Closed Captions for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Closed Captioning

We recently had a mobile project with lots of video content, all of which needed to be subtitled and work on the iPhone and iPad.

Many hours of research, hair pulling and frustration later it became clear that the Closed Captioning world is a broken, horrible place to be. We had the videos, we had the transcript but there seemed no way of putting them together in a timely and cost effective fashion. The business model in the closed captioning world (like many others) is make it really complicated so that you either have to pay someone to do it (at a cost of around £10 per minute of video) or buy software with a price tag on multiple thousands that although sounds like the saviour, is actually just makes things even more complex.

The problem? Multiple incompatible formats of subtitles, multiple broadcast formats, all requiring their own solution and no-one place to find out reliable, up-to-date information from. Eventually we got it figured out, a nice in-expense (but not free) way to get your own closed caption service up and running.


Things you will need:

A Mac
Quicktime Pro 7 (with the SCC Plugin)
Movie Captioner (comes with 14 day free trial, or it’s $99)

And that’s it. There will be other ways and other tools that can do this, but after all our research, this was the best setup. It helped that we had a Mac, and a Quicktime Pro 7 license. If you’ve upgraded to Lion, like we have then you’ll still need to install Quicktime 7 (as well as the installed Quicktime X) as there is no Pro version of X yet and the pre-installed version doesn’t allow you to add closed captions.

Once you’ve got all the above, that’s the hard bit done.


We’re going to assume that you’ve got your videos in a Quicktime format (mov works best) if not you’ll need to convert them first (Quicktime can export these and does a great job. It even has inbuilt iPhone settings)

Launch Movie Captioner and create a new project. Import your video in the top left pane and check that it plays back ok. Now time to create the captions.

If you don’t have the captions already, then the tools within the software allow you type them out to the audio as you go, which is a really easy process to do, but we won’t go into that here, check out their tutorial videos for a full run through. However ff you’ve already got the captions in a document then great, firstly copy them into a .txt file, with each caption separated onto a new line eg.

Hello and welcome to my tutorial

In this video I’m going to show you how to create a video with,

closed captions that works on an iPhone.

A couple of things to note here. Keep the captions as short as you can, longer ones can cause problems later. As a general rule, each Caption line can only have 32 characters on and there can be 4 lines per caption. So if you have particulary long captions, then you might find it easier to split them here than within Movie Captioner later.
Also the txt file has to be formated as UTF-8 encoding (from the format menu in TextEdit and if you’ve copied the text in from a word processing document then they’re might be some funny characters in there that aren’t recognised by Movie Captioner. If this happens you’ll end up with odd question marks within the captions or missing captions all together. Then you’ll need to go though the txt file and replace errant characters (usually quotation marks, speech marks and apostrophes) and do a find and replace, and simply replace them with a character typed from your keyboard directly into the txt file and this will fix things up.

Once you have your captions in a txt file, then import it into your MC project as a ‘text in line form’ file. Of course, if you have your captions in another compatible format then feel free to use those, but we can’t vouch for how well they will work with this technique.

At this point it will lay out your captions down the right had side, but all with a time code of 00:00:00.00. Before we time out the captions, click on each one, where it will show you a preview of the caption below the video and make sure that all the text has been imported correctly and none of the captions are too long. It’s best to be on the safe side, so if any are getting close to being over 4 lines, then put your cursor where you want it to goto the next caption and split them using the ‘split to next caption’ button under the editing section.

If you’re happy that the captions are correct, then we can start timing them out.

Make yourself comfortable, this bit can go quickly. Select the first caption, put the movie to where the first caption should start, then click ‘Set Timecode’ at the top. This will start the video playing and set the first caption to the current time in the video. It will also select the next caption in the list, so you need to keep up with the audio and keep clicking ‘Set Timecode’ when the caption should come in. Don’t worry if you miss it, just pause the video, set the time to where you want the particular caption to come in and  se the timecode to continue captioning.

Once you get to the last caption, the video will stop playing and you can go back and adjust any captions that aren’t quite right. Either by manually setting the time or by lining up the video and setting the timecode. Be careful if you’re doing things manually as the timecodes need to be sequential. If things get out of order, this can cause problems later.

The only other thing to note here is that Movie Captioner will automatically add in blank captions after the set amount of time you place in the top box so that captions aren’t on screen after they’re necessary. If you need to remove these you can ‘Remove Caption’ from the editing toolbar. You might need to add more in if have lots of gaps in the audio, which you can also do using ‘insert caption’.


Check over the timings to make sure you’re happy with them, now we come to exporting. Under the Export menu, choose the Sonic Scenarist (SCC Embed in QT). This will do a few things, run through the captions to make sure they’re are no errors, so if there are any problems you will need to fix them now (usually captions are too long and will need manually splitting further). It will also run through a sequence that involves adding the captions to the movie automatically, using Quicktime.   The result will be a movie with captions. Playback the movie to make sure everything is ok. If you can’t see the captions, make sure ‘Show Closed Captioning’ is turned on under the view menu. If all is good, then save out the movie into a new folder and repeat the process for new movies.

The common things that can go wrong at this point are, the captions appear on a full black screen as garbled text, starting with Scenarist_SCC V1.0. If this is the case, then go back and check the caption timings, making sure there are in order, is at least 1 second between them and also there aren’t two long captions too close together. There’s more on this problem here. Another problem could be that the captions aren’t in the right place on screen. You can adjust this manually by going into the ‘show movie properties’ dialog, and adjusting the Visual Settings of the Closed Caption layer to scale and move as you wish. The only other problem we had, is during testing, if you save the Mov file in it’s original location, you can end up with multiple Closed Caption layers on the same video, which just doesn’t work. If this happens, again return to the Movie Properties and delete all of the Closed Caption and Timecode Track layers, save the movie and then re-export the video from Movie Captioner. You might need to close down both Quicktime and MC before re-exporting just to make sure everything is reset fully.


That should be that. It’s a bit long winded, but once you get the hang of it, a 2 minute video can be captioned in less than 10 minutes. To test the captions on a device, then send the video across (email, through iTunes, Dropbox) or any other means. Be sure that Closed Captions are turned on in the settings->video menu, otherwise you won’t see anything!

If you’re having problems with Movie Captioner then here are some great tutorials in video format and also their FAQ section of their site.

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