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How to add subtitles to video podcasts

Sat, 03/01/2008 - 23:11 -- rprice

Update: Check out the Universal Subtitles widget from the Participatory Culture Foundation, makers of the excellent Miro player.

At BarCampMiami, one of the folks in my podcast session had a question about creating a multi-lingual podcast. I instantly suggested that photocasting with something like SlideFlickr and including an audio file would be simplest and very shareable. Visuals certainly have the power to transcend the barriers of language (if not culture). Still, she was hoping for a more flexible answer, like subtitling videos.

I had certainly seen Rocketboom and other vlogs include subtitles and have mutli-language support, but I was skeptical about finding a cross-platform tool that could get the job done.

I did some searching and found out Google Video supports subtitles if you've already made the file - OK, but how do I make one? Linux has lots of tools available, but I don't think that will help my friend in this case. Jubler - Cross-platform subtitle editor in Java Then I started finding the web-based subtitle solutions via del.icio.us, and at the bottom of page 3 hit paydirt. There was a compelling cross-platform downloadable tool in Java (cross-platform), but I had trouble getting video playback to work on my mac. I could see the video frames alright, but for moving pictures Jubler was no help. It required MPlayer to work, which I have, but something wasn't right, so I gave up and went to the web.

Next on my past-tense journey was subtitle.in, the best subtitler of the bunch (I also tried a tool that required use of Google Video and wouldn't allow YouTubage). I have two complaints about subtitle.in:

  • Poor support for scrubbing (I assume this is the fault of the video compressing party, YouTube in this case)
  • Inability to edit the starting time of a subtitle, just duration and text (but they have a workaround)

Add subtitles to video podcasts

After some playing around, I noticed you could move the start time of the subtitle by half-a-second, but the controls for this were unintuitive at best. Try to see if you understand from this image. Me either. They're under the list of titles and say "< Prev 0.5 sec" and "Forward 0.5 sec >". Since I figured out that the "Delete" key removed the currently selected title, this was a logical next step, but I don't know why we couldn't just type in the time. My anal self needs that level of granularity.

Time appears to be broken into 100-frames per second? Not sure how that works, but the titles seemed to play back fine.

Tip: Type out all of your titles before you get them in this tool or any other subtitling utility, and make notes about when each phrase starts, with a minute:second attached; this will go much more quickly for you. If you're like my friend and you want to translate the video into 4 languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese), keeping your notes and times straight will be a huge boost in throughput.

Check out a sample video at subtitle.in - as of this writing, I only did 3 screens of subtitles, so don't go looking for anything past the first blackout.

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