non-speech information such as the identity of speakers, along with any significant music or sound effects.
Closed captioning and subtitling are both processes of displaying text on a television, video screen, or other visual display to provide additional or interpretive information. Both are typically used as a transcription of the audio portion of a program as it occurs (either verbatim or in edited form), sometimes including descriptions of non-speech elements. Other uses have included providing a textual alternative language translation of a presentation's primary audio language that is usually burned-in (or "open") to the video and unselectable.
HTML5 defines subtitles as a "transcription or translation of the dialogue when sound is available but not understood" by the viewer (for example, dialogue in a foreign language) and captions as a "transcription or translation of the dialogue, sound effects, relevant musical cues, and other relevant audio information when sound is unavailable or not clearly audible" (for example, when audio is muted or the viewer is deaf or hard of hearing).
The term "closed" (versus "open") indicates that the captions are not visible until activated by the viewer, usually via the remote control or menu option. On the other hand, "open", "burned-in", "baked on", "hard-coded", or simply "hard" captions are visible to all viewers.
In the United States and Canada, the terms subtitles and captions have different meanings. Subtitles assume the viewer can hear but cannot understand the language or accent, or the speech is not entirely clear, so they transcribe only dialogue and some on-screen text. Captions aim to describe to the deaf and hard of hearing all significant audio content — spoken dialogue and non-speech information such as the identity of speakers and, occasionally, their manner of speaking — along with any significant music or sound effects using words or symbols. Also, the term closed caption has come to be used to also refer to the North American EIA-608 encoding that is used with NTSC-compatible video.
The United Kingdom, Ireland, and most other countries do not distinguish between subtitles and closed captions and use "subtitles" as the general term. The equivalent of "captioning" is usually referred to as "subtitles for the hard of hearing". Their presence is referenced on-screen by notation which says "Subtitles", or previously "Subtitles 888" or just "888" (the latter two are in reference to the conventional Teletext channel for captions), which is why the term subtitle is also used to refer to the Ceefax-based Teletext encoding that is used with PAL-compatible video. The term subtitle has been replaced with caption in a number of markets — such as Australia and New Zealand — that purchase large amounts of imported US material, with much of that video having had the US CC logo already superimposed over the start of it. In New Zealand, broadcasters superimpose an ear logo with a line through it that represents subtitles for the hard of hearing, even though they are currently referred to as captions. In the UK, modern digital television services have subtitles for the majority of programs, so it is no longer necessary to highlight which have captioning and which do not.
Remote control handsets for TVs, DVDs, and similar devices in most European markets often use "SUB" or "SUBTITLE" on the button used to control the display of subtitles/captions.
In 2010, Vegas Pro, the professional non-linear editor, was updated to support importing, editing, and delivering CEA-608 closed captions. Vegas Pro 10, released on October 11, 2010, added several enhancements to the closed captioning support. TV-like CEA-608 closed captioning can now be displayed as an overlay when played back in the Preview and Trimmer windows, making it easy to check placement, edits, and timing of CC information. CEA708 style Closed Captioning is automatically created when the CEA-608 data is created. Line 21 closed captioning is now supported, as well as HD-SDI closed captioning capture and print from AJA and Blackmagic Design cards. Line 21 support provides a workflow for existing legacy media. Other improvements include increased support for multiple closed captioning file types, as well as the ability to export closed caption data for DVD Architect, YouTube, RealPlayer, QuickTime, and Windows Media Player.
In mid-2009, Apple released Final Cut Pro version 7 and began support for inserting closed caption data into SD and HD tape masters via FireWire and compatible video capture cards. Up until this time, it was not possible for video editors to insert caption data with both CEA-608 and CEA-708 to their tape masters. The typical workflow included first printing the SD or HD video to a tape and sending it to a professional closed caption service company that had a stand-alone closed caption hardware encoder.
This new closed captioning workflow known as e-Captioning involves making a proxy video from the non-linear system to import into a third-party non-linear closed captioning software. Once the closed captioning software project is completed, it must export a closed caption file compatible with the non-linear editing system. In the case of Final Cut Pro 7, three different file formats can be accepted: a .SCC file (Scenarist Closed Caption file) for Standard Definition video, a QuickTime 608 closed caption track (a special 608 coded track in the .mov file wrapper) for standard-definition video, and finally a QuickTime 708 closed caption track (a special 708 coded track in the .mov file wrapper) for high-definition video output.
Alternatively, Matrox video systems devised another mechanism for inserting closed caption data by allowing the video editor to include CEA-608 and CEA-708 in a discrete audio channel on the video editing timeline. This allows real-time preview of the captions while editing and is compatible with Final Cut Pro 6 and 7.
Other non-linear editing systems indirectly support closed captioning only in Standard Definition line-21. Video files on the editing timeline must be composited with a line-21 VBI graphic layer known in the industry as a "blackmovie" with closed caption data. Alternately, video editors working with the DV25 and DV50 FireWire workflows must encode their DV .avi or .mov file with VAUX data which includes CEA-608 closed caption data.