Understanding Different Subtitle Types: Hard Subs vs Soft Subs

By: Verbit Editorial
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To reach a global audience and support more international workforces, business owners, content creators and marketers are adding subtitles to their video content, meetings and events. Subtitles translate dialogue and display it in text format so that more audiences can access and comprehend video content.  

A recent study revealed that video subtitles can have an impact beyond helping non-native speakers; they’re becoming the norm for broader audiences, especially among younger age groups. Subtitles are vital in engaging viewers who choose to watch content with the sound off or need help to focus on content due to the numerous distractions and devices fighting for their attention. 

Video creators and professionals looking to deliver the best experiences and enhance accessibility and comprehension of their video content and live events can benefit from understanding subtitling options. Let’s explore the subtitle types and formats available, the difference between hard and soft subtitles and when you should use them.

Subtitle types, formats and their key uses 

Before you select a subtitle format, it’s worth understanding the distinction between subtitles and captions to ensure that subtitles are the right option. Although many use the terms interchangeably, they serve different purposes.

Subtitles 

Subtitles presume that the viewer can hear the audio but that the dialogue is not in their native language. For example, if you were one of the 142 million households to tune into Squid Games on Netflix, you likely saw subtitles. Subtitles also support multilingual content, where just some dialogue occurs in a non-native language.  

If you need to support multiple languages, subtitles are an ideal choice. 

Captions 

Providing a text version of a video’s audio supports individuals who cannot hear. Captions include any non-speech audio elements in addition to the dialogue, such as sound effects.  

If your video contains audio elements in addition to dialogue that add to the experience or comprehension of the content, you should consider closed captions to provide a more equitable experience and support accessibility standards like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, in media production, captions such as ‘gunfire,’ ‘door slams’ or ‘screaming’ reveal sound effects vital to the plot. 

In essence, if your content’s audio only contains dialogue, captions and subtitles will deliver the same basic information but subtitles will allow for translations. If subtitles are right for you, the next step is choosing between the two main subtitle types – hard and soft subs. 

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What are hard subs?  

Hard subs, also known as hardcoded or burned-in subtitles, are permanently visible and cannot be turned off or edited. The subtitles are embedded into the video and form part of the visual content.

Hard subs are helpful in situations where viewers may not have the option to control what appears on screen, such as at an event or the cinema. Video creators often use hard subs when a section of the dialogue is in a different language. You may see this in films such as Lord of the Rings, where translations of the fictional language Elvish display and allow viewers to follow along. Hard subs can also help your audience if the dialogue is challenging to understand. For instance, hard subs are useful when speakers have strong accents or are difficult to hear because of background noise at an event. 

As hard subs are part of the video, the video creator, rather than the viewer, decides the language to use and how the subtitles will appear. 

What are soft subs?  

Soft subs, or softcoded subtitles, can be turned on or off by the viewer. You may have used the option to turn on subtitles with your TV remote.  

Soft subs are often available in multiple languages, allowing viewers to select their preferred language. The language of the subtitles may be the same as the video’s dialogue, which can be helpful for viewers learning a language or watching content at a low volume or with some distractions.  

Alternatively, viewers may choose subtitles that are translations of the dialogue. This option is essential for viewers to access and comprehend video content when the audio is in a language they don’t understand. 

Soft subs give the viewer more control and offer greater flexibility. For example, the viewer can alter the language and sometimes change how the subtitles display, including by altering the color and size.  

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How to choose the best subtitle format for your content 

Hard and soft subs both have advantages. The best solution will depend on how viewers access the content and their ability to control the viewing experience. 

Some important considerations when choosing between subtitle types are: 

  • Will your viewers be able to turn on subtitles if they need them?  
  • Are subtitles necessary for just a section of your content?  
  • Will all viewers require subtitles?

Hard subs: Useful in specific contexts   

If your subtitles contain information crucial for conveying important information to all viewers, then hard subs are a good option. For example, if all viewers will need a translation of the dialogue in a specific language, using hard subs will ensure availability and give the creator the ability to choose how they should appear. 

The use of hard subs is also vital in providing an accessible and inclusive viewing experience for viewers who are Deaf, hard of hearing or neurodivergent when these users do not have the option of turning subtitles on, such as at conferences or live events.  

Soft subs: Catering to a global and diverse audience

Soft subs are the go-to choice for catering to an audience with varying language preferences and accessibility requirements. The viewer can determine if they want to display subtitles and make essential selections, such as language and size. 

Soft subs work well for content aimed at broad audiences when you’re unaware of viewer requirements in advance, such as foreign films or online training courses.  

Once you decide on the best type of subtitles for your video, you can follow the steps to add your hard or soft subs.

How to add subtitles to your videos  

Adding subtitles to a video is straightforward, and although there are some variations depending on your chosen video platform, the basic steps for subtitle creation remain the same.  

First, you need to create a subtitle file that is compatible with your chosen video platform. An SRT or SubRip file is a standard format that most platforms accept. An SRT file contains the transcription of your video’s dialogue and additional information to align the text with the action on the screen. 

Although you can create an SRT file yourself, any errors in the transcript or file format will be visible or cause issues in the subtitles. High accuracy levels are crucial and hard to achieve for users with little experience producing transcripts or subtitling files. The industry accuracy standard for meeting ADA requirements is exceptionally high. For this reason, many users turn to professional services, like Verbit, to deliver an accurate and reliable SRT file.  

Once you have your SRT file, you can add subtitles to your video.

a woman on a couch using her remote to choose between subtitle types

How to add hard subs to your video  

  • Choose a video editing tool that supports hard subbing, such as Adobe Premiere Pro 
  • Import your video and SRT files into the project.  
  • Sync the subtitles with the video timeline and make any required adjustments to their appearance. Consider the size and color to ensure viewers find them easy to read. 
  • Export the video with the subtitles burned in, ensuring they are visible within the video frame.  
  • Upload your final video to your chosen video hosting platform. 

The basic steps for adding soft subs 

  • Upload your video and SRT file to the video hosting platform of your choice, such as YouTube, Vimeo, or an alternative VLC video player 
  • Review the subtitle settings for synchronization, font and placement and make any necessary adjustments. 
  • Publish and share your video. The option to toggle subtitles on or off will be available to your viewers through the video platform. 

Incorporating subtitles into your live events 

Although subtitles are often associated with post-production videos, they’re also valuable additions for live events and meetings, either virtual or in-person. Live subtitles and captioning help provide a more inclusive experience and overcome language barriers, especially for events or businesses with a global audience or workforce. 

Why subtitles are vital for video creators, business leaders and marketers 

Adding subtitles and captions is one of the best ways for content creators and business leaders to reach a larger, more diverse global audience. Whether you’re subtitling virtual meetings for your teams or improving your video content accessibility, subtitles are worth the extra effort to provide more inclusive experiences. 

A professional service can help you to efficiently produce high-quality subtitles for all your post-production videos and live content and offer guidance when choosing between subtitle types. Verbit is an essential partner for organizations looking for cost-effective solutions to boost their investment in video. Visit Verbit for more information about subtitling solutions.