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How to Use a Slew of New Closed Caption Tools

You don't need to be deaf or have hearing loss to benefit from live subtitles as you watch videos

spinner image Woman choosing a netflix movie on tablet
rfranca / Alamy Stock Photo

Perhaps it's late at night; you're watching a video online or listening to a podcast and need to have the sound on your computer low so you won't disturb the person in another room trying to sleep.

Did you know that you now can turn on “live captions” to read what's on the screen for any audio that you can play through your Chrome browser? That's true for Facebook, Netflix, YouTube — even podcasts or a homemade video.

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Google started offering the new Live Caption feature for users of its Chrome browser in March after debuting it for its 2017 Pixel cellphones and expanding the service in 2019 to the Google Meet videoconferencing and Google Slides online presentation apps. Chrome is the most used tool for reading and accessing web pages worldwide, and nearly half the computer, phone and tablet users in the United States rely on it, according to StatCounter.

To turn on Live Caption, go to Settings in your browser, click on Advanced | Accessibility and turn on Live Caption. For the moment, Live Caption on Chrome is available only in English, though Google added French, German, Portuguese and Spanish to Live Caption in Meet late last year.

Verizon, social media sites show their subtitles

The idea of making it easier to enjoy online video by reading along is catching on. Reading English in addition to hearing it can help people learning English as a second language, and at least one study has shown that it can help some people listen better and concentrate more.

Verizon, the wireless carrier with the most customers in the U.S. and owner of websites Yahoo and AOL, has added captions to all video on its sites. Unlike with Google, you don't have to go to settings to make them play. They are standard on all videos. Verizon has announced plans to sell its media companies, but no changes are expected in the short term.

Instagram, the third most popular social media app behind YouTube and Facebook, introduced captions stickers for its stories this month that automatically transcribe speech in videos. Users add the captions sticker to a video they create and can change the caption's color, font, position and size as well as edit the subtitle text. The stickers soon will be available for its Reels videos, too.

Even TikTok, the smartphone app that appeals mostly to teens and young adults, has added captions, a move the company said it was doing to make “TikTok more accessible to everyone.”

"We're currently undertaking an accessibility assessment to identify additional areas for improvement. And we're increasing our outreach to organizations and communities with disabilities on TikTok to uplift their voices and make changes that better serve us all,” the company says.

Turn it on for YouTube, streaming

Live captions are just one of the many accessibility features that recently have been released or are coming soon. Most captioning, like Google's Live Caption, are hidden in settings that need to be changed to work, but many are very useful and worth nothing.

Rival internet browsers Firefox and Safari don't offer live captions for video and audio, but if you stick with the top video players, you can easily see them.

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• YouTube. Transcripts for most YouTube videos are available once you click to open them. On YouTube, directly under the video player, on the right side of the screen, directly next to Share and Save are three dots. Click the dots, and the menu choices are to either report an issue or access the transcript. Once you click for the captions, they will play in real time with the video. You'll also notice that many YouTube videos have a CC on the lower right corner of the video screen. Clicking that on — a red bar will appear underneath — will present you with closed captions.

• Netflix. Viewers of the most popular subscription streaming service need to press up or down on the remote once a movie or TV show starts playing on a TV to see the menu offering captions. From there you'll be able to select captions.

• Amazon Prime Video. Once your selection has started playing, tap Menu | Subtitles | On. Now you'll be able to read along with the actors.

Caption your Zoom meetings, too

What about live subtitles for your Zoom meetings?

Google's new captions feature doesn't work with the most popular video meeting service, Zoom. And Zoom itself doesn't offer live captions to everyone, yet. The company says it will start offering live captions in the fall. However, it's making the service available now “upon request,” to people who fill out this form.

Third-party services like Otter can be added to your Zoom to provide live transcripts on calls. Many people will be fine with the free account that offers transcripts for 600 minutes a month of Zoom meetings, but you won't get transcriptions beyond the 40-minute mark of each meeting for free. To get free live captions, open Otter in a web browser and don't wear headphones. Otter needs to hear the audio from Zoom to begin generating the live transcriptions.

How to hear web pages

Also useful is a feature that reads web pages and news articles to you. Perhaps you have some vision loss, may be taking a walk or are driving and are unable to look at a story. Having a computerized voice read to you could come in handy.

On Android mobile devices such as the Samsung Galaxy, use your voice to kick in the feature by saying, “Hey, Google, read this article.” It's part of Google Assistant on every Android phone.

On iPhones, download the free Google app, search for what you want to read and tap the search result you want. Then next to the URL at the top right of the page, tap the read aloud icon, which looks like a person with curved sound lines near the head. You can choose to Listen now or Add to queue in your media player that's part of the app. The feature doesn't work with the Google Chrome browser app or other mobile browsers like Apple's Safari or Firefox.

On Macintosh computers, Apple's VoiceOver is a built-in screen reader that speaks text aloud from what's on your screen.

On Windows computers, the feature is called Narrator, and Microsoft notes that with Narrator, you can use your PC without a display.

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