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Product Review: SynchriMedia’s MovieCaptioner

December 13, 2015  •  By Larry Jordan

[Originally published on Dec. 13, 2015 by Larry Jordan.]

Logo-SynchriMediaOne of the most frequent requests I get are variations on this email from Mark Suszko:

“Larry, we’re going nuts here, trying to figure out the best ways to handle and create closed-captioned videos in FCPX, without spending six grand to buy MacCaption. I’d love to see some training on how to transcribe program audio, import a transcript format into Final Cut X, and generate a file for broadcast, and a file for web/streaming, and for DVD or BluRay, that is CEA-708-compliant.”

In the past, my knee-jerk reaction was to recommend Telestream’s MacCaption. (Telestream purchased the original company earlier in 2015.) However, while MacCaption has virtually every bell-and-whistle you could want, it’s expensive with a starting price of $1,095 for the web and $6,325 to include broadcast formats.

If you are a small production house, spending $6K to create captions for 30-second ads for your local broadcast station is a LOT of money.

So, in doing some research, I discovered a very cost-effective alternative: MovieCaptioner, from SynchriMedia.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

logo-MovieCaptionerMovieCaptioner is a low-cost, easy-to-use alternative to expensive services and software which creates and adds closed-captions on movies.

Developed by Patrick Besong, whose day job is in Penn State’s Education Technology Services department, its available for either Macintosh and Windows systems, features a straight-forward interface, and offers responsive support from the developer. I want to especially mention his excellent eBook, which provides a background on closed captioning as well as practical advice on using the program.

MovieCaptioner is flexible, capable and supports a wide variety of import formats and an even wider variety of export formats for web and broadcast. While it does not yet natively support CEA-708 format captions, there are work-arounds which support that format and the developer is about to release an update which will support this latest format as well.

If captions are something you need to do, I recommend you take a close look at MovieCaptioner.

Product: MovieCaptioner
Developer: SynchriMedia
Website: www.synchrimedia.com
MSRP: $99.95 (US)
A 14-day free trial is available, as are volume discounts.

WHY CAPTION VIDEO?

The following text is from the Movie Captioner eBook:

Captioning video not only makes video accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing, but there are other compelling reasons for it as well.

  • Captioned videos have better user retention of the video content.
  • The video’s transcripts are searchable, so you will get better Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which may give you a leg up on your competition.
  • Captioned video also opens your market reach to a whole new segment of paying customers – the deaf!
  • It’s the law. Many videos that are provided to the public must be captioned either due to federal communication law, or merely a company’s policy regarding accessibility.
  • Language learning relies heavily on captioned video.
  • If the viewer is in a noisy area and does not have access to headphones, the captions can be read while watching the video.
  • Similarly, if the viewer does not have headphones and cannot turn up the volume due to the need to keep noise to a minimum (like in a library or nursery), the captions are there to provide what is being spoken.

I want to expand a bit on the legal aspect of closed captioning. “With recent legislation, another reason to caption video is simply that it is the law. In 2012, Congress passed the Twenty- first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 forces broadcasters to add closed captions to all program- ming that previously aired on TV. The laws will be revisited in the future if broadcasters are going to deliver a majority of their programming online.

“In addition, state and local colleges and other post-secondary institutions must provide effective communication for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to continue to receive federal funding. Some universities such as Penn State have further required that all publicly available videos be closed captioned or transcripts provided in order to make them accessible. As you can imagine, it suddenly became a hot topic among college campuses across the country as to how they would provide this service. (Source: Movie Captioner eBook)

INSTALLING THE SOFTWARE

You can’t purchase the software using the Mac App Store. Instead, you need to purchase it directly from the developer.

Also, you’ll get a warning during installation that the software is from an unknown developer. I appreciate the warning, but, in this case, the software is legitimate.

To allow installation open System Preferences > Security and click the Open Anyway button. At this point, this software installs like a standard Mac application.

NOTE: During my installation, I got an error message saying MovieCaptioner was unable to open the spelling database.

To fix this, select the Spellcheck Dictionary folder in the MovieCaptioner folder inside Applications, choose Get Info, then add yourself with Read/Write permissions at the bottom of the Get Info window. If you get stuck, SynchriMedia Support can help.

Also, it is recommended that you install QuickTime Player 7 Pro from Apple if you’re embedding SCC captions into a video either for iOS devices or for previewing what your SCC captions will look like, since they look different than the QT Text captions used by the Preview button.

QuickTime Player 7 Pro also comes in handy for burning captions into the video track of a movie. (QT 7 and QuickTime Player X can both be installed at the same time, in fact they can both be running at the same time.) Download it here: http://www.apple.com/quicktime/extending/

ABOUT CAPTIONS

When I started writing this article, I thought captions were captions were captions. Um, not exactly.

“Where do you start? We need to answer a few questions before we do anything. The first question you need to ask is how will this video be distributed? Will it be broadcast on television? Will it be delivered via the Internet? What site on the Inter- net will it be on? Will you use Flash video, QuickTime, or Windows Media? Will it be burned to DVD? Each of these formats may take a different export format for your captions and a different way of attaching the captions to the video.” (MovieCaptioner eBook)

MovieCaptioner imports:

  • QT Text
  • Plain text
  • STL
  • SCC
  • Flash DFXP
  • JW Player
  • Adobe Encore
  • CLF Player (Canada)
  • SRT
  • SUB
  • YouTube SBV
  • CART Files

And it exports caption files in the following formats, not all of which are applicable to all projects:

  • QT Text
  • QT Unicode
  • QT SMIL
  • Flash DFXP
  • YouTube Captions
  • JW Player
  • Echo360 Captions
  • CLF Player (Canada)
  • Adobe Encore
  • Sonic Scenarist SCC
  • (for Line 21 & iPods)
  • Spruce (STL)
  • SubRip (SRT)
  • SubViewer (SUB)
  • Windows Media:
    – SAMI
    – WMP Text
  • Text Transcripts
  • HTML Transcripts
  • HTML5/Timesheets
  • WebVTT captions

There are two broadcast caption standards: CEA-608 and CEA-708. CEA-708 is a newer caption format that uses MCC caption files. Although MovieCaptioner cannot yet create MCC files, Patrick writes that he is close to being able to offer them as a new export option in the near future. MCC caption files contain both 608 and 708 captions. 608 captions are what you normally see that have a black background and white letters. 708 captions can be changed by the user to use a different font, size,and color.

Currently, MovieCaptioner creates CEA-608 files, which are in SCC (Sonic Scenarist) format. However, using Compressor, you can combine the SCC file with the video and if the station is transcoding the file has the right software, the 608 captions can be up-converted to 708 captions. (The eBook contains a step-by-step write-up from Chris Duke, Executive Producer of Motorz TV, explaining how they do this.)

USING THE SOFTWARE

Let’s see how to caption a movie so that the captions are visible in QuickTime Player. (As you’ve read, there are MANY export options, but the operation of the software is the same.)

Captions005

This is what the main interface looks like – click the image to display at full size.

Click the Load Movie button in the top left corner and choose the movie you want to capture.

Save the project file; this is not the same as the final exported movie.

Click the Start button, in the lower left corner, to begin adding captions. MovieCaptioner starts playing your movie in 4 second chunks. (You can adjust this duration, however, in general, keep it short.)

Type what you are hearing in the black transcript box. You don’t need to click anywhere, just type.

When you have the wording the way you want, click Save Caption, or press Return.

The caption instantly appears at the top of the caption list on the right.

Repeat – over and over and over again – until your movie is captioned.

NOTE: No one EVER said captioning a movie was either fast or fun.

The actual process of captioning is easy, if time-consuming. Just listen, type and press Return. MovieCaptioner handles all timing and sync.

To fix an error, select the row containing the text you want to adjust and make your corrections.

To preview your captions, click the Preview button

Your movie and captions are displayed in QuickTime Player 7.

At any time, you can:

  • Insert a missing caption
  • Remove a caption
  • Split captions to separate lines
  • Merge captions

Within the parameters of how captions are displayed during playback, which varies by playback engines, you also have some styling options; just remember that captions will never look stylish.

The developer has included a variety of options, including spell-checking, multi-language and symbol support and the ability to change timecode, combined with a clean, straight-forward interface.

EXPORTING CAPTIONS

There are a host of export options. In fact, way too many; which simply reflects that there is no single standard for captions.

Captions are complex, not because of the software, but because there is no single standard for closed captions between the web and broadcast. My best advice on which export option to choose is to look at the closed caption requirements from whomever is distributing your final movie.

 

As another example, exporting as QuickTime with an XML track allows you to view your captions in QuickTime Player 7, but not QuickTime Player X.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In an email exchange, I asked Patrick Besong several questions about his application.

Larry: I notice on your website that this does not support El Capitan (OS X 10.11). Is that still true?

Patrick: It works just fine with El Capitan. I do need to update my website, but have been more concerned with making upgrades to the software as of late (I’m a one man show).

Larry: Is the demo version fully functional?

Patrick: Yes it is. It will do everything that the final version does. The only limitation is the 14-day trial period.

Larry: Do you have a preferred format for importing caption files (i.e. SRT or SUB or …?)

Patrick: I actually prefer to use SRT files, but other supported formats (under the Import menu) should work just as well.

Larry: Can we change the timing of when a caption is displayed (for example, to not give away a dramatic moment)?

Patrick: Not quite sure what you’re asking here, but you can manually adjust the timecode. You can also go to Edit > Shift Start Times to change the timing of either all or selected captions by a set number of seconds.

Larry: Is the exported file Quicktime-only or are other video formats supported?

Patrick: MovieCaptioner has many export options. QuickTime Text is just one, but you can also export for YouTube, SCC (for iOS, DVDs, and broadcast TV), JW Player, and many more.

Larry: Is there anything specific I should mention in my article?

Patrick: I would say that you should install QuickTime 7 (even though QuickTime 10 comes with Mac computers). I would also suggest that people not use HD videos (1920 x 1080 pixels), but use a smaller size like half of that for better performance.

If the user needs to swap out the small one for a larger one they can just go to Edit > Load Movie to change movies prior to exporting. The only time you’d need to do this is if you need to embed the captions into the movie, like the Embedded QuickTime export option or Sonic Scenarist (SCC embedded in QT). Most other options only create a caption file and a large movie is not needed.

Also, there is a Windows version, but I’d use the Mac version if you were going to choose between the two. The Mac version allows you to switch to using QuickTime Player for Previews instead of the built-in Preview player, which cannot be resized (another reason to use smaller movies).

QuickTime Pro can also be a helpful upgrade to the QuickTime 7 Player as it can export movies and allow you to manipulate captions to some degree. Another useful app I use is MPEG Streamclip, which you can use to export a smaller movie than HD size.

I also try to answer all tech questions the same day I receive them, so you get probably the best tech support you’ll find anywhere. Ask any of my customers! MovieCaptioner is use by many well-known companies and organizations all over the world besides Apple, such as NASA and many other government agencies, Starbucks, Amazon, the Oprah Winfrey Network, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and many colleges and universities.

Larry: If you compare MovieCaptioner to Telestream’s MacCaption, are users getting something equivalent, or is there something big missing from MovieCaptioner?

Patrick: MacCaption is a great piece of software to be sure, but it is at a much higher price point that many smaller video shops, universities, and government agencies just can’t afford. MovieCaptioner can create many of the same formats, at a much lower price and is probably much easier to use. Most users can pick it up just by watching the demo video, so the learning curve is much shorter.

Larry: If you could put into a paragraph why users should consider Movie Captioner, what would you say?

Patrick: If you need to create captions for your videos, whether for TV broadcast, iOS devices, YouTube, or DVDs, MovieCaptioner is probably the easiest software to use, can create most formats that you need, and at a price point you can afford. The efficient workflow makes transcribing videos a snap, probably its strongest suit.

It is being used by such companies as Apple, Amazon.com, Starbucks, the Oprah Winfrey Network, and many others. It is also popular among many government agencies, such as NASA, the CDC, NOAA, Dept of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the U.S. Postal Service. Universities such as Penn State, MIT, Cal Poly, RIT, Ohio State, and Kent State, to name just a few, have also adopted MovieCaptioner to help with their captioning needs. So if you use MovieCaptioner, you’re in great company!

SUMMARY

I did not realize, prior to researching this article, how many caption options there were, nor the disorganized state of getting captions to play back.

MovieCaptioner is an extremely helpful utility in the complex task of captioning movies. It runs stand-alone, does not require an NLE and can be used by anyone with good ears and typing skills.

The interface is straight-forward, the operation simple and I’ve been impressed with the support from the developer. I have not yet used this for a complete job, but the next time I have a captioning task, I’m turning to MovieCaptioner.

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