Closed Captioning, Part II

A picture with another thousand words? The last Video Assist column was the first of a two-part answer where I addressed a question about captioning. I covered some of the issues related to captioning in standard definition because captions in high definition have their foundation rooted in standard definition.

Since standard-definition captioning has been around for many years, captioning for standard definition has become pretty straightforward. When you want a dub of a show with captioning, most places understand that the captioning transfers with the dub (if their systems were set up properly).

"Universal Sports installed Constellation in January, and Manasco sees huge benefits in acquiring a system that recognizes and supports data from leading video-editing systems…"

Things started getting a little dicey with nonlinear editing because many times the capture or the output process strips away the captioning. But usually people know what’s going on.
On the other hand, high-definition captions have opened up a whole new set of issues.

First and foremost, high-def captions aren’t contained in the same area as standard-def captions. As I mentioned last time, standard-def captions are contained as part of the video signal, specifically at line 21. It’s easy to tell if a show has captioning just by looking at line 21 via the underscan function on a monitor.

However, high-def captions are stored in an ancillary portion of the digital signal. This part of the signal isn’t displayed on a monitor without extra equipment. Some tape machines require that configurations are set so the caption data is interpreted correctly.

Secondly, because high def is relatively new and high-def captioning is "different," people don’t have a lot of experience with it. At random, I called facilities throughout the country and described the following scenario: I have a high-def master with captioning and want a Digital Betacam dub with captions. Can you do it?

The answers ranged from "no problem" to "no." I then mentioned that I hadn’t gotten my hands on the master yet, so I wasn’t sure what the format was, whether it was 720 or 1080, interlaced or progressive. Usually, that information didn’t change the original answer. Finally, I mentioned that I didn’t know the frame rate and that it could be 23.976.

For some, this prompted them to put me on hold so that they could ask their engineer. For others, it didn’t change a thing. At first take, I thought that the people who were saying "no problem" had their stuff together. But then I started to ask some additional questions, and my confidence level dropped pretty dramatically.

Since high-def captions aren’t that easy to monitor, it’s important that people who are "touching" your master understand what they’re doing. Otherwise you might not know that something is wrong until it’s too late.