Closed Captions vs. Open Captions: What’s the Difference?

Captions, which are sometimes referred to as subtitles, closed captions, open captions, or screen text, are extremely prevalent on video games, televisions, video software, and video streaming services.


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Captions can be open or closed, with closed captions being the most common type – they are offered as an option in nearly every video viewing experience. However, far fewer people know about open captions and when to use them.

The difference between open and closed captions is a very important distinction to know about if you’re planning to produce video content, so, let’s take a look at closed captions vs. open captions and when you should use each type in your videos.

What’s the Difference Between Open and Closed Captioning?

Firstly, what does captioning mean?

Captioning is the act of adding captions – text that explains what is going on on-screen, including dialogue – to video content. 

The key difference between open and closed captions is the fact that open captions are always on view and can’t be switched off, while closed captions can be turned on or off by the viewer. Additionally, special devices called decoders are often needed to control closed captions for TV and movies. 

To decide on open vs. closed captions, you should decide on the viewing experience you want your audience to have. Since closed captions can be turned on or off, using them puts the viewer in charge of their experience and allows them to view your video content in all kinds of different scenarios, including loud train rides or quiet nights while rocking a baby to sleep.

On the other hand, due to being permanently visible, open captions may be better for accessibility and comprehension but may distract some viewers. 

Both closed and option captions have their value – the important thing to decide is how your audience will best engage with your video content.

What are Open Captions?

Open captions are captions that are permanently visible in movies, TV and online videos. Like closed captions or subtitles, they display important audio information and dialogue on-screen. As mentioned, unlike closed captions, they can’t be switched on or off. This is because they’re burned into the video track, rather than being added later as an external file e.g. .srt.

While some viewers may find this type of caption distracting, some websites or devices don’t support closed captioning, so this is the only option. Aside from personal or aesthetic choice, open captions should then be used any time you don’t have control of or access to a closed caption feature.

Did you know Rev offers open captions. Just check the “burned-in captions” box at checkout and you’ll receive a video with permanent, hard-coded captions added straight to your videos. This feature is also available for foreign language subtitles!

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Advantages of Open Captions

  • Viewers don’t need to work out how to turn them on 
  • Viewers can’t accidentally turn them off
  • Captions will be automatic for short clips e.g. social media videos

Examples of Open Captions

The most common use of open captions is in movies.

For example. if there is a part of the movie where the characters start speaking a different language, the movie will display open captions, providing the English translations. These are open captions because they appear automatically and can’t be turned on or off. Additionally, if a movie is being screened in a language that most of the viewers don’t speak, the entire movie will play with open captions.

What are Closed Captions?

The definition of closed captions is almost the same as open captions, with the fundamental difference being that the viewer can control them. This makes them a popular option for most types of video content, especially on platforms like Facebook or Youtube. 

Since such a large portion of viewers prefer to customize their viewing experience, you’ll mostly want to use closed captioning when you can. But, if accessibility it a main concern for your content, open captions could be the best option.

Advantages of Closed Captions

  • Puts the viewer in control of their experience
  • Gives flexible viewing options
  • Easy to remove, edit and re-upload if needed

Examples of Closed Captions

You’ll find closed captions are the default in most online videos. A popular closed caption example is the automated captions generated by YouTube than can be turned on or off by clicking their settings feature. Popular streaming services, traditional TV and other online video platforms will also offer closed captioning options for all audiences, but as mentioned, some platforms and devices won’t support this format.

Rev’s Captioning Services Are the Best on the Market

Closed captions vs. open captions – both have value, and whichever you choose, it all starts with creating a captioning file, which can be quite a manual and time-consuming process.

If you’re looking to speed up the process of adding captions to your own video projects, Rev delivers caption files in a variety of formats, allowing you to easily choose if open captions or closed captions are the right choice for you. Rev’s open and closed caption files allow you to reach a wider audience and improve your video’s accessibility.

Take a look at Rev’s captioning services for affordable captions with a guaranteed 99% accuracy rate across all major video formats.

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