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Webinar Series: Captioning Physical Media

By: Kevin Erler, Ph.D.

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In this webinar we cover how to caption physical media, such as DVDs or VHS tapes.

Note: The following video should be considered an alternative to the Annotated Transcript, which contains descriptions of visual references in the media. Also, the pages listed in the Resources section are primarily text-based, and will be useful to those who do not have access to the visual content.


Annotated Transcript

>> Kevin Erler: Hello and welcome back to our CaptionSync webinar series. My name is Kevin Erler, and today I’m going to be talking about how to caption physical media.

Most video in education today is electronic. Physical media, that is DVDs or VHS tapes, is all but obsolete at this point. But many folks still use physical media in their instructional materials. You may have this content from the library archives. You may have old recordings captured from television. You may have DVDs or VHS tapes that were purchased years ago. Or you may have recordings of performances or events that happened in the past. In any case, if you wish to make use of this in an educational setting, you need to make sure that it’s accessible, and that means captioned.

Before we dive into how to caption physical media, let’s look at some of the obstacles in front of us in just plain old dealing with physical media. Besides being a challenge to caption, physical media is very difficult to edit. It’s often difficult to copy. It takes physical space just to archive this stuff, and the media itself decays over time. To make matters worse, the playback devices are slowly disappearing, so eventually you’re going to have a hard time even playing back this media.

Copyright is always an issue when you’re going to caption video content or when you’re going to change the media format. You need permission from the content owner to caption video content, and you need permission to change the media format. The copyright owner for physical media can be a challenge to track down. Most schools take the position that if you try and cannot obtain permission from the copyright owner, you can proceed to caption it anyway to make it accessible. In such cases, you must document your efforts to try and get permission, and you need to retire the old copy of a media, the uncaptioned version. Of course, check with your own legal department first to find out what your school’s stance on this is.

So, if you have physical media and you decide that you need to caption it, now what? Well, if the content is a commercial product, we strongly recommend you just go out and look for a captioned copy first. If the captioned copy is commercially available, frankly, it will be cheaper and easier just to purchase a brand-new copy of the media in question. If you cannot get a captioned version, then you have two choices. You can either do it yourself and convert the physical media to an electronic format and then proceed to caption it, or you can use the CaptionSync mail-in service and let us take care of that for you. We’re going to take a closer look at both paths here.

First of all, the hard one, VHS tape. If you’re going to do it yourself with VHS tape, you’re in for a bit of a challenge. The first step in the process is to convert the physical media into an electronic format, probably an MP4. For VHS tape, this is a bit involved. It’s time consuming, and it needs some special hardware. You basically need to have a video capture card in your computer, and then you can connect the VCR to the video capture card. At that point, you just play the tape and essentially record it on the computer. At the end of it, you’ll end up with a media file that is a copy of the video on the tape. Most folks probably aren’t going to be willing to go through the extra trouble of doing this for a VHS tape, but we’ll come back to an alternative in a little bit.

Do it yourself for DVD is fortunately much, much simpler. There are many free software applications out there that are available to extract video from a DVD for you. One of my favorites is HandBrake, if you just Google HandBrake you’ll find many sources for this application. Let’s just take a quick peek at HandBrake. This is the user interface for HandBrake once you’ve installed it. It’s very simple to use. All you’re going to do is click on the source button and select your DVDs. So this is, once you have put your DVD in the drive, just select it. You have some options to choose which chapters you’re going to pull off the DVD, but it defaults to just pulling the main title. And then all you do is click start, and it will extract the DVD into an MP4 file for you. It’s really straightforward. Oh, before I move on, I should say that if you are using commercial DVDs that are copy protected, HandBrake or other packages may not be able to extract the video for you, in which case you’re going to have to take a look at the CaptionSync solution that I’ll show you in a minute.

Okay, once you have an MP4 file, what do you do with it? Well the first step is to get that MP4 captioned. Now it’s just like any other electronic media, so you can follow whatever regular process you use, which I hope is CaptionSync, to create a captioned version of that MP4. Now once you have that, you can either host the MP4 in your video platform, whatever video platform you’re using, and just discard the old physical media entirely. Or, if you wish to retain physical media, you can now go make a new DVD that’s captioned. But you have to make sure your DVD authoring package supports captioning or at least subtitles.

Our support center has a number of tutorials for common DVD authoring packages. There are so many out there it would be beyond the scope of this webinar to dive into it. But, you know, the most common ones are Apple’s Final Cut or DVD Studio Pro series applications, or on the Windows side of things, Adobe’s Premiere Encore series applications. Those are two very professional high-level applications that can author DVDs with captions or subtitles.

Okay, the alternative to the do-it-yourself approach is to just use CaptionSync’s mail-in service. CaptionSync provides a mail-in service for physical media where you can just send in your physical media. We’ll do all the extraction, get the captioning done, and if you wish, we’ll author new DVDs for you. We always return a captioned DVD. That is, even if you send in VHS tapes, you’re still going to get back a DVD, not a VHS tape in that case. The input side can be VHS, DVD. We also accept Mini-DV or Hi-8 tape. And you can also send in copy protected material. We are able to handle most copy protected material. Okay, so let’s take a peek at the CaptionSync interface to see how this is done.

First of all, once you log into your CaptionSync account, the first thing to do is to go to the settings tab and then click on the account features selection, and make sure that your account is enabled for DVD transfer. So, once it is enabled you’ll see a DVD transfer tab appear. If it’s not yet here, just select it. It does take an hour or so to get this enabled. So make sure you do it before you are ready to submit your content.

Once your account is enabled for a DVD transfer, just click on the DVD transfer tab. And making a request is as simple as filling out the form you see in front of you. You have to give it a name. That’s completely up to you. This is just for your description. Tell us how many tapes or DVDs you have to be converted. And then the next step is you need to select what you want in return. You can either get captioned MP4 files or a captioned DVD, or both. If you’re selecting DVDs being returned, you can select to receive extra copies of the DVD if you wish. By default, this interface will give you our standard two to three-day turnaround time. You can select to have it done in a rush if you want, but keep in mind that there’s an awful lot of overhead in terms of shipping involved to get the DVDs first to us and then to get through the extraction process and then to have them shipped back to you. So, for most folks, they just choose the regular service rather than trying to accelerate the transcription. If you have special notes for the transcriber about the content on the DVD, you can click here to add those notes in. Finally, make sure that your return address is correct. If it’s not, just click the edit button. But you do need to make sure that this address is updated. This is where we will send the DVDs back to. The DVDs are sent back to you by USPS priority mail, and they’re insured. The originals are insured for $100 per DVD. If that’s not going to be adequate, make sure you contact us first and tell us what level of insurance you need on that return package. We found that the USPS service is very reliable though, so we haven’t ever had any problems with them losing our return media. Once you’re all done, just click the add request button. Oops, I neglected the most important thing up here. You have to tell us that you do have permission to do this before you can send your DVDs in. So check that you have permission, and then click the add request button, and you will get an acknowledgement of your new request.

And there’s a link here where you can obtain a packing slip. We ask you to print out this packing slip and just enclose it with your DVDs when you send them in, or VHS tapes, and that lets our facility know what owner these tapes belong to. We also ask that once you ship them if you have a tracking number, go ahead and enter it in here. That way our folks will keep an eye on that tracking number and make sure that it doesn’t get lost in the process. After that, just package up your DVDs, drop them in the mail, and once we receive them you will be able to come back and see the status of your requests here on the track request link.

You can track the progress of your DVDs through the process by coming here to the track request link. You’ll see that this request we just put in is in the created state. It will change to received once our facility actually receives the discs, and then you’ll see the jobs getting uploaded and appearing in your CaptionSync account. And finally, you will see the status change to shipped once the discs are on their way back to you. In addition to receiving the MP4s or captioned DVDs that you asked for, you will also receive back any captioned files that you normally get, that your account is configured to provide, for each of the videos that get submitted through this process. You can still archive those and use those captioned files for any other purposes that you have.

A couple of important notes to make about the DVD transfer service. The first one is that if you’re requesting physical media to be returned, that is DVDs, captioned DVDs, we insist on putting a result review service, that’s the extra level of review to make sure that the captions are perfect before they go on. And this is because once they’re committed to physical media, they’re just not that easy to change. So we insist on doing the extra level of review. Also, if you’re sending in VHS tapes, please be aware that the extraction process will take all of the content on your VHS tape. It won’t take just part of the tape, so be careful if you’re sending in recordings or old tapes with multiple recordings on them because the captioning process will capture everything that’s on that tape. Other than that, this is a pretty straightforward service. Just make your request, print the packing slip, drop it in the mail, and we basically take it from there.

Okay, there are additional resources that you can turn to for help with captioning physical media. The first one is that the webpage that contains this webinar recording will also have a number of links to various supporting tutorials. There is a tutorial in our support center that covers how to use the CaptionSync DVD transfer features, and you can find the link right here. And then finally, if you have any questions, just contact our support experts by just emailing

And that’s it for captioning physical media. I hope you found this webinar useful.