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Solving Caption Problems
Oregon's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (ODHHS)-Technical Assistance Center
ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series
Solving Caption Problems
(Source: Caption Center)
You sit down to watch a favorite television program, and the captions are so garbled that you can't understand them. You invite a group over to watch the last episode of a five-part miniseries, and no captions appear at all! You rent a movie that is supposed to be captioned and... no captions!
There are several reasons why these problems might occur. Not all of them are within your control, but the more you know about how and why caption problems happen, the more you can help improve the quality of the captions you watch. Some problems can be easily fixed.
Poor Reception
Captions are better on some channels than on others.
It is normal for reception quality to vary on different channels. Depending on where you live, some stations will appear more clearly than others. Even slightly poor reception can result in problems with your captions. If you are using an antenna to receive TV (whether an indoor "rabbit ears" or loop, or rooftop antenna), consider, if available, subscribing to cable TV. This will almost always result in improved reception.
You are viewing very garbled captions or there are white boxes within the captions. Captions can be garbled if the television signal is being affected by poor reception. Adjust your antenna to reduce "ghosting" (multiple images) in the picture. The better the picture looks, the better the captions will work. If you subscribe to cable TV, switch over to another channel to see if the captions are working properly. Oftentimes, this problem occurs within the local TV station or cable company, where the signal may be passing through faulty equipment which can distort or erase the caption data. When this occurs, notify the director of engineering at your local TV station or cable company.
Check that all connecting cables are securely hooked up to your equipment. Make sure all cables are securely plugged in to each piece of equipment- television set, VCR, cable converter box, set-top decoder or caption-capable TV set. Make sure to check the wall outlet as well. Next, turn everything on and make sure you are receiving a picture on all channels. Remember, captions on channels with poor reception may be garbled
If you have a TeleCaption II, you may be experiencing problems related to this decoder. TeleCaption II decoders manufactured in 1985, 1986 or early 1987 were not compatible with some forms of copyright protection used on rented videotapes. If you have one of these decoders, you may have trouble seeing captions when you rent videos. TeleCaption II decoders manufactured during this time may also be incompatible with cable scrambling systems. You will need to have your decoder modified to avoid these problems. Check the date on the back of your decoder to determine if it needs to be modified. You can bring it to your retailer or send it to the manufacturer, the National Captioning Institute.
Program Source
You are watching a television program that you know is regularly captioned, and the show is listed in the newspaper as a captioned program, but this particular episode has no captions.
The program probably is captioned but captions are being blocked or accidentally stripped by the program source (local television station, network, local or national cable company). The TV station or cable company may be using certain settings on equipment which destroy captions. This can easily be corrected by television stations, networks, and cable companies. The Caption Center has technical information which we can send to you or to television stations and cable companies explaining how to avoid blocking or stripping captions. Other captioning agencies can provide assistance to you or to the program source as well.
The home video has a "CC" symbol on the box, but there are no captions appearing on the screen. When this happens, the home video distributor may have mistakenly used an uncaptioned master tape to make copies for home video distribution. Or the home video distributor may be using equipment which is stripping the captions during the duplication process. You should ask for your money back when you rent a home video marked "CC" which turns out to be uncaptioned. Also, let the home video distributor (see list) know you rented a supposedly closed-captioned video which, indeed, had no captions at all.
Captioning Agency
The captions have frequent errors or strange misspellings.
Live captioning
If you are watching a live program which is being stenocaptioned, a few errors are unavoidable. Live captions are usually displayed in three lines rolling up from the bottom and are produced by "stenocaptioners" who listen to the show as it airs, typing the words in code on a shorthand keyboard.
Stenocaptioners prepare for live programs ahead of time by updating their "dictionaries" with phonetic symbols or "briefs" for anticipated names and places. The symbols are converted into English words by translation software, formatted into caption data, and sent over phone lines to be mixed with the video signal. The closed-captioned video signal is then sent to your home via satellite, airwaves, or cable. Your decoder changes the data into captions displayed on your screen. All this happens one to three seconds after a speaker's words are spoken. This allows no time to make any corrections. One wrong keystroke can produce a strange combination of letters or syllables. A poorly prepared dictionary can also produce errors.
You can recognize stenocaptioning because there are pauses as the words and phrases paint onto the screen. Some news programs are captioned with a combination of stenocaptioning and "prescripted" captions. The prescripted captions paint on smoothly one row at a time. Since these captions were typed ahead of time, there should be no errors. When you see pauses within rows, you know that a stenocaptioner has taken over. Stenocaption errors usually result when the computer combines phonetic information to create a wrong (but similar-sounding) word or phrase; for example: "okay you pant" instead of "occupant."
Most responsible captioning agencies require a 99% accuracy rate for real-time captioning, but at 250 words per minute, even the best and most experienced stenocaptioner can produce up to two errors every minute. Watch the network evening news to recognize experienced stenocaptioning. If you are watching garbled real-time captions and you are sure that poor reception is not creating the problem, the captioning agency may have put an inexperienced person on the air.
Electronic Newsroom Captioning
Some local newscasts are closed captioned using an electronic newsroom system. Such systems provide automatic captioning based on material typed ahead of time into the teleprompter. Late-breaking news, ad libs, and live segments- field reports or weather forecasts- usually go uncaptioned. These systems occasionally put the wrong captions on a story or roll the captioning too fast. Let the station know how important high-quality, comprehensive captioning is to you.
Off-line Captioning
If you are watching a prerecorded program and you see errors or misspellings, you should complain! You should expect virtually error-free captioning when a program is taped and captions can be prepared "off-line." Captions should be thoroughly checked and reviewed before broadcast or duplication. It is the captioning agency's responsibility to review its work and ensure high-quality captioning. It is the responsibility of the producers and networks to monitor the work of their captioning agencies.
Please note that a common symptom of poor reception (or technical problems at the TV station) is pairs of missing letters; for example "Good night" might appear as "Good nht". While this may look like a misspelling, it's not a problem of sloppy captioning. Rather, poor reception or a technical glitch at the TV station could be the problem.
The program is listed in the newspaper as a captioned program but it is partially captioned or has no captions at all. This is probably a problem with the program source, but there is a slim chance that the program may have been delivered to the captioning agency too close to broadcast time.
Producers should be able to deliver programs with enough time to caption. Captioning agencies should be able to handle the tight turnaround demanded by network television.
Consumer Feedback!!!
Consumer feedback is important to help educate people in the television and video industry about caption technology. The more they hear from you, the caption-viewing audience, the more they will become educated and made aware of what captioning is all about. You also will need to work with retailers to help them become familiar with the new TV sets and captioning features. This communication process will result in more and better-quality captioning. Also, having patience with everyone involved in the process will pay off in the long run!
If your caption problems are with the program source- your local TV station, the network, the cable channel, or your local cable company- let them know! Explain the problem with as much detail as possible: the time of the problem, the channel, and the name of the program you were watching.
If the problem is with a home video, write to the distributor. Encourage the home video distributor to monitor the duplication process more closely and to install quality-control procedures to check captions. Look on the videotape box to find the name of the distributor. Ask your home video store owner to complain as well.
If you see quality problems with captions, let the captioning agency know. To find out which agency captioned the program, look for the caption credits at the end of the show. The Caption Center at WGBH cares about the work we do and we want to hear from you!
Television Networks
30 West 67th Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 887-2425
Fox Broadcasting Company
10201 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(213) 203-3266
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
(212) 664-4444
51 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 975-4321
1320 Braddock Place
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 739-5000
National Organizations Serving Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf
3417 Volta Place, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 337-5220 voice/TTY
Association of Late-Deafened Adults
P.O. Box 641763
Chicago, IL 60664-1763
(815) 459-5741 TTY
National Association of the Deaf
814 Thayer Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 587-1788 voice/TTY
National Fraternal Society of the Deaf
1300 W. Northwest Highway
Mt. Prospect, IL 60056
(708) 392-9282 voice/TTY
Self Help for Hard of Hearing People
7910 Woodmont Avenue, suite 1200
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 657-2248 voice
(301) 657-2249 TTY
Home Video Distributors
Buena Vista Home Video
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
(800) 723-4763
CBS/Fox Video
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
(212) 819-3200
Columbia TriStar Home Video
3400 Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505-4627
(818) 972-8686
MCA/Universal Home Video
70 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608
(818) 777-4300
MGM/UA Home Video, Inc.
10000 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232-2728
(310) 280-6000
Paramount Home Video
Paramount Communications, Inc.
5555 Melrose Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90038-3197
(213) 956-5000
Touchstone Home Video
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
(800) 723-4763
Warner Home Video, Inc.
4000 Warner Boulevard
Burbank, CA 91522
(818) 954-6000
Cable Networks
A&E Network
235 E. 45th Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 661-4500
American Movie Classics
150 Crossways Park West
Woodbury, NY 11797
(516) 364-2222
Black Entertainment Television (BET)
1232 31st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 337-5260
150 Crossways Park West
Woodbury, NY 11797
(516) 364-2222
CNBC, Consumer News
and Business Channel
2200 Fletcher Avenue
Fort Lee, NJ 07024
(201) 585-CNBC
One CNN Center
Box 105366
Atlanta, GA 30348-5366
(404) 827-1500
The Cartoon Network
Box 105264
1050 Techwood Drive, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 827-1717
Country Music Television (CMT)
2806 Opryland Drive
Nashville, TN 37213
(615) 871-5830
Comedy Central
1775 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
(212) 767-8600
Courtroom Television Network
600 Third Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10016
(212) 973-2800
The Discovery Channel
7700 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 986-0444
The Disney Channel
3800 W. Alameda Avenue
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 569-7500
E! Entertainment Television
5670 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036-3709
(213) 954-2400
935 Middle Street, ESPN Plaza
Bristol, CT 06010
(203) 585-2000
Family Channel
1000 Centerville Turnpike
Virginia Beach, VA 23463
(804) 523-7301
10201 W. Pico Blvd., Suite 761
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 203-3874
Headline News
One CNN Center, Box 105366
Atlanta, GA 30348
(404) 827-1500
Home Box Office (HBO)/Cinemax
1100 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
(212) 512-1000
The Learning Channel
7700 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 986-0444
Lifetime Television
309 W. 49th Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 424-7000
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-8000
Mind Extension University
Jones International Ltd.
9697 E. Mineral Avenue
Englewood, CO 80155-3309
(303) 792-3111
The Nashville Network
2806 Opryland Drive
Nashville, TN 37214
(625) 889-6840
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-8000
Nostalgia Television
3575 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Suite 495
Los Angeles, CA 90068
(213) 850-3000
Sci-Fi Channel
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 408-9100
1633 Broadway, 37th Floor
New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-1600
TNN: The Nashville Network
(Group W Satellite Communications)
Box 10210, 250 Harbor Plaza Drive
Stamford, CT 06904-2210
(203) 965-6000
Television Food Network
1177 Avenue of the Americas, 31st Fl.
New York, NY 10036
(212) 398-8836
The Travel Channel
2690 Cumberland Parkway, Suite 500
Atlanta, GA 30339
(404) 801-2400
Turner Entertainment Networks
1050 Techwood Drive, NW
Atlanta, GA 30348-5264
(404) 827-1717
USA Networks
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 408-9100
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-8000
The Weather Channel
2600 Cumberland Parkway
Atlanta, GA 30339
(404) 434-6800