iTunes and iPods Now Support Closed-Captioning

Well, it’s been a long time in the waiting. In 2005, Apple released the video iPod and began selling movies and television shows in their iTunes Store. Unfortunately, deaf people everywhere were locked out of one of this decade’s hottest gadgets because the iPod or the iTunes Store didn’t support closed-captioning.

This was mystifying for two reasons:

  1. Apple had already included closed-captioning support in their Quicktime video playback software. Presumably, a modified version of the Quicktime software was installed in each iPod. Was it really that hard to add captioning support for the iPod if it was already built into the Quicktime program?
  2. Apple was selling television shows like The Office or Lost, shows that would naturally be closed-captioned if you had watched it over the air. Why couldn’t the iTunes versions of those shows be closed-captioned as well? (Yes, I know, there’s probably lots of reasons starting with technological difficulty but big picture here, people).

Well, now there’s been a change. Apple rolled out an entirely new set of iPods (there’s five versions of them now!) along with an upgraded iTunes 7.4.

This article here revealed that both the new iPods and iTunes now offer support for closed-captioning!

iTunes 7.4 now adds closed captioning support for video playback. Closed captioning will only be played with video files that contain the necessary closed captioning information…

As of this writing, none of the iTunes-purchased videos we tested had any closed captioning information available. It is also unclear whether Apple will identify videos with closed captioning within the iTunes Store, or how this support will work with self-encoded content. Presumably third-party software developers will find a way to convert closed-captioning from other content sources to take advantage of this at some point as well.

The new lineup of iPod devices announced yesterday also includes the closed-captioning capability, and offers the ability to turn captions on or off within the “Video” settings.

That’s a huge step forward for Apple. It’s about time–two years was too long.

But unfortunately, maybe that was the easiest step. Past blogs have lamented about how difficult it is to caption internet media–you still need to use a combination of programs and make different subtitle files and intermediate video compressions and other tech gobbledygook (here’s an example, by the excellent techblogger
Jared Evans). I even heard that Bob Davila’s vlogs take days to caption. DAYS!

And I suppose Apple would need to work out with their various content providers (Disney, CBS, ABC) on who’s actually responsible for closed-captioning the media.

So will we see closed-captioned video on the iTunes store anytime soon? I’m doubtful, but if it does happen, Apple can count on at least one new iPod user (me!). Kudos to them for finally making the first step towards accessibility for their portable music and video players.

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