Industry’s Failure to Progress

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.

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5 responses

  1. In the USA they’ve been required to build the decoder chips into the television sets for about ten years now. I’m always surprised when America is ahead of Europe on something.

    I use the captioning, too. My hearing loss isn’t as severe as yours, but I have trouble sometimes, particularly if there’s a lot of background noise.

    I haven’t had any trouble playing old videotapes on new equipment, but some of them are reaching the end of their life expectancy. After 20 years or so the tape degrades and the picture quality suffers.

  2. shussmallworld | Reply

    Ah, over here in the US, apparently the requirements for captioning isn’t regulated or standardized, and it can be maddening. Sometimes the captioning flashes on then off before you can read one word, sometimes it is so far behind what is being spoken that you get terribly out of sync with the program, TOO OFTEN whoever is captioning doesn’t seem to have a clue what so many of the words are (which leads to some pretty bizarre reading!) and you wonder if the captioner is even that familiar with the English language. All 3 in our house have become so dependent on captioning, and it drives us nuts when frequently it is poorly done. 😦

    Shu

  3. THe reason the DVD captioning can work and the VCR not, is that the DVD itself is controlling the appearance of the subtitles. So all you need is the DVD menu giving you the option to turn it on. The captioning on the videotapes is handled entirely differently and requires the decoder, etc.

  4. I’ve noticed a lot of spelling mistakes (and misunderstood words) in the captions over here too, along with the blips, but I’m not sure what causes the blips a lot of the time. Sometimes we’re supposed to get captions, but don’t… they used to put up a line saying “sorry, this programme isn’t subtitled” but now they just leave us wondering. Probably they felt it was too much of an admission on their part, and prefer us to wonder if it was a technological glitch or bad reception.

  5. Hi BEG, I expressed myself badly, but was trying to say that VCRs shouldn’t be without decoders at all these days, especially not when teamed up with DVD players. It’s going to be a 50% useful machine for anyone with even marginally poor hearing.

    We asked the local TV guy, who said he would phone around. He got back to us and said he couldn’t find a VCR with a decoder either.

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