by Ana Lis Salotti
This is the fourth instalment of the AVD technology column. This time I’ll review the cloud-based subtitle editor Amara (https://amara.org/en/).
Developed by the non-profit Participatory Culture Foundation (PCF) in 2011, Amara offers two subtitling products: a free platform, and an enterprise platform with three pricing tiers.
The free platform is actually a stand-alone online subtitle editor. It pretty much stays true to its creators’ goals: to provide a tool that is easy to learn and can be used by anyone, and to make video content on the internet more accessible to all people.
Everyone who has used subtitling software knows how steep the learning curve is when trying new software, but Amara gets you started subtitling in no time. Ease of use and a quick learning curve are the true advantages of Amara compared to other subtitle editors. Create a free account, watch an online tutorial, and you start subtitling right away. It is especially useful for translation students, beginner audiovisual translators, and any translator that would like to give subtitling a first shot. The user interface is intuitive and bug-free, and its tutorial can be run on demand. As it is cloud-based, you just need internet—no need for a powerful computer. It also auto-saves your work in case your connection is interrupted.
As for technical details, Amara Editor displays the source and target language of subtitles side by side, and when available source timings are duplicated into the target language to save syncing time. It provides a few subtitle formats as standard output, namely SBV, DFXP, TTML, XML, VTT, SRT, SSA, and TXT. The reading speed is displayed at all times with numbers and colors. It supports over 340 different languages, has integrations with popular video platforms including YouTube and Vimeo, and supports Brightcove- and Kaltura-hosted videos, along with .mp4, .flv, .ogg, .webm, and .mp3 streams.
On the negative side, Amara doesn’t offer most of the features professional subtitlers need. For starters, you can’t upload locally stored videos for subtitling—it can only stream online public videos. Confidentiality of content is also a problem. Your subtitles are public and open for collaboration. Whereas Amara offers extensive keyboard shortcuts that are easily accessible via a link in the user interface, shortcuts or editor features cannot be customized and you can’t operate the editor exclusively with the keyboard. It doesn’t have more advanced subtitling features, such as vertical or more creative positionings of subtitles, colored captions, shot change detection and an audio waveform graph— although they say this last feature is on the product roadmap.
While many professional subtitling programs can automatically detect and fix lots of subtitling errors, Amara only automatically detects reading speed, subtitle length, number of subtitle lines per subtitle event, and spelling mistakes using the browser-integrated spell checker.
They do offer an extensive support desk, though. It includes a full knowledge base, a user forum, and a live help desk. It can be found here: https://support.amara.org/.
The paid platform has three pricing tiers. The Plus tier allows two users, provides privacy of data and support, and goes for $24/month. The Pro version is for up to 4 users, adds team management capabilities with a full view into a professional translation team’s subtitling process from start to finish, and is $128/month. The Enterprise tier adds customization for more complex enterprise needs, and you would need to contact Amara for pricing. Amara platforms do not host or store videos; they merely stream them from where they are hosted. In the paid versions, they offer privacy settings that ensure only those with the right permissions can access the content. As Amara is cloud-based and can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection, the Enterprise platform seems good for collaboration across teams around the world. However, at the moment of writing this review, I haven’t been able to see or try any of Amara’s paid versions.
So I can’t personally attest to their team management or translation project workflow capabilities.
There is one last offering on Amara’s website that is worth mentioning:
Amara On Demand (AOD). This is a captioning and translation service that works much like a localization agency. This is not targeted at translators, but rather at clients looking to purchase subtitles. Potential clients can fill out a request form and send the media to be localized. Then Amara delivers the localized subtitle file or video with burned-in subtitles. As a localization agency, they are looking for subtitlers in many languages. More information on this service and their recruitment needs can be found here: https://amara.org/en/purchase-subtitles/ and here https://amara.org/en/recruitment/
As a simple, highly intuitive and easy to use cloud-based subtitle editor, Amara holds all the winning cards. It really delivers on its mission— to offer an easy subtitle editor that would make more content accessible to everyone. So if you’re looking into audiovisual translation as a potential new specialization, studying translation or simply wanting to subtitle a favorite YouTube video, Amara’s free platform is an amazing option. I have personally used it for my translation students with outstanding results.
However, if you’re a seasoned subtitler or need to subtitle a business client’s video, you might want to look somewhere else.
DISCLAIMER: This piece is based on the author’s personal review of Amara software and the information provided by Mrs. Stella Tran, Marketing Manager at PCF and Amara. The author of this article received no payment or other compensation for it, nor does she have any affiliation or relationship with the supplier of the product under review. This review does not represent the opinions of AVD or ATA. Any errors that remain are the sole responsibility of the author.
Ana Salotti is a freelance English-Spanish translator with an MA in Translation. With over 12 years of experience, she has specialized in audiovisual and natural sciences translation. She started translating soap opera scripts back in 2006. She has subtitled numerous movies for large and indie film festivals, and hundreds of show episodes, and has performed quality control of subtitled and dubbed media content. She teaches translation courses at NYU, and is the Assistant Administrator of ATA’s Audiovisual Division.