I have a friend, Heidi, who always wanted to put closed captions on TV when we were watching something.
I understand that some people need captions if they can’t hear well or if they’re not fluent in the language on the screen.
But my husband and I always said we thought in Heidi’s case, putting on captions was license to talk during the show. She didn’t have to feel bad if she was chatting; other people could just read along!
Man, I hated it. I’m all for subtitles in foreign films, without which you couldn’t experience them. But for most things, I used to think the captions (not to mention her talking) were just a distraction from the video itself.
When we became parents, almost right away, we started turning on the closed captions all the time.
If there was a kid shrieking, or even just playing, in the same room, captions helped us keep up with the events onscreen.
Using captions also lets us keep the volume lower, if needed. We find that in movies if the volume is high enough to hear dialogue, then things like explosions are eardrum-splitting. The sound of gunshots on the TV will reverberate through the house. Not ideal.
And am I the only one who is always having to pause and rewind? With some streaming services, rewinding is a whole process. I think subtitles help prevent some of those “what did they say?” rewinds.
Now I almost miss following along with the words if they’re not on the screen.
What I’ve noticed about captions is that the quality varies greatly from show to show. And quality matters a lot!
What I’ve learned is that when a production pays a service to caption something, it costs more to guarantee accuracy. Vendors can use computer programs, humans, or a mix.
Some shows will get the dialogue completely wrong and misinterpret certain words — or miss them entirely.
Other shows have impeccable captions. Some of the best are on The West Wing. That’s important, because it’s a famously fast-talking series, and you don’t want to miss anything.
Another show I watch, Gilmore Girls, is also word-heavy, and captions help me catch all the references they make.
Good captions tell you the name and artist of every song. They tell you what the background music is like: [epic thrash metal]. They tell you what’s happening on screen our just outside the frame: [various Italian hand gestures]. They describe noises, and the results range from illuminating to head-scratching. In an episode of Friends, Janice has [machine-gun-fire-like laughter]. And from an episode of Star Trek, Dr. Spock is [sobbing mathematically], whatever that means.
Bad captions have bad timing. They give things away or distract you when they’re out of sync with the audio.
And even in the best cases, captions will cut out some words or shorten things. I hate that, but I see that it might be necessary at times.
What I’ve read is that Netflix tends to offer the most options in terms of languages, especially for Netflix originals. Apple TV Plus has the most customization of fonts and size of caption, which is crucial. Disney has many languages for its biggest films.
In a perfect world I probably wouldn’t use captions. It would be quiet enough to immerse myself in a show, to pay attention to every frame with sufficient volume and no distractions. But I don’t live in a perfect world. So for now, I’m on the subtitle bandwagon.