Open Captions Documentation

Open Captions

What is Open Captions?

Open Captions are text with sound description displayed on the screen to allow all patrons to enjoy movies together.

We refer to them as Open Captions and not subtitles as this means captions with a language that is different to spoken language. It is not same as Open Captions/Closed Captions which are same language but with sound description added.

The definition of Open Captions is marred by history of transition from analogue to Digital. Film reels and video cassettes didn't have the technology to switch on or off the captions, so the captions were "burnt" into the reel for both films and video cassettes. This is an expensive process and therefore meant only a few were made. Open Captions were defined by this; the inability to turnoff or on the captions as it was permanently on.
When new technological advances (television sets with captioning and later DVDs) entered the market, that introduced the ability to turn on/off captioning. This kind of captioning was named Closed Captioning because of the ability to toggle on/off.

At this stage, the toggle on/off technology still doesn't exist in cinemas which still use Open Captions burnt on reel methods. However when Digital projectors were introduced to movie theaters in the mid 2000s, the ability to turn on/off the captions on screen was introduced, meaning open captions by its original definition no longer existed while the film reels and video cassettes were phased out.This technological advance would purely mean only closed captioning technology existed. 

The movie industry then modified the definition of Open Captions and Closed Captioning for cinemas or large audience screening.
  • Open Captions by this new definition means everyone in the audience can see the captions, and no one can opt out if it is turned on.
  • Closed Captioning by this new definition means everyone in the audience can't see it, and only people who have the devices can see the captions and toggled on.
This change in definition kept the consistency of Closed Captioning's ability to provide a specific audience accessibility without impacting the larger audience. From this point forward, the definition of OC/CC changed from toggling on/off to opting in/out. It is worth noting that this definition changes does not apply to DVDs, television which retains the old CC definition. It is because DVDs, Blu-Rays, Internet streaming, Live streaming, televisions all presume one person or small family audience is watching, not a large audience. Technically speaking when you broadcast a show/movie with a DVD (with required license) to a large audience with CC on, the CC becomes OC.

What are the benefits of Open Captions?

The key benefit of OC is accessibility. Accessing movies via open captions is best practice and cost-effective. Unlike closed caption devices, captions on the screen.
  • Ease of viewing for people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing impaired, senior citizens, children learning to read, people for whom English is a second language,
  • Superior comfort and ergonomics for tall and short people, people with poor/low vision and people who are susceptible to migraine headaches and vertigo when looking at caption devices.  
  • A deaf-friendly atmosphere where deaf people and hearing friends and family can socialise and enjoy movies together.  
  • Apart from digital projector which is industry standard now, no additional equipment is required thus no additional costs
Comparison of Open Captions, Closed Captions, Captiview

How OC works
The movie are distributed to cinemas in a hard drive called Digital cinema Package (DCP for short) this contains all movie files, encrypted and it also contains captions files. For Closed captioning, for Audio Description. Since November 2012, 7 major distributors in Australia have agreed to include Open Captions file (called OCAP). By selecting the OCAP file, the Open Captions are being projected on the screen through the digital projector. To unlock the file, you need a key. There are separate keys for each file to avoid accidentally toggle on, or selecting the wrong file or unauthorised broadcasting.

Why can't Cinema just turn the OC upon request?

The way Digital Cinema Package works, is that each file are encrypted, while the cinemas gets the key for the movie, but they do not get the key for OCAP file. Cinemas have to specifically request the key in advance which can take a few days depending on the timezone. If you go to cinema on Friday evening, the distributors offices in Canada or America are still sleeping (3-6am) and thus cannot provide the key to unlock OCAP at that moment. Independent cinemas may be requesting that all OCAP keys are provided with each movies if available, as they would have a schedule.

How to ask for OC at your local Cinemas