By Pablo Fernández Moriano
Desktop subtitling tools have been with us for quite a while now, but what about the cloud? Is it possible to complete the subtitling process entirely online and with professional results? How well do the current online tools cater to the
requirements of professional subtitling? What aspects and functionalities are important in choosing the right subtitling software? Let’s try and answer these questions.
First, let us have a quick look at the processes involved in subtitling an audiovisual product.
- Transcription: it can be done before or during the spotting phase.
- Spotting (also known as timing, time-cueing): segmenting the text into subtitle blocks and setting the corresponding in and out time cues.
- Translation or adaptation for accessibility, depending on what kind of subtitling you are doing; this includes subtitle styling (italics, colors, positioning, etc.).
- Proofreading: checking grammar, spelling and other linguistic aspects.
- Technical QC: checking subtitle-specific parameters, such as reading speed, minimum and maximum duration, gaps between subtitles, etc.
- Review (also known as rehearse, replay): watching the video with the subtitles on for a more organic readability test, focusing on spotting, text segmentation and wording, all of which can be changed to better accommodate for dialogue rhythm and video editing style.
- Subtitle file export: format according to distribution mode.
- Burning in (also known as hard-coding): encoding the subtitles onto the video so they are always visible.
- Final QC: checking for encoding errors.
- Subtitle distribution: sending, uploading or publishing the files, whether it is just a separate subtitle file or a hard-coded video file.
Depending on the circumstances, there are different work modes. You can be asked to either create the subtitles from scratch or use a template (a file with previously timed subtitles).
Also, the files can be hosted locally (on your computer) or remotely (in the cloud). Sometimes you will be able to choose what software you are working with, while other times the client will establish what software shall be used.
Evaluating subtitling software
When preparing professional quality subtitles, there are several parameters and standards that must be observed:
- Characters-per-line limit
- Maximum lines per subtitle (2)
- Minimum and maximum subtitle duration
- Suitable reading speed
- Minimum gap between subtitles
- Shot changes
- Text segmentation
- Subtitle position on screen
- Colors (in subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing)
Thus, a good subtitle editor provides functionalities to use and control all of the above in an efficient manner.
A quick way to find about this is to thoroughly examine the settings section and the list of keyboard shortcuts. In other words, it should offer the following features:
- Reading speed control
- Accurate and efficient spotting
- Shot change control
- Frame-by-frame video and time-code handling
- Styling (applying/importing): italics, colors, position
- Support for different video framerates
- Video and subtitle file format versatility
- Error checking (technical and linguistic)
- Keyboard shortcut customization
- As much control as possible over functionalities (fine-tuning)
Online subtitle editors
Basically, there are three types: client proprietary tools, which are only available when working for a specific client; free tools, like YouTube, Amara—probably the two most widely used— Dotsub or Subtitle Horse; and commercial tools, like Ooona Toolkit or Amara Enterprise. Here’s a quick overview of some of them.
YouTube’s captioning tool is free. Its collaborative nature means that community contributions can be turned on or off, allowing other users to caption your videos. So the only videos you can create captions for are the ones owned (uploaded) by you and other users’ videos with the ‘community contributions’ option on. It is so easy to use that it lacks basic features like styling (position, italics, colors), reading speed control and frame-by-frame video playback. One noteworthy feature, however, is that it automatically transcribes and spots captions through speech recognition and soundwave-based spotting. It also allows you to download and upload subtitle files in a variety of formats.
Amara also offers a free, collaborative platform, and works with cloud-hosted videos which, in its free version, offers zero privacy; videos can only be public, anyone can subtitle them, and they can’t be deleted. It is very similar to YouTube in simplicity, although this one shows the reading speed for each subtitle. It can also import several subtitle file formats. There’s also a paid version of Amara.
A free service that, unlike the previous two, offers no video hosting, but it works with video URLs hosted in other platforms like YouTube (not Vimeo, though). Positive differences with these two are that it considers gap between subtitles and frame-by-frame video playback. It offers several useful keyboard shortcuts that are not customizable but still improve efficiency. Although the variety of subtitle file formats supported is limited, we could say that it allows for quality subtitle creation, except for color and position, which cannot be specified.
This is a fee-based service that offers different modules: create, translate, review, convert, transcribe, QC, burn & encode, compare. These are the highlights that, in my opinion, make it a full-fledged professional subtitling tool:
They have a dedicated server for video hosting.
- The timecode is measured in frames, not milliseconds.
- It considers reading speed, gap between subtitles and shot changes.
- The keyboard shortcuts are customizable, and you can save different setting profiles.
- It provides for accurate and efficient spotting.
Other cloud subtitle editors are Dotsub, Subtitle Edit online, and SubsEdit.
Pros and cons of cloud subtitling
In conclusion, there are advantages and disadvantages when using cloud subtitling tools.
Pros: There is no need to install software locally. You can work anywhere or from any computer. Some platforms offer clients better control on materials and processes.
Cons: There is still much room for improvement in the free subtitling platforms, and there is not one single free option that covers all subtitling stages; Ooona does. They require an uninterrupted internet connection, with good
download and upload speed. Privacy issues might arise with some clients for storing their material on a cloud service they cannot control.
It even has a comment functionality, which is something really unusual in free subtitle editors.
On the negative side, we could mention that it doesn’t generate soundwave or shot change files for cloud-hosted videos. It only does it with local video files, and you need Ooona Agent to do it.
Other cloud subtitling tools
- Dotsub: similar to Amara
- Subtitle Edit online: simple editor, great variety of subtitle file formats, though not completely updated
- SubsEdit: another simple editor
- Downsub: downloads subtitles from videos
- Captions Converter: converts .sbv (YouTube) subtitles to different formats