Closed captions vs subtitles: Pros, cons & how to choose

Published on February 15th, 2022

If you are looking to translate a video, you have three main methods to choose from: voice overs, subtitles and closed captions. Subtitles and closed captions both add text to the screen, but they perform slightly different roles and, while the distinctions may not always be obvious, they are important.

In this article, we explain the differences between closed captions and subtitles so you can choose the best option for translating your next video project.

Closed captions vs subtitles: What’s the difference?

Closed captions and subtitles place on-screen text in video content, normally for one of two audiences: hard-of-hearing viewers or foreign-speaking viewers. For hard-of-hearing audiences, closed captions and subtitles aim to replace audio information so they’ll match the language of the video.

For foreign-speaking audiences, closed captions and subtitles provide translated text in a language different from the video content.

For the purposes of this article, we are discussing the second purpose of translating video content and this helps us analyse the differences of closed captions vs subtitles with greater relevance.

The key difference is that subtitles only provide text for speech in video content while closed captions also provide text for other audio information that is important for the viewer. For example, closed captions specify when a phone rings in a film or sirens flare off-screen, whereas subtitles don’t.

Closed captions or subtitles: Which is better?

This depends on who you expect to view your video content and how you expect them to view it. The most important consideration is to decide whether you are catering for hard-of-hearing audiences because closed captions may be the more suitable choice if there is important, non-verbal information in your video.

Closed captions communicate this information while subtitles don’t and it is important to consider this when choosing your method of translating your videos.

You may also want to choose closed captions if you expect people will watch your video with the audio turned off. This is a common occurrence in the age of social media where people watch videos in silence on public transport and other settings.

Again, if non-verbal information needs conveying, closed captions will provide this for viewers, while subtitles will not.

That being said, if your video does not contain any important, non-verbal information, then subtitles may provide a ‘cleaner’ experience for viewers. One potential downside of closed captions is the increased presence of on-screen text which can make it more difficult to take in the message of your footage. In addition, this aspect can make it harder to distinguish between dialogue and non-verbal audio.

There is no right or wrong answer and either choice is a good solution. The key is to determine the best choice for your intended audience and the most effective way of delivering your message in a compelling manner.

If you need any help with implementing voice over, captions or subtitles into your video content, please contact us.

Posted on: February 15th, 2022