MacCaption 6: creating captions and subtitles with ease

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of producing a video covering a customer story of a large printer manufacturer. When I got at their customer’s premises, the CEO turned out to know Dutch only, leaving me with the unpleasant task of having to translate everything he said into English. From that experience, I remember that subtitling by hand is no walk through the park. However, if I would have had the application I’m reviewing today, MacCaption by Telestream, I wouldn’t have spent half the time I did back then. And my subtitles would have looked exactly as I wanted too.

Telestream is a company that develops and sells everything needed for broadcasting and movie making. As such, solutions for the creation of captions and subtitles is part of their portfolio. MacCaption is their Mac-compatible caption/subtitle ‘machine’.

MacCaption 6

MacCaption has a very simple workflow:

  • Create a text file with your caption text
  • Import the file
  • Open the movie that is to have the captions
  • Select the automatic timecode-to-captions option
  • Export the movie with captions or the captions alone in one of the many supported formats
  • Sit back and enjoy the show.

It’s a bit oversimplified, but basically that’s all there is to it. You can easily make it less straightforward — for example, you can open a video containing closed captions, but you’ll need to import the captions in a separate step — but most of the time the complexity isn’t a result of the program’s workflow.

I tested MacCaption with part of the Switch Player presentation taken as the movie, adding the spoken text written out to a text file edited in BBEdit. MacCaption starts with a grid to position your captions. Dragging them where you want them is the way to go.

The biggest pain when creating and positioning captions or subtitles manually is to determine when one block has to give way for the next. It took me a couple of hours to get it right with the customer story video I made. With MacCaption, if the language is the same as the spoken text (caption), you can do it automatically. You even get a reliability score when the matching process has finished. With subtitles, where the program can’t match 100%, it still is much easier, because your translated text is already split up in an optimised number of words per block.

All you need to do then is time stamp — synchronise the captions with the ‘talking head’ in the video. Why is this easier with MacCaption than doing it with loose titles in Final Cut Pro X? Because MacCaption allows you to play the video and hit an “In” button whenever you see that a new caption should start. When you’ve done that, you can check your timing by playing in an Autosync mode and believe me: correcting wrong time stamps is much less stressful than doing it all from scratch.

Captions should not exceed a large number of words, because they rapidly become too long to be readable. What this means is that you should be able to move words, one at a time, from one text block to the next so that your audience can read without feeling the pressure from too tight a timing. This was one of the challenges I lost much time on when creating the subtitles by hand. MacCaption makes this process incredibly easy. Each block of text that forms a caption has arrows underneath with which you can move a word to the previous or next block. You can also expand and contract the width and number of caption or subtitle lines with a button.

As MacCaption is a proper Mac app, you can format subtitles to your liking with all the options you get on an OS X system. Captions follow a stricter design, so you can’t change the looks if you want to abide by the rules. The test video I prepared for you to view has subtitles with red outlines and a glow.

MacCaption

Exporting from MacCaption is a matter of selecting the right format. Now that did prove to be a challenge to me at least. I’m not all that familiar with caption and subtitle standards, so my first attempt to export were to the wrong formats. I finally figured out that I had to choose the subtitle output and I exported to a format Youtube understands — a text file with timecodes and caption blocks — and to a QuickTime movie with the subtitles burned in.

MacCaption can export to all known standards, but which ones you can export to is related to your licence. The Desktop version (costing over 1K USD) I tested supports the formats most needed by corporate video creators, as well as indie movie makers, and academic and government editors. The Pro version adds formats and capabilities (like Live Captioning — you add the captions in realtime, speaking in a microphone) for caption service providers, TV networks and post facilities, while the Enterprise version adds major networks, content providers, asset management and distribution services to the list of users.

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