Mixing Video Description for 5.1

Posted by Anna on March 25, 2016 at 9:30 am. Captioning, OTT, Techy, Video Describers, Video Description
5.1 logo

5.1 logo

More and more clients are coming to us wanting Video Description mixed for 5.1 surround sound, so we enlisted CaptionMax Video Describer Caiti Laszewski to explain the ins and outs of mixing for 5.1.

What is a 5.1 mix?

A 5.1 surround mix is an audio mix made of six sound sources assigned to a field of left, right, center, left surround, right surround, and low frequency effects, or LFE, channels. The LFE channel, containing only the lowest frequencies, is typically played through a subwoofer and is represented by the .1. The remaining channels can contain a full range of frequencies, and they make up the five main channels of the mix. The 5.1 mix is meant to envelop the viewer with the program’s soundtrack, bringing the theatrical surround sound experience home.

How we mix to 5.1

For mono, stereo, and 5.1 mixing, we take the client’s completed mix of program audio and combine it with our descriptive audio track. We strategically alter the volume of the client mixes where our description comes in to allow the descriptive audio to be understood as clearly as possible without covering the essential elements of the program audio.

We complete all of our 5.1 mixes using Pro Tools software in a surround monitoring suite. This allows us the most flexibility in description timing and volume when combining our audio with the client’s mix, resulting in the best possible finished product. The granular control Pro Tools affords us allows our description to come through as clearly as possible, even when it covers extended sound effects (like gunfire or prolonged explosions) or stretches of subtitled dialogue.

Differences between a 5.1 mix and a mono or stereo mix

In a traditional mono or stereo mix, dialogue, music, and sound effects are mixed together and audible on all channels. This means that the volume of the entire mix needs to be lowered to allow description to be heard clearly.

A 5.1 mix sends all dialogue (including descriptive audio) to the center channel, allowing music and sound effects to come through from the other channels. In a surround mix, the volume of any program content in the center channel needs to be lowered so description can pass and be easily understood. Often, the left and right channels need a slight reduction in volume to ensure description can pass clearly over any music or effects on those channels.

Benefits of a 5.1 mix

Mixing in 5.1 gives us the flexibility to decide when, how much, and on which channels to lower the volume of program audio. Occasionally, the center channel is the only channel requiring volume alteration, and all the other channels can be left alone without a negative impact on the clarity of descriptive audio. In a mono or stereo mix, lowering the volume of the mix as a whole means covering music and effects. In a 5.1 mix, more of these secondary elements can be heard, helping our description blend with program audio. It’s a more labor-intensive process, but it’s worth the work to help the consumer have a more seamless experience of the finalized program.

New Apple TV Makes Captions Easier to Activate

Posted by Anna on December 15, 2015 at 3:30 pm. Captioning, Techy
A test pattern with the Apple TV logo on it

A test pattern with the Apple TV logo on it

Apple recently released the newest version of Apple TV, its digital media player and microconsole, with some exciting new features, including universal search and Siri voice integration. Not only can viewers use Siri to control video playback (pause, rewind, fast forward), they can instantly rewind 15 seconds and temporarily turn on closed captions if they’re having trouble hearing the dialogue simply by asking, “What did s/he say?”

An Apple employee demonstrates how to rewind and temporarily turn on closed captions by asking Siri, What did she say?

An Apple employee demonstrates how to rewind and temporarily turn on closed captions by asking Siri, "What did she say?"

This advancement in technology affirms what a lot of people already know: many, MANY hearing people also use closed captions.  Whispered speech, people talking over each other, and blockbuster sound effects can all make determining exactly what is being said extremely challenging. Offline caption editors–and I say this with years of personal experience–sometimes have to hit rewind over and over (AND OVER) again to be able to hear the correct transcription.  Another common reason hearing people choose to use closed captions is because of heavy accents.  In Netflix’s new hit show, Master of None, Dev and his friends are binge-watching Sherlock together, and Arnold points out that, while he’s still enjoying the artfulness of the show, he can hardly make out a word Benedict Cumberbatch is saying:

Arnold sitting with his friends on a couch: Are you guys having a hard time with these accents? I havent understood a single word of this entire show. Im loving the visuals, but Im like, Whats that, Batch?

Arnold, sitting with his friends on a couch, says: "Are you guys having a hard time with these accents? I haven't understood a single word of this entire show. I'm loving the visuals, but I'm like, "What's that, 'Batch?"

This feature is a great step for providing viewers with a better user experience when it comes to closed captioning.  People who want them on the entire program still have that option, and for those who only want them in a pinch, all they have to do is ask.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Calls For Greater Accessibility For The Blind

Posted by Anna on November 4, 2015 at 11:48 am. FCC, Techy
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Marking his second anniversary as FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler penned a blog post reflecting on the many initiatives that lie before him. Among them, he recognized the work that needs to be continued to create accessible technology for Americans who are blind or low-vision that will allow them to access video content:

“Thanks to FCC rules, video devices with ‘talking menus’ and ‘talking guides’ will be available to consumers by December of next year, and these devices will dramatically simplify the ability of individuals who are blind and visually impaired to view television programming. At our November meeting, we will take further steps to ensure that individuals who are blind or visually impaired can more easily access video programming on the increasing number of devices used to view video programming. In particular, our new rules would require covered manufacturers and MVPDs to inform consumers about which accessible devices and features are available and how to use them.”

Earlier in 2015, Comcast launched their Emily’s Oz campaign to promote their X1 Talking Guide, the very type of assisitive technology that Chairman Wheeler is referring to. The X1 Talking Guide is available in both English and Spanish an can be used to turn on video description.

He noted that the FCC would be taking additional steps to ensure that consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing can more easily activate closed captioning features.

Trend: More Online Players Supporting VDS

Posted by Anna on June 16, 2015 at 12:00 pm. OTT, Techy, Video Description

It’s no secret that more and more content is finding a home online.  While this is great for many consumers, it’s created special challenges for blind and low-vision audiences who want to access the visual information of that content.  The problem? Most online players do not have the ability to select from multiple audio tracks.

The current best practice for dealing with this issue is to create two versions of the same video: one without video description and one with open video description that can’t be turned off. Take, for instance, Comcast’s Emily’s Oz commercial that aired during the Oscars, which promotes the XFINITY talking guide that allows blind and low-vision viewers to independently explore current TV and movie selections. XFINITY’s YouTube channel posted two versions of the commercial, one titled Emily’s Oz Commercial and  one titled Emily’s Oz Commercial (with video description). Putting “with video description” in the title of the video is extremely important so that it is accessible to a screenreader.

While this manages to get the job done, it’s hardly an elegant solution for content providers or consumers looking for described content. We are seeing an increase in the number of online players that allow viewers to select from multiple audio tracks, including foreign languages, director’s commentary, and closed description. JWPlayer, OZPlayer, and DivX all offer players with multitrack audio settings.

Netflix, which began its streaming service with the Microsoft Silverlight player and has been transitioning over to HTML5 since 2013, debuted a selection of described content in April. With Netflix’s commitment to expanding their selection of programming with video description, we expect other OTT content providers like Hulu and Amazon Prime to soon follow their lead and revamp their players to allow for closed description.

Adventures in Advocacy for Video Description

Posted by Kate on October 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm. Consumer Advisory Board, Techy, Video Description

Ah, Fall — the crisp air, leaves crunching underfoot, the change in nature’s color scheme, boots and jackets, football games, and the season premieres of my favorite TV shows and new series.   Who doesn’t love a little added humor, drama, or information in their day?  Count me in.

Watching television in my household requires some adaptations, namely captioning, as three of five of my family members are deaf/hard of hearing.  Captions are vital for our understanding and enjoyment of programming.  But I also love Video Description for those who are blind or have visual impairments.  It improves my vocabulary, draws attention to detail in the program that I might have missed, and is an overall rich sensory experience.   Just like captions allow access to media for those without hearing, Video Description is necessary for those without vision to understand and enjoy TV programming.

As I tuned in the third week of September to the prime time season premieres, I was quickly disappointed that I had no Video Description.  Not only that, but when I activated the feature through my SAP menu, I had no audio at all.  A search on-line to see if I had not activated my Video Description correctly revealed nothing.  I called my provider, Direct TV, and re-set my receiver box, but still no Description.  Customer service gave me the number for the Descriptive Video Service at Direct TV, which is a voicemail box for Captioning Services.  A nice gentleman named Charlie called me back and said he would investigate and to try it again during prime time Thursday evening.  That night was a repeat of the other two without Description and I called on Friday morning to report my results to Charlie.  His investigation revealed a transmission problem with the Descriptive Audio feed for the entire Atlanta area.  The local affiliate was diagnosing and hopefully resolving the problem.  I don’t know if the problem affected all cable providers or just mine, but it was widespread.

Week two of the Fall Season Premieres:  Monday night prime time again disappoints, and Tuesday morning I leave a message with Charlie that I now have audio through the SAP feature, but no Video Description.

And finally, as I tune in Tuesday night, I am thrilled to hear Video Description!  It is fixed!  I am grateful that I was directed to the right department and that Mr. Charlie listened, persisted, and had the resources/power to resolve the issue.

Here is what helped me in this adventure in advocacy and might help you too:

  • Identify the Problem
  • Brainstorm Solutions and Resources
  • Ask for Help
  • Practice Diligence

Happy TV watching, caption reading, and listening to Video Description!

– Michelle Rich
CaptionMax Community Advisory Board Member

Captioning Online Video

Posted by Emma on February 15, 2012 at 10:03 am. Captioning, Techy, YouTube

Here are some quick tips to make your captioned video stand out!

1. Caption Ready Media Player

The simplest step, but often overlooked.
You need a player that supports captions.
Some favorites of our clients are: JW Player, Kaltura, and Flow Player.
can also support closed captions.

2. Notify of Your Viewers

You need a way to let your viewers know that your videos are captioned.
Some sites, like Discovery Education streaming or Hulu, allow users to filter their search by videos with captions.
This makes your captioned videos easy to find and use.

3. Incorporate Captioning Into Your Workflow

Professional, high quality captions still require actual people to do the bulk of the captioning creating.
Automated captions that are reliable and accurate are just not available yet.
The great thing about captions is that they can be added to the video anytime!
You can post a video online, and then update it with a caption file at anytime in your process.

It’s important to add accessibility to your online video. Some sources predict that by 2013 more than 25% of online content will be video. It will be vital to develop excellent players and a slick workflow early on.

If you have more questions, let us know. We deal with hundreds of captioning and subtitling workflows a year, and we’d be happy to investigate adding captions to your workflow.

What’s so cool about the VDRDC?

Posted by CLeininger on December 30, 2011 at 4:11 pm. Consumer Advisory Board, Techy, Video Description

CaptionMax has a dedicated Consumer Advisory Board with experts in all kinds of accessibility. We have invited Josh Miele, Ph.D. to be our next guest blogger. Dr. Miele is a Research Scientist with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute where he conducts research in the areas of audiotactile graphics and auditory displays. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  You can find out more about Dr. Miele on his LinkedIn profile, by reading his editorial comments on accessible technology at his blog, or by following his more broadly focused twitter feed @BerkeleyBlink.

In addition to being an honored member of CaptionMax’s Community Advisory Board, I direct the Video Description Research and Development Center (VDRDC) at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco. The VDRDC is investigating cutting-edge technologies for creating and delivering video description of the future. We are looking at new ways of using the web, cloud, and mobile phones, as well as techniques like wiki-style crowd-sourcing, to annotate and describe the ever-growing tide of video information in the home, on the web, and in the classroom.

In addition to investigating innovative description technologies, the VDRDC is conducting an important campaign of outreach and dissemination related to video accessibility for blind and visually-impaired people. These activities are being conducted in collaboration with an impressive group of partner organizations called the Description Leadership Network (DLN). CaptionMax is a proud partner in the Description Leadership Network, which also includes the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and the American Council of the Blind (ACB). The DLN also includes the Described and Captioned Media Program, Dicapta, the IDEAL Group, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Narrative Television Network. This amazing group of description stakeholder organizations is assisting the VDRDC with important research and outreach activities that include consumer focus groups, webinars for teacher training, professional development workshops, hands-on media experience for blind youth, academic publications, and more.

The following sections highlight two up-coming VDRDC events that may be of particular interest to fans and friends of CaptionMax.

Free Webinars For Teacher Training

In collaboration with DCMP (The Described and Captioned Media Program) and other DLN partners, we are kicking off the New Year with an exciting series of Free Educational Webinars about using innovative description technologies in the classroom. This series will be of particular interest to teachers, administrators, and parents of blind students. The first Webinar will take place on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 02:00 PM EST / 11:00 AM PST and will provide a solid foundation for anyone interested in providing better access to video for students with visual disabilities.

Webinar topics will include:
- A teachers’ guide to using video description
- A comprehensive overview of resources for obtaining described materials
- A sneak peak at the description technologies of the future being developed at the VDRDC

This is DCMP’s first of four teacher Webinars that will be produced in collaboration with the VDRDC and other DLN partners over the next two years. Each webinar will focus on a different aspect of description and classroom video accessibility for blind and visually-impaired students so don’t miss a single one! Register now! It’s free!  What are you waiting for?

Professional Development Workshop

Video Description has become more and more important, and with the FCC mandate in effect in July 2012, an increasing proportion of broadcast programming will be described and made accessible to blind people. This means that the coming months may bring an increase in demand for video description writers, voice-over artists, editors, sound engineers, and quality-control technicians. The VDRDC and the DLN is interested in preparing qualified blind and visually-impaired applicants for jobs such as these.

Blind and visually-impaired people should get involved in description – not just as consumers – but as professionals.  I believe that description quality may be significantly improved by employing blind people in the many positions crucial for professional description production, almost none of which require sight. This intensive workshop presents an innovative way to train a new generation of blind professionals to make valuable contributions to the description industry.

The VDRDC Professional Development Workshop will be organized by the National Federation of the Blind, a DLN partner, and will be lead by Rick Boggs,  a blind description professional with unparalleled experience at every level of the industry. This unique workshop will provide five days of intensive training in a wide variety of critical description skills for up to ten qualified trainees. Participants will become expert in different description guidelines, as well as in writing, editing, recording, and assuring description quality. For application information e-mail

Looking Ahead

The Webinars and Professional Development Workshop are just two of the projects undertaken by the VDRDC.  My next blog post will discuss more of the cutting-edge technologies we are investigating. There is also plenty more to be said about our up-coming focus groups, publications, open-source apps, and other projects. A final shout out to the good people at CaptionMax and our other valuable DLN partners. Watch this space for more posts, or check out the VDRDC website for more information about our research and outreach activities.

The VDRDC is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs , Grant No. H327J110005. This blog post does not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.

A Captioning Dream Job!

Posted by Emma on September 14, 2011 at 8:43 am. Captioning, Techy

Picture of a steno machine

We know that Deanna is fabulous, and now you will, too! Here at CaptionMax, we choose our employees very carefully. We have a very dedicated team of offline and realtime caption writers working around the clock to make all kinds of media accessible. We couldn’t be prouder when one of them is recognized for their fantastic skills.

Read all about Deanna Baker in the AZ Daily Sun.

Helpful Definitions for FCC Terminology

Posted by CLeininger on September 7, 2011 at 9:42 am. Techy, Video Description

The Report and Order adopted on August 24, 2011 reinstates the FCC’s video description rules on October 08, 2011 with modifications required by the CVAA. Full compliance with the rules is required on July 1, 2012.Check out our COO, Gerald Freda’s, breakdown of the of the new rules.

If you’ve been reading the Report and Order, here are some important definitions to study. After all, it wouldn’t be the start of September without homework!

Important Definitions

(1) Designated Market Areas (DMAs): Unique, county-based geographic areas designated by The Nielsen Company.

(2) Video programming provider: Any video programming distributor & any other entity that provides video programming intended for distribution to residential households. This  includes broadcast or nonbroadcast television networks.

(3) Video description/Audio description: The insertion of audio narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements into natural pauses between the program’s dialogue. See examples on our YouTube page.

(4) Video programming: Programming provided by a television broadcast station, but not including consumer-generated media.

(5) Video programming distributor: Any television broadcast station licensed by the Commission, any multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD), & any other distributor of video programming for residential reception that delivers such programming directly to the home & is subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission.

(6) Prime time: Generally, from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. on Sunday local time.  Exceptions are made for central time zone & mountain time zone.

(7) Live or near-live programming: Programming performed either simultaneously with, or recorded no more than 24 hours prior to, its first transmission by a video programming distributor.

(8) Children’s Programming: Television programming directed at children 16 years of age and under.

A Summary of The FCC’s New Video Description Rules

Posted by CLeininger on August 31, 2011 at 3:18 pm. Techy, Video Describers, Video Description

by Gerald Freda
CaptionMax President and Chief Operating Officer

On August 24, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission released a Report and Order to adopt rules requiring video description for certain television programming. The Commission had previously adopted rules requiring video description in 2000, but those rules were struck down by a federal court in 2002.

Then, in 2010, Congress enacted the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) and on October 08, 2010, President Obama signed CVAA giving the FCC the expressed authority to adopt video description rules.

As indicated in the Report and Order adopted on August 24, 2011, the directive reinstates the FCC’s video description rules on October 08, 2011 with modifications required by the CVAA. Based on the R&O here is what I have gleaned from the document.

Who does this effect?

- the top 4 national networks (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) located in the top 25 television markets and the top 5 non-broadcast networks (Nickelodeon/Nick At Nite, TBS, TNT, The Disney Channel & USA) must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of video-described prime time and/or children’s programming

What are the other significant requirements?

- the 50 hours-per-quarter benchmark is defined as programming that is video-described (a.k.a. audio-described) for its original broadcast and one re-air

- broadcasters may count programming even if the program has aired previously but only for the first airing and second re-air

- broadcasters can count programs that they obtain with video description but only for the first and second airings

When do these requirements go into effect?

- full compliance for the top 4 national networks and top 5 non broadcast networks will begin as of July 01, 2012

- no provision was adopted for program selection as that will be up to the broadcaster to select the program

- no quality standards were adopted at this time and may be revisited

- any program aired with video description must always include description if re-aired by the same broadcaster

What are some other requirements?

- breaking news, live programming, and near-live programming are exempt

- a program owner or provider of programming may petition the FCC for an exemption caused by undue burden with economic hardship

- there is no provision for video description to be an included as part of an Internet-streamed program even if the program contained video description during its original broadcast

- mobile broadcast compliance for video description of the same program will be delayed until October 08, 2013

- the top 5 non-broadcast networks, determined by The Nielson Company, will be updated on a three-year interval




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