Closed captioning and open captioning makes audio content accessible to individuals with hearing impairments. Since there are approximately 48 million Americans – including around 30 million above the age of 11 with hearing loss in both ears – captioning is a critical feature to include in audio content, including videos and presentations.
Plus, closed or open captioning allows anyone – regardless of their hearing capability – to enjoy audio or video content without sound. That makes it easier to enjoy in environments where the volume must be kept low or in noisy places where listening would be a challenge for anyone.
However, determining whether closed or open captions are best for your content isn’t always easy. Here’s a look at closed captioning vs. open captioning, including what the terms mean, how they differ, and how to select the right option for your audio and video content.
Closed Captioning vs. Open Captioning: What the Terms Mean and How They Differ
What Is Closed Captioning? Closed captioning is a text-based alternative to the audio in computer presentations, television shows, movies, podcasts, and similar content. The text includes both dialog and written descriptions of various sounds present in the productions, such as music, sound effects, and ambient noise.
With closed captioning, the text is presented on the screen in near-real time as the scene, presentation, or dialog progresses. That allows those with hearing impairments to follow along with the audio portion of the content.
It is embedded in an array of video signals, but it doesn’t display unless the viewer turns the service on. Once the closed captioning is engaged, a decoder in the receiving device – such as a cable box or software application – makes the closed captions visible. If closed captioning is turned off, the text disappears from the screen, but it remains present in the signal.
What Is Open Captioning?
Open captioning serves a similar function as closed captions. With open captions, text displays on the screen that aligns with the audio content of a production, allowing those with hearing difficulties to follow dialog or read about various other sounds.
With open captioning, the text is part of the video or audio content inherently. It’s always present on the screen and is typically the preferred option for content that’s viewed on devices or platforms that don’t have decoders.
As a result, open captions are, at times, referred to as hard-coded, burned-in, or baked-on captions. These captions are part of the video itself, and they can’t be turned on or off.
Since they’re part of the presentation and not overlayed onto the screen by a decoder, you get more control over how open captions display. For example, it’s possible to choose unique fonts or color code the captions. That allows for creative choices that align with the vibe of the content or could let creators design captions that are easier to track, such as assigning each speaker a unique color to make dialog tracking more intuitive.
The Difference Between the Two Types of Captioning
While closed captions and open captions are incredibly similar, they aren’t exactly alike. The primary difference between closed captioning vs. open captioning is that closed captions can be turned on and off, while open captions are always on. Additionally, closed captioning requires a decoder, while open captioning doesn’t, as the text is built into the video itself.
Another key difference is that closed captioning doesn’t offer any control over how the text presents. Decoders either have a default option that uses a single font and color palette, or for more advanced decoders, a limited number of font types, sizes, and colors.
With open captions, creators can choose any color, font, or size. The captions are added to the video during production as a permanent part of the content, so they can select any text presentation they want based on what’s available in their software.
Finally, closed captions are easy to edit and update since they’re encoded into the file but aren’t inherently part of the video presentation. With open captions, the process is more complex, as the visual portions of the presentation have to be edited to update the captioning.
How to Choose Between Closed Captioning vs. Open Captioning
Closed captioning is traditionally preferred for options like television shows or movies where the odds of them playing through a device with a decoder are high. Cable boxes, DVD players, Blu-Ray players, gaming consoles, and similar technologies typically have decoders built in to ensure accessibility. The same is true of most subscription streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV+.
With closed captions, the viewer can control the experience when it comes to captioning. Those with hearing challenges can opt to turn them on, while those who prefer that captions not take up part of the viewing area can leave them off. As a result, close captions work well for content that’s traditionally delivered through devices with decoders and where a flexible viewing experience is preferred.
Generally, open captioning is best for videos or presentations that are potentially viewed using devices or software that don’t have encoders. It ensures that the captions are available to those who need them. Essentially, you’re guaranteeing accessibility with open captions.
If you want creative control over how the captions look, then open captioning is also a better choice. As mentioned above, closed captioning may only have a single default look or might have a handful of display options. With open captioning, you can choose any fonts, colors, or sizes that make sense for your content, potentially including visual adjustments that make following along easier.
Do You Need Reliable Caption Translations?
Finding high-quality, reliable closed and open caption translation services is a must if you want to increase accessibility when creating video and audio content. By choosing a language services company that adheres to the strictest standards, you get top-quality results every time.
If you need a professional translator for open-caption or closed-caption translations, Acutrans can meet your needs quickly and efficiently. Acutrans also provides leading interpretation services on-site, over the phone, and video remote, ensuring you can address all of your language services needs.
When you need open or closed captions, the Acutrans team can provide a fast, reliable, and professional solution. Contact us for a free quote today.