Closed captions vs. subtitles:

“Closed Captions” and “Subtitles” are very often used interchangeably because, at first glance, they look identical. They are both the text versions of audio in a video, but there are certain differences between them that are not as subtle as they initially appear.

Choosing between closed captions and subtitles is a tough task and it can have an impact on how your project is received by your audience. Mixing the two up could lead to problems especially when using a service such as closed captions for a movie.

Difference Between Captions And Subtitles

Here are some of the differences between captions and subtitles:

First of all, the captions themselves are of two types: open captions and closed captions. Where closed captions can be turned off by the viewer, open captions cannot be turned off as they are embedded in the video. Captions also have background noises, speaker differentiation, and other sound-to-text information as they are mostly used for individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Subtitles are created for the audience that doesn’t speak the language that the video is shot in. Movies have subtitles in the native language of the country where the film is distributed.

Subtitles are just transcribed audio and they are generally developed exactly before the release of the concerned video. They do look similar to closed captions but both of them are meant for two completely different purposes. One can use the subtitles as a text alternative for the dialogues in a video or a film. It is mainly the words spoken by the characters in a video.

CCs, on the other hand, serve as a similar dialogue source and it also provides other details about the video. They describe the relevant parts of the soundtrack i.e. ringing phones, closing doors, ringing bells, background noises, and other similar describable audio cues.

In short, subtitles assume that the audio is being heard by the audience, but it just needs to provide the dialogue in a text form. Whereas closed captions assume that the person watching the video is hearing impaired and apart from the dialogues, they also need a description of what they would be hearing otherwise.

What are Captions?

The word “caption” comes from the word to capture. Metaphorically, you can say that a caption is meant to give you the meaning of a video or photograph in tangible words. Although “captions” is a term used in our day to day lives, it is confused with subtitles very frequently. Closed captioning is widely used in the entertainment industry. Closed captions were made mandatory for public television under the Americans with Disability Act. This law stated that any part of the public multimedia (may it be in classrooms or on television) must be captioned to facilitate the disabled in understanding the content and eliminate discrimination.

What Are Subtitles?

Subtitles are also a form of captioning videos and it is used to translate the dialogues in a video from one language to another in the text form. And unlike “captions”, subtitles are rarely confused with other terms as it is the widely used term for the text that accompanies video content.

Subtitles aren’t only helpful in understanding foreign languages in movies or videos. It has also proven to be beneficial in learning another language and enhancing comprehension.

How Does Captioning Work?

Captioning is a complex process that requires several computer programs, professional captioners, and voice-detection software. There are three methods of captioning:

  1. Respeaking: Respeaking needs the captioner to hear the video carefully, understand the dialogues, and then repeat it on a microphone. The mic is supposed to be connected to a computer software specialized for captioning. The detector’s voice is identified by the software and it’s converted to the text form. This method of captioning is usually used to produce live captions.
  2. Stenography: A stenotype machine is used for this type of captioning. Steno-captioners use a machine that is similar to a specially designed typewriter. Now this machine can produce shorthand English which is later converted to readable text using computer software. This is also used to produce live-captions.
  3. Typing: Captions are typed from scratch on a standard keyboard in this method. Here, the captioner has to time each caption to align it with the dialogue timing or the audio track. This method is very tedious and time-consuming.

Tools To Generate Subtitles And Captions:

Several tools in the market are used to caption the videos automatically. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Google Docs Voice-typing: Google-docs has a fairly accurate voice typing tool compared to the other online tools. However, you will have a bit of learning to do. All you need to do is create a doc file, select the language and accent you want to use, and click on the microphone icon before playing your audio or video.
  2. Maestra: Maestra is a modern web-based application you can directly use on your browser, and if your usage is less, you can make do with the free account too. Maestra supports both captioning & subtitling videos. It also comes with additional features like automatic transcription & automatic foreign language voice-over tools.

Benefits of using subtitles or closed captions:

  1. Your audience can watch videos in sound-sensitive environments: It becomes very easy to watch videos in sound-sensitive environments like public transport, offices, libraries, or other such places. Earphones can be an option, but in the cases where it’s not feasible to use earphones, subtitles and captions can really help.
  2. It gives your content clarity: Sometimes there are some jargon, slang, abbreviations, or some names that may be difficult to understand or decipher. And this especially happens when the audience isn’t well-acquainted with your industry. Adding CCs or subtitles to such videos can help in giving clarity to the content and enhance the experience of your viewers. Captions or subtitles are very helpful in retaining information easily.
  3. It improves language skills: A very well-known but less spoken benefit of subtitles is the improvement of language skills in the users. While closed captioning is great for giving your audience comprehension of a foreign language, aptly written subtitles and captions have an extra advantage of enhancing native language skills for understanding and writing that language. It helps in improving one’s understanding of spellings, punctuation, and grammar. Due to this reason, it is highly recommended for children to watch videos with captions.
  4. Captions and subtitles help in maintaining the concentration of the viewers: A significant benefit of adding CCs or subtitles to a video is that they make their viewers attentive and maintain the concentration for longer periods. You can use captioning for enhancing the experience of viewers who tend to have poor concentration.
  5. Helps the audience follow the show: Using CCs or subtitles on your videos, films, and programs help the viewers follow along with speech easily. The text on screen ensures that the viewers can fully understand and hence appreciate your video despite the background noise or their disability.

Should every video have Captions or subtitles?

Do you ever wonder how many videos you have watched on mute just because they were captioned and you did not need to listen to the dialogues? If you put yourself in the shoes of the audience, you could understand how important captioning or subtitling is.

Although subtitles and captions are meant to help people with a hearing disability or with understanding a video in a foreign language, many people prefer silencing the audio on their phones when subtitles are available. So even if your video subtitling/captioning does not target a normal audience that can hear and understand the language, some people would do that.

It is, hence, recommended to caption or subtitle your videos as it could lead to a huge increase in viewership of your content.


It is not mandatory to add subtitles or captions on your videos but as mentioned above, there are a lot of benefits of doing so. Make sure you choose the correct option and the correct tool for captioning your video as it can have a big difference depending on the type of audience you’re catering to.