Really HD Ready? [s]

I have just invested in a shiny new Sky HD box and am enjoying the improved picture quality, especially for some American TV shows where the standard definition has been of a lower quality than in the UK. However, I noticed a lack of subtitles for the HD channels. As a personal preference I’ve always preferred watching TV with subtitles even though I do not rely on them in the same way a deaf or hard of hearing person would. I can’t speak for other CSWs and interpreters but after spending a day listening intensely to people speak and translating this to Sign Language I like to give my ears a rest. Working as a CSW involves the awareness and acknowledgement of different speech patterns and accents so when I relax at the end of the day in front of the TV, it is nice to read the speech so I can almost switch off that ‘listening’ part of my brain. After all, it is not just people with a hearing impairment that use subtitles, due to many channels committing to 100% subtitled programmes it has become to be relied upon by many. Munching on a crunchy pack of crisps, subtitles ensure no information is lost. New parents who turn the volume right down so as to not awake their sleeping baby and viewers who have English as a second language may want access to subtitles.

HD came along and everywhere you looked TVs were ‘HD ready’ and it seemed to be the only way forward. However, the televisions themselves may have been ready but the broadcasters weren’t in terms of providing subtitles to their viewers. I noticed the irony that HD channels provided audio description for visually impaired users but subtitles were unavailable on most HD channels apart from Sky and BBC channels. I fully confess that I am ignorant about the technologies and methods behind the process of implementing subtitles so thought I’d do a bit of delving into the subject, using the Internet and social media site Twitter as my investigatory system.

I looked at the websites for service providers (Sky, Virgin Media, Freeview and Freesat) as I had been informed that the provider could be responsible for the unavailable access. For example, Channel 5 provide subtitles for their standard definition channel and for Five HD, however because of technological issues the subtitles cannot be accessed on the HD channel through Sky. Baffling huh?

Sky

Sky have quite a nice website where you can search for programmes with Audio Description, Subtitles and Sign Language. And true to their word the BBC and Sky HD channels have subtitles. Hooray! However, the website states that Channel 4 HD includes subtitles but when I tried to get them on my TV, alas, no luck! Further investigation taught me that this may be due to the HDMI cable I am using as they don’t transmit Closed Captioned data. Ok, so now I feel like I need to learn about different types of cables and the various formats of Subtitles and Closed Captions. I feel more confused than ever! Surely the end user cannot be expected to research this deeply just to watch a bit of telly?!

Virgin Media

So the next approach was to go straight to the provider. Whilst I thought Virgin Media’s website is a bit of a maze to browse if you don’t know exactly what it is you are looking for, it gave me the option to have a live instant messaging chat with a customer service assistant. Fantastic, I thought, now for some real answers.

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If I want to find out what is subtitled I need to look at the TV listings and scroll through every programme to find that eagerly awaited [s] symbol. Whilst I was having a brief look, my friendly customer service assistant went offline. In a previous discussion they advised that I phoned their hotline and gave me no other options of communication.

Freeview

This website requires you going to the HD section, looking at the teeny tiny text of the HD listings, clicking on each programme to look for a subtitle symbol – too much like hard work.

Freesat

Freesat does not provide that many HD channels but made a list available of all the channels and whether Subtitles and/or Audio Description was available and even included details. For example for ITV 1 HD subtitles are predicted for April 2011.

OFCOM are the guys that set the minimum percentage of programmes that must be subtitled based on the audience reach of the channel. Due to their legislation many channels such as the BBc have committed to 100% subtitles and many other channels are not far off this percentage. This is a great step forward with regards to access. However, if we want to boost the viewer ratings for HD channels does this mean buying a HD box and watching TV without subtitles to boost the viewer ratings or are subtitles on their way? I think it’s unreasonable that insufficient information is easily available to the customer and it takes a great deal of researching to get any idea what is going on.

A big thank you to some of the subtitle twitterati: @iheartsubtitles, @captionmax, @page_888 and @LissyLovett for providing me with their expertise in a complex topic. Also regards to those who work in captioning and make it possible, my brief research has taught me that with so many formats and methods it is much more complicated than I first realised.

All I know is that for the viewer, TV is not as ‘HD ready’ as it thinks it is. Next step is accessibility for 3D TV… oh dear!

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*Addition 22/06/11* “over 30 timeshifted services (e.g. ITV2 + 1) and simulcast HD services (e.g.ITV1 HD) are also required to provide access services;”

Read the Ofcom – Television channels required to provide television access services in 2012 pdf here.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. […] This is a must read article for anyone living in the UK interested in the status of subtitled TV content on HD broadcast channels. I wish it was better news than it is. Have a read: I have just invested in a shiny new Sky HD box and am enjoying the improved picture quality, especially for some American TV shows where the standard definition has been of a lower quality than in the UK. However, I noticed a lack of subtitles for the HD channels. As a personal preference I’ve always preferred watching TV with subtitles even though I do not rely on them in the same way a deaf or hard of hearing person would. I can’t speak for oth … Read More […]

    Reply

  2. This is a great article. I’ve reblogged and added my own comments on my blog. Hope that is ok. And yes subtitling is sometimes complicated but that is used too often as an excuse not to provide access – the technology is there to get over the issues – some broadcasters already have. What is stopping the rest?

    3DTV – thankfully believe it or not we’ve already in the UK had our first ever 3D movie with subtitles provided! I blogged about it here.

    Reply

    • Posted by colette on March 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      I have virgin media and some of my favrite programs like living have stopped producing subtitles which makes me increasingly annoyed now i dont watch as many programes anymore.

      Reply

  3. […] This is a must read article for anyone living in the UK interested in the status of subtitled TV content on HD broadcast channels. I wish it was better news than it is. Have a read: I have just invested in a shiny new Sky HD box and am enjoying the improved picture quality, especially for some American TV shows where the standard definition has been of a lower quality than in the UK. However, I noticed a lack of subtitles for the HD channels. As a personal preference I’ve always preferred watching TV with subtitles even though I do not rely on them in the same way a deaf or hard of hearing person would. I can’t speak for oth … Read More […]

    Reply

  4. I agree completely. I don’t think that the complications are something the viewer needs to be aware of. Sure, it’s interesting to look into and gain an understanding but that shouldn’t be a requirement of using subtitles – having to research and buy the appropriate boxes and cables. Information should be easily available and accessible.

    I’m glad that the ball is rolling for 3D subtitles. Hopefully there is potential that the placement of subtitles can be improved through 3D technology.

    Reply

  5. NDCS have been lobbying ITV for online subtitles. They have now committed to 70% subtitles content.

    http://www.ndcs.org.uk/about_us/campaign_with_us/england/campaign_news/ndcs_thanks_members.html

    Well done! Hopefully the same will be done for HD.

    Reply

  6. […] open captions, subtitles, TV. Leave a Comment About a year ago I wrote a blog about subtitles – Really HD Ready? [s]; it focused on the lack of closed captions on Sky HD and had a brief look at other providers […]

    Reply

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