Captions vs Subtitles


Captions are transcription equivalents of all audio elements in a recorded program, prepared for FCC-compliant accessible broadcast to deaf or hard of hearing audiences. They generally convey dialogue, music, sound effects, and speaker changes, synced with a program’s audio track, in a fixed visual style.

Captions can be turned off at will and are not a permanent part of video. 

Captions can also be known as: Closed captions, CC, 608, 608/708, broadcast captions, text tracks, SDH 


Subtitles are transcription equivalents of selected audio elements in a recorded program, prepared for a given media outlet/platform and its targeted audience. The text is conveyed as a graphic image in flexible visual styles that can be customized by request, and then either burned onto a video or provided in an overlay file. 

Subtitles are typically permanent and cannot be turned on and off.  

There are two types of subtitles: SDH and Non-SDH


SDH is an initialism for “Subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing” and refers to transcription in the original language where important non-dialogue information has been added, such as music and sound descriptors and speaker identification. 


Non-SDH transcription is designed for a hearing audience and serves as more of a timed transcript of dialogue. We do not include music and sound descriptors and speaker identification in non-SDH since it’s intended for an audience that will be able to hear these cues. 

Subtitles can also be known as: Open captions, open subtitles, captionbox, subs, SDH, SDH subtitles, graphic captions/subtitles, stylized captions/subtitles, PNGs, XML/PNGs 

Do I Need Captions or Subtitles?

A flow chart. Level 1: "Where are my files going?" Level 2: "I'm delivering files to a broadcast television network" leads to "You want captions (.SCC, .MCC, .CAP). Level 2: I'm posting my files online. Level 3: I'm posting to a major streaming platform (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) leads to "Talk with your Captionmax sales rep; they'll know what you're looking for." Level 3: "I'm posting to a video hosting platform (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) Level 4: "I want the text to permanently appear onscreen at all times" leads to "You want a subtitled video." Level 4: "I want the user to be able to turn the text on and off" leads to "You want sidecar web captions (.SRT, .VTT, .XML)".