Saturday, November 26, 2011

Online Subtitles

One of my greatest laments was that I couldn't watch certain movies or TV shows simply because they weren't close-captioned or subtitled. To make things even more unfair, some shows that were once captioned on TV weren't captioned when re-released on DVD. I couldn't re-watch Poriot on DVD, because it wasn't captioned by Mobil Corporations. I couldn't watch Sandbaggers, which was the influence for Greg Rucka's Queen & Country. Hell, I couldn't even watch Transformers, even though I collected plenty of their toys. (I later sold said toys at a garage sale with the boxes intact, because I was getting annoyed at how Bruticus' chest plate kept falling off, Sixshot was getting harder to transform, and one of Astrotrain's slots was showing the thin wire. I understand these toys are now selling for plenty more than I originally sold them, but I'm fine with that - I had my fun with them. It's my childhood comics I can't find that continue to torment me.)

According to a source, DVDs are phasing out on captioning, while ALL Blu-rays are now being outfited with subtitles. The reason is that closed-captioning is slowly becoming obsolete. New technologies like High Definition require special HDMI wires. These wires prevent closed-captioned encoding from passing through. That could explain why even torrents of old TV shows that were once captioned don't show up on TV - we're dealing with incompatible technologies.

Now, it seems that's all changed with the advent of having captioning available for videos that normally don't have captioning. All that's needed is to go to either open subtitles or podnapsi to get a .srt subtitle extension file. Look up the the relevant TV show by episode name or season, choose which language you want (preferably English), and then download it. (Be careful not to mistake the various ads sprinkled around the site for the actual download link, which should be in blue text) It shouldn't take very long for it to download, since they're very small (under 100 KB), but it's that tiny piece of coding that spells the difference between understand ing and incomprehension.

Once that's out of the way, put said .srt file in the same folder as the video you want to watch. Open the Media Player you want to use (I prefer VLC), press play, then go to the video menu at the top, select "Subtitles Track", and open the .srt file you downloaded. The video will start showing words telling what the characters are saying.

This also works for DVDs that don't have captioning / subtitles either. Just open the DVD on your computer Media Player, and patch the subtitle file through using the same options as described above.

If this is too much effort for you, there's supposingly already a piece of free software called Boxee TV that'll allow us to do all the work for us, and save what little energy we'd need to dredge up to look and search for said relevant TV subtitles. While this was originally developed for a computer, the actual device can also connect to a HDTV too, and be controlled by remote control. Saving that, the only way it could be done even easier would be if somebody else did it for you. This is the future of technology people - everything will be control by handy-dandy point-n-click items at our fingertips. Only the people who know how to fix these thingies when their insides run out and can't be repaired by replacing their batteries will be able to save us. Nintendo had the right idea for their Wii controller.

As an added bonus, the subtitles remain onscreen even when I click the fastforward option! Like the Far Side comic, I'm a hummingbird who can only watch movies with the action greatly sped up. It's not that I have a short attention span, it's just that so many movies and TV shows have a tendency to follow the same old formulas so often that any pretense of suspense or novelty storytelling gets tossed out the window in favor of conformity. (TVtropes has ruined this for me.) The whole experience becomes a lesson of endurance in waiting for the damn thing to end. Some shows I've watched were so wretchedly bad that I had to pause the screen several times and brace myself for the next onslaught while trying to kickstart my brain back into a higher gear. Sure, I could've stopped anytime I wanted to, but I wouldn't know how it ended. Going through the show at twice the speed cuts the torturous time in half.

Of course, it's not exactly perfect. Some DVDs that already have captioning or subtitles can get corrupted or wonky results if you try to add the .srt files . (and why would you?) You get lines completely out of sync, or lines that flash across too briefly on the screen. The worst offenders are subtitles that only display themselves in ALL CAPS, WITH NO INDICATION OF ANY CHANGE OF TONE, BACKGROUND NOISE, OR SHOUTING MATCHES. IT'S LIKE WATCHING A DOCUMENTARY OF WORKER BEES ON MAXIMUM VOLUME.

This kind of thing is a real lifesaver, especially considering that it allows me the chance to catch up on the latest shows that I accidentally missed. Especially since the latest tapings of The Good Wife kept showing up half-an-hour later, and because of the programming, I only taped half of the lawyer drama, and wound up missing a viable chunk of quality subplots. While most people could simply resort to streaming videos, that option simply wasn't feastible for me until now.

It also helps cut down on my worries, since I don't have to wait two-three months for the reruns. I don't have to vigilantly watch the TV times in vain, hoping that it'll come back when I'm not paying attention. I just need to download the relevant episode via Bitorrent and patch the subtitles on. The bitorrent thing's the only hard part - waiting for the thing to fully download until it's finished.

The only real downside to this whole thing is that I'm now open to a whole range of movies and TV shows that I'd once shunned because I couldn't understand them. Now that option's no longer on the table, I now feel obligated to play catch-up on various majorly hyped stuff that'll keep me backlogged until the end of time. Watching these things at doubleplus speed isn't fast enough - I need to see these things at tripleplus speed.

Of course, even with this added incentive, there's still the need for better captioning on Youtube videos. There's plenty of old commercials I fondly remember that I'd like to see again. As long as there are disastified customers who can't hear properly, we won't be content to sit back until we can understand what's happening. Even then, we still can't sit back and relax - we have to make sure that the quality of the captioning is up to par. We're the only couch potatoes who won't take passive watching lying down.

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