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3 Jul 2019   Last updated 1 February 2022

Subtitles, Closed Captions, and SDH Subtitles: How are they different?

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Automatic subtitles

Do you know the difference between subtitles, SDH subtitles, and closed captions (CC)?

Although people often use the terms subtitles and closed captions interchangeably, there are differences that set them apart. Today, we are going to explain the difference between subtitles, closed captions, and SDH.

  • Subtitles represent a text derived from either a transcript or screenplay of the dialog or commentary in films, television programs, video games, and the like, usually displayed at the bottom of the screen. Often, translated subtitles are used when the original audio is in a different language than the viewer’s mother language.
  • Closed captions instead not only provide the dialogue in written form but also supplement information about background noises, soundtracks, and other noises that are part of the scene. Closed captions are mostly written in the language that is set for the video. For instance, if you have Netflix and turn on subtitles, what you see is a good example of closed captions.

In essence, subtitles are targeted towards people who can hear the audio but also need the dialogue in written form. Closed captions on the other hand are targeted to an audience that cannot hear the audio and need a text description of sounds.

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Subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing (SDH)

SDH captions are subtitles which combine the information of both captions and subtitles. While normal subtitles assume the viewer can hear the audio but doesn’t know the spoken language, SDH assumes that the viewer cannot hear the audio (like with captions). In this case, SDH is intended to emulate closed captions on media that does not support closed captions, such as digital connections like HDMI. SDH can also be translated into foreign languages to make content accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing individuals who understand other languages.

SDH Subtitles vs. Closed Captions

  • Appearance: SDH captions differs from closed ones in a number of ways. The first difference is in appearance. Closed captions are typically displayed as white text on a black band, whereas SDH is usually displayed with the same proportional font of translated subtitles. More and more often, however, both subtitles and closed captions have user control options that allow the viewer to change the font, color, and size of the text.
  • Placement: SDH and closed captions also differ in terms of placement. Closed captions can usually be aligned to different parts of the screen which is helpful for speaker identification, overlapping conversation, and avoiding interference with important on-screen activity. SDH text is usually centered and locked in the lower bottom third of the screen.

Why should you create subtitles (SDH or CC)?

1) Your video content will be discovered by more people on social media

As it turns out, 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound. Adding subtitles to your videos will not only capture the attention of potential viewers but will also allow them to get your take-home message, even with no audio. Sometimes circumstances don’t allow viewers to watch videos with sound (e.g – count how many times you forgot your headphones and then had to travel by bus/ attend an event/ stand in the waiting line, etc). The true value of your subtitles lies in the additional convenience they provide to your audience.

2) Reach a potentially wider audience

There are over 400 million people worldwide who are deaf or have partial hearing disabilities. They either can’t or have a hard time consuming audio content. By creating subtitles, you ensure that your message is spread to those customer groups, who would otherwise be excluded. Improving the accessibility of your content will help you better serve your audience.

3) Improve SEO

Search Engines like Google can’t analyze video material, that’s why when you upload this type of content, only the title and the description are included in the keyword search. By adding a textual transcript to your video, search engines have much more data to work with, which helps to attract traffic to your content.

4) Attract more foreign viewers to your content

When your transcript is ready, it’s easy to translate it into many foreign languages. Having subtitles in multiple languages will not only expand your geographic reach but will also make your content more discoverable, again, because of improved SEO.

Well done! If you came this far it means that you now are an expert about subtitles and closed captions.

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