It used to be possible to obtain commercial videos (such as Jurassic Park or You’ve Got Mail) which included closed captioning. A couple of times when looking at old videos on eBay, I wasn’t sure whether or not they were captioned, and wrote to the sellers to ask if they were. They were confused – they had no idea that any of their videotapes had this ability.
To start with there was a little box thingy (a decoder) which cost £100 (around the time I discovered it) and could be run with an ordinary VCR to decode the closed captioning on Jurassic Park, You’ve Got Mail and others of that ilk. Eventually they stopped making and supporting the little decoder (that’s what I was told when mine broke down). By this time it was possible to obtain VCRs with the decoders built in. Not all VCRs; just some. You had to be careful which you bought.
The Panasonic VCR I have here in this room can read closed captioning. My sister took my old (very expensive) Grundig VCR along with the little decoding box (which appears to work for her).
My mother’s ancient VCR could never read closed captioning as it was too old, so she threw it out about a year ago and bought a DVD/VCR combi. We can watch subtitled DVDs on this, of course, but for some reason (we’re normally so careful when choosing new technology!) it came as a shock when I tried to watch a captioned video on it, and discovered it couldn’t decode the captions. In other words, it’s a normal bog-standard VCR.
I couldn’t understand this… one half of the machine is a DVD player with the capability of reading captions, and the other half of the machine is a VCR without. That makes it 100% useful for the hearing, and only 50% useful for the deaf. If you’re not going to build a decoder into the VCR, what’s the point of having any part of this machine decoding subtitles? That facility is probably only used by a small percentage of the hearing. You might say it’s too clever for some and not clever enough for others.
I said to Mum maybe we should get rid of that one and look for a combi I would find 100% useful… so tonight I looked in the Argos catalogue, and on Amazon, and on other sites. I drew a complete blank. It might just be that they fail to mention it in the marketing information, but as far as I can make out, none of the new VCRs (in the UK) have decoders.
I’ve seen hints that old videos don’t play well on new VCRs anyway… I saw a complaint by an Amazon customer who said old videos played badly on his new machine but beautifully on his old machine. The manufacturers told him he had no business playing old videotapes on their shiny new VCRs anyway.
We are all expected to change eventually… videos are out on their ear. But it incenses me that though hearing people still have the option of purchasing new machines to play their old videos (even if rather badly, it seems), the deaf no longer have that option at all.