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Video of a woman signing

Screenshot of a BSL video

Some of you will know about my project to get British Sign Language content on our corporate website. For the background to this, see the original business case and my experiences in the studio filming the videos.

Last week I got the BSL videos from our audio/visual unit, with all the audio editing complete, bringing us a step closer to getting them online. All I needed to do was add the captions and run them past our BSL expert one more time, to make sure nothing had been lost in translation.

With impeccable timing, Henny Swan blogged about captioning earlier today so I’d encourage people to read her post too as I’ll be referring to her findings here as well.

Online captioning tools

Due to my employer’s IT policy, which means I can’t install software onto my work PC, I’m going to have to settle for online captioning tools. This limited me somewhat, but I was hopeful that I could find something suitable.

YouTube itself recommends CaptionTube, but I’d also heard good things about YouTubeCC, so I decided to give that a go first.


YouTube CC

YouTube CC

To start, make sure your video is uploaded and processed on Youtube. Next, go to YouTubeCC and enter the URL of the video that you wish to caption. This will bring up the video on the left with a box for the captions on the right.

The idea is that you play and pause the video, tapping in the captions as you go and adding them to the box on the right. YouTubeCC automatically adds the start times, according to where you’ve paused the video.

The first issue I encountered was that there seemed to be no way to preview the captions on the video itself, as you enter them. This makes it impossible to judge whether you have given each caption enough time on-screen, or whether you need to split them up.

Bigger problems were to come, though, upon completing my first video. Clicking the Export to YouTube button brought up the following error message:

Some of the captions/timecodes are bogus and will not be added to the export.
Do you want to export anyhoo?

I have no idea why the captions or timecodes should be ‘bogus’, and could see no obvious error, so I went ahead and exported anyway, which enabled me to save the captions as a .sub file (YouTube requires either sub or srt file formats).

Adding captions using YouTube CC

Adding captions using YouTube CC

Finally, heading back to YouTube and clicking on the Captions buttons under the video, on the My Videos page, it was a simple case of uploading the .sub file. The results weren’t bad – no sign of the bogus captions or timecodes – but as per my first concern, the timing was not perfect and some captions were far too brief. Also, captions remained visible until the next one came along, which in some cases was not ideal. I realised that you have to insert blank captions to achieve breaks between captions, which seemed a little convoluted.

Overall, then, I found YouTubeCC not bad but lacking features necessary to get really tight captions. Perhaps I wasn’t using it properly – I’d welcome suggestions or advice!


Caption Tube beta

Caption Tube beta

Next I thought I’d go back to YouTube’s original suggestion, CaptionTube. Henny has already done a great job of reviewing the pros and cons of this one, but I thought I’d add a bit more about some of the things I liked and disliked.

I really liked the timeline at the bottom. Anyone familiar with editing software such as Final Cut Pro will be very comfortable with this kind of interface. Unfortunately, it appeared to lack some of the functionality you might hope for, such as the ability to drag, drop or resize segments.

Caption Tube's timeline

Caption Tube's timeline

Another feature I liked was the ability to set the duration of a caption. A fairly essential feature, I’d say, but having seen the difficulty of doing this in YouTubeCC I appreciate its existence here.

A definite down side was the need to swap between two pages to edit the captions then preview them. This slowed the process considerably, and although the Preview option is very welcome, I can’t help thinking it could have been integrated more usefully into the main view.

Caption Tube requires you to go to a new page to preview your captions

Caption Tube requires you to go to another page each time you want to preview your captions

A final plus, though, is that Caption Tube connects directly to your Google/YouTube account so there’s no need for a separate login.




Next up, then, is Henny’s preferred option – Overstream. Unlike the previous two, this one requires that you create an account. There’s no obvious privacy policy which is not great, and the password length can only be 10 characters long, far shorter than my usual hyper-secure passwords! Nevertheless, I duly sign up.

The first problem I encounter is the Overstream doesn’t appear to be able to access videos that are not yet public on YouTube. I guess this makes sense, although it wasn’t a problem for the previous two sites. Even using YouTube’s Limited Access URL option doesn’t seem to work. I don’t really want the video to be public yet, but to use this service I don’t have much choice (and can always hide the video again after adding the captions), so I temporarily make the video public.

Overstream has a handy demo video showing you the main controls so after watching this I plunge right in.

A screenshot of Overstream's interface

A screenshot of Overstream's interface

It’s immediately obvious that many of the issues I had with the previous two services have been addressed here. You can see the captions immediately appear on the video, each caption is given a default length which you can easily adjust, and you can drag and drop each individual caption on a global timeline.

Once finished, you can save the captions, or ‘overstream’, for editing at a later date, and can then export as a .srt file.

Uploading the .srt to YouTube worked a treat, and the timing was much better than before.


In conclusion, Overstream appears to offer by far the best online tool for captioning that I’ve used so far. The other options are ok, but far more basic and not without their faults.

I can’t show the results just yet as I promised to let our BSL signer have a look first, before it went public. I’ll be sure to update my blog as soon as the completed videos are online.

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