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Understanding the Differences Between Roll-Up Captioning, Pop-on Captioning, and Subtitling

One of the number-one questions I get from prospective clients or even friends is the question: What is the difference between roll-up captioning, pop-on captioning, and subtitling?  Also, people often think that captioning is the same thing as subtitling, which it isn’t. To take this question even further, I will explain in what cases each one is ideally used.* 

Captioning VS. Subtitling

Captioning was created so deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers could read along to TV shows.  A technology needed to be created that was accessible to deaf viewer, but not obligatory for hearing viewers.  So today, closed captioning is decoded by a decoder chip in the television and it must be activated to view.  Captions are white letters with a black background.  The font looks similar to Courier New.  

Subtitling, on the other hand, was originally created so viewers of programming in a language other than their own could read along in their own language.  Unlike captions, subtitles cannot be turned on or off through a TV decoder chip.  They are burned on the video.  If you are watching subtitles on a DVD or Blu-ray Disc, they can be turned on or off through the menu.  Subtitles can be different fonts or colors and usually do not have a black or transparent background.

Roll-up Captioning

What is it?

Roll-up captions scroll up the screen line by line usually two to three lines at a time.   It is the most basic form of captioning, as it usually does not include extensive sound effect description nor speaker identification.  

When is it used?

Roll-up captioning is mainly used for ALL live programming and for post-production broadcast programming that only has one speaker (not very common).

For an example of roll-up captioning, view the video on this page: roll-up video

Pop-On Captioning

What is it?

Pop-on captions pop on and off the screen one caption at a time.  They typically look like a square box and each caption usually consists of two to three lines.  Pop-on captions should include sound effect description as well as movement for speaker identification.  

When is it used?

Pop-on captions should be used for pre-recorded broadcast programming with multiple speakers.  

For an example of pop-on captioning view the video on this page: pop-on video


What is it?

Subtitles pop on and off the screen just like pop-on captions but they typically do not have the black background and can be any font and color.  

When is it used?

Subtitles should always be used for DVD and Blu-ray Disc as they can be turned on and off through the menu.  They should also be used for broadcasts in countries where the programming is of a language other than the country’s primary language. 

For an example of subtitles view the video on this page: subtitling video

*Please note that this article’s aim is to be a general explanation for the person that has no prior knowledge of the topic.  It does not go into depth on the technical differences between captioning and subtitling.  I specifically talk about captions for broadcasting and not other purposes like online video, et cetera. When I speak about captioning, I am referring to Line 21 (analag) captioning, not captioning for HD.

Copyright notice: 

© Joanna Scavo & Aberdeen Captioning, Inc. 2009.

This article can be freely reproduced under the following conditions:

a) that no economic benefit be gained from the reproduction

b) that all citations and reproductions carry a reference to this original publication on [online]

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One Comment

  1. Deprecated: Function ereg() is deprecated in /nfs/c01/h01/mnt/43946/domains/ on line 68

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    Joe Clark
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Hey, thanks for suppressing my comment, which at least had the benefit to readers of correcting most of your mistakes. I’m sure your disclaimer at the end cleared everything up.

    You want a blog with comments? Then publish the damned comments or turn off the comment function.

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