Open Captions

What are Open Captions?

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

We refer to them as OC and not ‘subtitles’ as ‘subtitles’ refers to captions with a language that is different to the on-screen spoken language. It is not the same as Open Captions/Closed Captions (CC) which are the same as the on-screen language but with sound description added.

The definition of OC is marred by history of transition from analogue to Digital. Film reels and video cassettes didn’t have the technology to switch the captions on or off, 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. OC were defined by this; the inability to turn the captions on or off.
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 CC 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 OC burnt on reel methods. However when Digital projectors were introduced to movie theaters in the mid 2000’s, the ability to turn on/off the captions on screen was introduced (subject to distributor availability), 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 OC and CC for cinemas or large audience screening.

  • OC by this new definition means everyone in the audience can see the captions, and no one can opt out if it is turned on.
  • CC by this new definition means everyone in the audience can’t see it, and only people who have Closed Caption devices can see the captions and toggled on.

This change in definition kept the consistency of CC’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 change does not apply to DVDs or television which retains the old CC definition. It is because DVDs, Blu-Rays, Internet streaming, Live streaming and 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.

Captions-in-Cinema
Open Captions on the screen
Captiview Device
Closed Captions on Captiview
Glasses Subtitles
Closed Captioning Glasses
Audio Description
Audio Description

What are the benefits of Open Captions?

The key benefit of OC is accessibility. Accessing movies via OC is best practice and cost-effective. Unlike CC devices, captions are on the screen.

– Ease of viewing for people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing impaired, senior citizens, children learning to read, and people for whom English is a second language. People on the Autism spectrum are known to benefit from open captioned movies as well.
– 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 CC 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.

How OC works

Movies are distributed to cinemas on a hard drive called a Digital Cinema Package (DCP for short), this contains encrypted movie files and also caption files for CC and for Audio Description (AD) (subject to availability). Since November 2012, 7 major distributors in Australia have agreed to include an Open Captions file (called OCAP file). If the film is OC capable, cinemas need a separate digital key provided by the distributor to unlock the OCAP file so it can be displayed on screen. This is usually upon request. Once the digital key is received to unlock the OCAP file and the correct file has been selected to play through the digital projector, the OC are being projected onto the screen.

Why can’t Cinemas turn OC on upon request?

The Digital Cinema Package works with encrypted movie files. While the cinemas gets the digital key for the movie, but they do not automatically get the key for the OCAP file. Cinemas have to specifically request the key from the distributor in advance which can take a few days depending on the timezone. If you go to a 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 file at that moment. Cinemas do request OCAP keys are provided with each movie if available, as they would have a schedule however there are times where the film is provided at the last minute and the production houses in the USA have not provided OC capability.

How to ask for OC at your local cinema?

With a positive approach, you can request for your local cinema to schedule OC sessions. Often they will think you mean CC which includes a device like Captiview or Rear Window Captioning, however you may need to explain to them that it is captions ON the big screen, which you would prefer instead of Captiview or Rear Window Captioning. You can refer the local cinema to our website for further information on how OC can work – and they will get in touch with us to see how it can be arranged. This approach has worked for several cinemas across the country as we continue to grow!

For more answers to most common asked questions – please click here to view more FAQS.