Closed captions vs open Captions

Article last updated on:
May 9, 2024

When it comes to enjoying movies, TV shows, or online videos, captions are a crucial aspect for many viewers. Providing an accessible experience for those who are deaf or hard of hearing is essential, but they're also helpful for those learning a new language or simply prefer to read along with the dialogue. Understanding the differences between closed captions and open captions can help you decide which option is best for your content and your audience. In this post, we'll dive into both types and explain the key factors that set them apart.

A Brief Overview of Captions

Captions, often referred to as subtitles, provide a textual representation of the audio content within a video. This typically includes spoken dialogue, sound effects, music, and other important audio elements that give context to the viewer. These transcriptions are synchronized with the video's playback and timed to appear on-screen when the corresponding audio occurs.

Captions serve as an invaluable resource for various reasons. They grant accessibility to users who are deaf or hard of hearing, allowing everyone to understand the full audio context of a video. Additionally, they're useful in situations where sound may not be audible or clear, such as watching TV in a noisy environment or late at night when others are sleeping. Furthermore, captions can enhance foreign language learning experiences by showing the written form of spoken words.

Main Differences Between Closed Captions and Open Captions

User Control

The most significant difference between closed captions and open captions lies in user control. Closed captions offer flexibility, letting viewers enable or disable them as needed via their device's settings or media player interface. On the other hand, open captions are burned directly into the video, always visible, and cannot be turned off by the user.


Because closed captions are separate from the video, they allow for greater customization options. Viewers can typically adjust the font style, size, color, and positioning based on personal preferences and needs. Conversely, open captions only offer a predefined look determined before the video is finalized, with no opportunity for the viewer to adjust their appearance.

Create and Edit

In general, creating and editing closed captions can be more efficient than open captions. This is due to the ability to store and edit them in external text files, whereas open caption subtitles need to be edited directly within the video itself. Any formatting or timing errors in open captions require re-editing and re-encoding the entire video, leading to time-consuming edits.

The Pros and Cons of Closed Captions

The Advantages

  • Flexibility: As mentioned earlier, viewers have the option to enable or disable closed captions as needed, providing a customizable experience for those who may not require them.
  • Ease of Editing: Closed captions can be quickly and efficiently updated as necessary without having to modify the actual video content.
  • Legibility: The ability for users to modify the appearance of closed captions allows them to adjust font sizes, colors, and styles according to their specific requirements, ensuring legible text tailored to individual needs.
  • Multiple Language Options: For videos with multiple language options, closed captions make it easy to switch between different languages without altering the video file.

The Disadvantages

  • Dependent on Device and Software Support: Closed captions require device and software compatibility to function, which might not always be available for certain platforms or legacy devices.
  • Slightly Larger File Sizes: Because closed captions are stored separately from the video, they will contribute to a marginally larger overall file size compared to open captions.

The Pros and Cons of Open Captions

The Advantages

  • Always Accessible: Open captions ensure that the text is consistently visible regardless of the viewer's device or settings, providing universal accessibility without any potential technical issues.
  • No Additional Files: Since open captions are part of the video itself, there's no need for an additional captions file. This factor leads to slightly smaller video files compared to those using closed captions.

The Disadvantages

  • Lack of Customization: The inability to modify the appearance of open captions can be a drawback concerning user satisfaction, reducing flexibility, and potentially making it difficult for some viewers to read.
  • Challenging Edits: If errors in the open caption text appear (whether typos, timing issues, or formatting problems), correcting them requires re-editing and re-encoding the entire video, consuming time and effort.
  • Permanently Visible: For users who don't require or dislike captions, having open captions consistently shown on-screen can be a nuisance and detract from their viewing experience.

As we've explored above, both closed captions and open captions have their respective advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the choice between these two options should be based on the specific needs of your content and its intended audience. By understanding the main differences, you can make an informed decision that provides users with an optimal viewing experience while meeting accessibility requirements.

About the author