Types of Captions

Captions vs. Subtitles vs. Transcripts


Captions include the words being spoken, speaker identification, sound effects, and music descriptions.


Subtitles include only the spoken words geared toward viewers who do not understand or are not familiar with the language of the video. They do not contain non-speech descriptions such as music or sound effects.


Transcripts are a text file of the spoken words in a video. They may or may not have non-speech descriptions. Transcripts are particularly useful for podcasts or other content that only has audio. 

Open vs. Closed Captions

Closed Captions

Closed captions provide several benefits for those who access your content: 

  • The captions can be moved on screen
  • The font size and color of the text can be adjusted
  • The captions can be turned on or off by the viewer
  • The caption file can be edited
  • The captions can be searched

Open Captions

While open captions are better than nothing, there are some challenges that come with open captions:

  • They are burned in to the video and cannot be edited
  • The captions cannot be turned off
  • They cannot be moved
  • A viewer cannot change the font size or text color of the captions
  • The captions are not searchable

Open captions should really only be used if a closed captioning option is not available.

The Difference Between Auto-Generated (Machine) Captions and Professional Captions

Auto-generated captions, or machine captions, use automatic speech recognition (ASR) to create closed captions on a video. This is a built-in feature on platforms such as YouTube. However, 3Play Media has found that “solely using ASR to generate auto-captions for recorded videos is detrimental to the accuracy of the captions”. There are many examples of auto-generated caption errors and you’ve probably seen one at some point in your life!

Two men singing "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" with subtitles on screen saying "read off the rent those reindeer".A baseball game with a pitcher about to pitch to a batter with the caption "drafted out of jail 2008. He'll be followed by Crawford."

A man staring intently with the caption "intensity intensifies".Scene from Star Trek with a man holding a computer with a sad expression and the caption "sobbing mathmatically".

There are many factors that have to be just right to produce a high accuracy rate of autogenerated captions. These include high quality audio, no background noise, little to no grammatical errors, and few mispronunciations. If any of these factors are issues, the accuracy of the captions can drop to 50 percent. 3Play Media states, “The key to 99% or higher caption accuracy is human interaction."

Auto-generated captions can also hurt your brand. First, capitalization and punctuation errors can make it difficult for a viewer to understand what your content is actually about. Auto-captions are well known for missing words or adding the wrong word in place of another, and you don’t ever want to be seen as saying something you don’t mean. This could cause embarrassment for both you and your brand. 

Second, auto-captions can make viewers who need captions feel like they are not valued by the brand. Without captions, some viewers have no choice but to stop watching the video. Providing high-quality captions helps all viewers feel included and valued. Not only does it bring respect to you and your brand, but it also protects your brand from legal repercussions associated with federal guidelines that require equity, equality, and inclusion.

Additional Readings

  1. Duke - Captioning
  2. Accessible Social - Captions
  3. The Problem with Using Auto-Captions in Education
  4. 6 Reasons Why Automatic Captions Are a Big Problem