Captions are words shown on a movie, television or computer monitor showing what is being said in the program. Captions may be "open" (visible whenever the program is shown) or "closed". Closed captions(when shown) may be visible to all people viewing the show, or with some technology, they may be visible only to people who wish to see them.

On TV, captions are normally closed captions. They are encoded into the TV signal. A special chip on all TVs (sold in the US since 1993) is able to display the captions embedded in the TV signal on the screen. Older TVs can display the closed captions with the help of a separate "add-on" box called a "closed caption decoder box".

Broadcast TV (over the air, via cable or satellite) frequently include closed captions. Certainly all prime time shows on major networks are closed captioned. A few local shows, older movies, and specialty network shows are not captioned, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has implemented regulations to require larger percentages of shows to be captioned in the future. By 2006, almost all TV shows should contain closed captions.

News programs are frequently closed captioned, now by simply embedding the prepared text that is displayed on the teleprompter for the newscaster into the outgoing signal. Prerecorded programs like sitcoms, movies and nature shows usually contain prerecorded captions. Some news programs and other live programs are captioned using CART.

Most video tapes are now produced with closed captions. That includes tapes you might rent at your local video store. Deaf and Hard of Hearing people can borrow video tapes which are open captioned from a free service called the Captioned Media Program. Most DVDs are captioned. DVDs may be either closed captions or subtitles ... actually on some DVDs, both forms may be available. The difference between closed captions and subtitles includes:

Closed Captions Subtitles
designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing designed for hearing people
frequently include non-verbal sounds, such as "Thunder" or "Dog barking" may not include non-verbal sounds (since their target audience can hear them)
usually displayed over the picture and thus can block parts of it may be displayed under the letterbox format of the actual show, rather than over the show's image
Only available in one or two languages may be available in multiple languages

Few movies are shown in public theaters with open captions. You can learn whether theaters near you are showing open captioned movies at the Insight Cinema web site.

A few movie theaters now have Rear Window Caption systems (also known as Rear View Caption). With these Rear systems, the captions are projected in reverse on the back wall of the theater, and customers who want to see the captions can view them as reflected in a partially reflective mirror that they position in front of their seat and adjust to conveniently positioned the reflected view of the captions.

Other movie caption options are being explored now, or may become more common in the future.

Captions were the norm when movies were silent, but disappeared completely until late in the 20th century. We're lucky that captions are now quite common and becoming more so.

Three other links about captioning are:

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