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Subtitling videos with an SRT file: how does it work?

Jun 27, 2022

An increasing number of videos are viewed on the internet every day and very often, they are watched… without sound! So, to remain relevant and attract your target audience, consider subtitling your videos. Does this seem complicated to you? Don’t panic, SRT subtitling files are easy to use – albeit time consuming – and can be automatically embedded in different languages. Let us explain.

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What is an SRT file?

An SRT file (for Secure Reliable Transport) or SubRip is used to subtitle videos. But you could ask yourself whether subtitles are really useful when watching a film in a language that you fully understand. The answer is yes!

Why subtitle a video?

Originally, videos were mainly subtitled for two reasons:

  • to understand a foreign language or to improve one’s English using translated subtitles;
  • to make them more accessible for deaf and hearing impaired people. In this case, there are often extra indications, such as significant noises or sound effects in addition to the dialogue.

More recently, a third reason has emerged, particularly with the increasingly widespread use of smartphones and social networks: the possibility of playing the video with the sound off. On public transport, during a coffee break, in between lessons… Flitting around on your phone to scroll through social networks or YouTube is tempting! But going from photos and text – which are silent – to a video clip at full volume can be quite embarrassing. These days, on social networks, videos are automatically muted. It’s up to the user to turn up the volume… or simply to read the subtitles, without disturbing those around them.

Two ways to subtitle a video

Depending on its intended use, the time available and the choice of visual, two types of captions and subtitles are available:

1.“Burn-in” subtitles:  you want to add permanent subtitles to your video? You can choose to include them directly in the film. These are also known as hard-coded or burned subtitles.

2.Coded subtitles: more lightweight, subtitles in SRT format (or SBV, TXT, SSA…although these are less frequently used formats) can be added to or removed from any video with a simple click.

Why use a SubRip file?

The ‘coded subtitles’ method is becoming more popular and now offers greater choice than ‘burn-in’ subtitles, particularly on social networks.

The advantages of a coded file

  • Easily adaptable to any kind of video footage
  • Easy to create, even without dedicated software
  • Makes it possible to provide different languages, according to user preferences, thus offering opportunities to reach wider target audiences
  • In the event of an error, changes can be made without reloading the entire video (which means there is no need to miss out on the number of views for example)
  • Can be added later on if necessary, more flexible
  • Lightweight, does not add to video file-size
  • Can be read by most multimedia players (VLC media player, Microsoft Windows media player, GOM, Mplayer, etc.)

The downside of coded subtitle formats

  • Little or no choice in colour, typeface or visual differentiation, as opposed to burn-in, which have more varied options
  • Requires some configuration by the user on social networks to set up automatic subtitling when the sound is off. This is not always easy for audiences that are less comfortable with technology.

The SRT file: how does it work?

How do you create an SRT file?

There are several ways to create a subtitle file: using dedicated software, via YouTube or simply with a text file (.txt).

  • Using dedicated software (video editing or specialised application): by filling in the necessary zones to indicate the beginning and end times of the extract and completing the text in the area provided.
  • Via YouTube: transcribe the text in full from oral to written word. Import the subtitle text then click on “set the timing” so that the text can be automatically distributed. Then simply download the file in SRT format to generate a SubRip to be used where you want.
  • Using a text ‘.txt’ file: here too, the written transcription of the text is required. It is also necessary to add the subtitle number and time code to each extract to indicate exactly where in the footage it starts and stops. This is standard format and easy to follow.

Did you know?
By using machine learning and its voice recognition technology, YouTube is capable of providing a translation and automatic subtitling. If the latter are available, they are included in the video. Couldn’t be easier, could it?

The SRT file format

In order to be readable simultaneously with the video, the SubRip is always presented in the same way, in a minimum of 4 lines: the subtitle number; the time code, which indicates when the text to be displayed begins and ends; the text itself (on one or two lines) and a blank line to indicate that the paragraph is ended.

So, these files contain the following lines:

  1. Subtitle number
  2. Time code
  3. Subtitle text (one or two lines)
  4. Blank line

The file name

So they can be read at the same time, the file and the video clip it’s related to must have the same name (with the exception of the file extension). For example, if you have called your video “example_of_a_title.mov”, then your file must be named “example_of_a_title.srt” (or “example_of_a_title_fr.srt” to specify that it contains French subtitles). With the same name, it should be automatically picked up by most players.

The length of the extracts

Make sure that the length of the written sentences is consistent with those spoken. Not only does the text need to coincide with the spoken words, but also remain on display long enough to be read. Furthermore, it should never exceed two lines of text per extract, at the risk of hiding too much of the screen.

Another thing to bear in mind, is that your video can be watched on a smartphone as much as on a television screen. The lines of subtitles must not, therefore, be too wide, in order to be readable in portrait format too

Help with subtitles – of course!

Have you spent a lot of time creating a qualitative video? Great! In order to share it over social networks or broadcast it to your teams worldwide, all you need now are the subtitles. Do you need multilingual subtitles? No Problemo! Your time is precious, don’t waste it on such time consuming tasks. Did you know that you can call on a specialist translation agency to produce high quality subtitles, in the right format with a turnkey service? Transcription, translation and embedding!

Do you have interesting videos to share on social networks such as Facebook, Instagram or YouTube? Remember to subtitle them so they can be watched, even with the sound off! And why not seek assistance from a specialist translation agency and offer subtitles in different languages.