Closed Captions vs Subtitles: What's the Difference?

Some people refer to closed captions and subtitles interchangeably as they are both the text version of audio in a video.

Closed Captions vs Subtitles: What’s the Difference?

Closed Captions vs Subtitles

Some people refer to closed captions and subtitles interchangeably as they are both the text version of audio in a video. However, there are key differences between the two. Getting these services mixed up can lead to problems, especially if you require a service like closed captioning for a film or live event.

Here, we go through the main differences between the two, covering the goals each service aims to provide, and the important details that make them stand apart.

What are Subtitles?

Subtitles are a form of captioning used to translate the audio dialogue from one language into another. Simply put, subtitles translate a video’s language into another. You’ll see subtitles used in many foreign films and programs.

On the other hand, Closed Captions are in the same language as the original audio.

What are Closed-Captions?

Closed captions are created to allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to experience the video, so they also include background sounds and speaker changes. On the other hand, subtitles assume that the viewer can hear the audio and as a result do not contain the background sounds or notifications for speaker changes.

Interested in learning more about captions? Check out our Complete Guide to Closed Captioning.

Main Differences

Closed captioning (CC) and subtitling both include displaying text on a television, video screen, or other visual display to provide access to the audio track in a different form. Beyond this similarity, the two are very different services.

Closed Captions Subtitles
Does not assume viewers can hear audio Assumes viewers can hear audio
Includes dialogue, sound effects, music etc. Only includes dialogue
Primarily designed for audiences who are Deaf or hard of hearing Designed for audiences who are not fluent in the original language
Often added after the film or TV show is released Developed prior to a film or TV show release
Displays all dialogue and audio as text Translates languages as text


Subtitles and Captions have different goals

Subtitles allow people to watch videos even when they themselves don’t speak the language. With the growth of global video platforms, many video owners see the value of adding subtitles to make their content available in multiple languages.

The growth of Closed Captions has coincided with the growth of mobile video consumption as more people watch videos in public places with the sound muted. It’s estimated that 85% of videos on Facebook are watched without sound!

Why use Closed Captions?

  • Provides accessibility to potentially millions of Deaf/hard-of-hearing viewers.
  • Increases engagement from viewers
  • Improved user experience
  • Digital content will enjoy greater reach due to searchability across the web
  • Access the same content without audio

How does it work?

Captioning is a modern process that uses highly-trained captioners, specialized computer programs and voice-detection software. There are three main methods of creating captions:

  • Respeaking: Respeaking requires the captioner to hear what is being said, then repeat the dialogue into a microphone connected to specialized computer software. This software detects the captioner’s voice and converts it to text as captions. Respeaking is mainly used to produce live captions.
  • Stenography: Stenocaptioners use a stenotype machine to change the spoken word into text. A stenotype machine is a specially-designed typewriter with limited keys, which produces shorthand English. It is this shorthand which is translated into readable text via computer software. Stenography is used for the production of live captions.
  • Typing: The captioner uses a standard keyboard to type the captions from scratch into computer software. The captioner must also time each caption so it appears on screen in time with the audio track. This technique is time consuming and is only used for pre-recorded content.
Accessibility Captions Closed Captions subtitles

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