Cinema, smart phones and subtitles/closed captions

As lucky as I am to be living in an area where subtitled cinema screenings are available sometimes I struggle to make them because the times available don’t match my lifestyle (I can’t go to the cinema at 2pm on a weekday as much as I’d like to, I have to work during those hours for example).  The obvious answer is to wait until the movie comes out on DVD and unless your really unlucky, thankfully most DVDs will provided closed captioning or subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. But some movies are meant to be seen on the big screen right? And what if you have a DVD that does not have closed captions or subtitles available? If you have a smart phone there is an option that whilst I don’t think is anywhere near as good as going to a subtitled screening or watching a subtitled DVD, it does at least offer an alternative that is better than struggling with no help at all.

For the iPhone there is an app available simply called subtitles. Once you’ve downloaded the app you can search for the film you want subtitles for. The app then searches the database from to see if they are available. Here is its first limitation, the film you want might not be available (just today I searched for The Kings Speech – none available). However there is a large database, and I was able to find subtitles for two movies – The Other Guys, and The American which I downloaded and used to go to a non-subtitled screenings at my local cinema last year. Once you have downloaded the subtitles you can then view them on your iPhone screen. The app gives you control and it is up to you to sync the subtitles with film audio and press play as soon as the movie starts. Here in is another limitation as it can be tricky to get it right but to be fair it took me less than a minute to get the timing right at the beginning of the film (for someone with a more severe hearing loss I wonder how easy that might be?) I did have to keep redoing this when the subtitles occasionally would lose sync again. Whether this is a technical limitation of the app or an error in the subtitling file itself I don’t know. I suspect the latter. The most impressive thing about the app for me is the text itself is easy to read and you can also control how bright or dim the text appears for the comfort of your own reading and the lighting within the cinema itself. You can make your screen very dim so not to annoy other people watching the movie with bright light glaring from your phone and the text still remains easy to read and follow. This is well thought out and considered. For another detailed user review of this app complete with screen grabs etc visit Able Bodied.

The subtitles app is free to download and despite some of the limitations that I’ve mentioned, ultimately I think its fantastic that it has been developed and created and I know now that I can always try it and search for subtitles to use at no extra cost to me. This is a great example of new technology providing greater access with little cost.

Sticking with the iPhone for a moment, even at the cinema and on your DVD, any trailers for upcoming releases are not subtitled or captioned.  Make sure you download the CaptionFish Trailers app which allows you to watch movie trailers complete with the subtitles/captions.  This too is free to download. Brilliant 🙂 Note: Since the company is US based, the trailers provided will predominantly be the US trailers and not the international versions which are sometimes different.

For those without an iPhone, an alternative to the iPhone subtitles app reviewed above comes from David King (@oodavid on twitter) who voluntary developed a free application that should work on most modern phones and allow it to display subtitles – check out oosubtitles! That’s clever right? And if anyone else knows of any more alternatives please comment and let me know.