Subtitles are the visual representation of dialog transcribed or translated and displayed onscreen (either embedded in or superimposed over a portion of the picture) in films, television, or video games. Subtitles are displayed generally on the bottom of the screen along with the audio track for the purpose of making the dialog more comprehensible to viewers who may not understand the native language or when the audio is temporarily unintelligible (i.e., when drowned out by other sound in a public setting). Subtitles may also be used when a viewer wishes to hear the audio track in its original language and read the text in translation rather than hearing the dialog dubbed into the viewer’s own language.
Captions are similar to subtitles but may include in addition to dialog other audio information such as sound effects, symbolic representations of music, and may even indicate the speaker when this information is not clearly evident visually. The words captions and subtitles are frequently used interchangeably, but the main distinction between the two is that subtitles assume viewers can hear the audio track but for some reason find it unintelligible. Captions, however, are intended primarily for an audience that that is unable or has difficulty hearing the audio track.
Closed captioning was developed specifically for television in the United States as an aid for the hard-of-hearing and has been part of accessible media since 1972 and has played a large role in the development of disability rights as well as civil rights in the United States. In 1980, commercial television stations began regularly scheduled uses of closed captioning through a telecaption adapter. Closed-caption technology is now programmed directly into televisions themselves, making adapters obsolete. In addition, closed captioning in the United States is now required to be available for regular Spanish-language television programming. The word “closed” in closed captioning means that these captions do not appear onscreen automatically but must be enabled by the viewer, as opposed to “open” captions, which are always visible.
Subtitles for the Deaf or Hard-of-hearing (SDH) are a form of subtitles introduced by the DVD industry in the United States and refer to subtitles in the original language to which important non-dialog information has been added. Apart from the names, the significant difference between SDH and closed captioning is in their appearance onscreen. SDH subtitles are displayed in the same format as translation subtitles on the DVD whereas closed captions are displayed as white text in a black box, which impedes vision of the entire screen.