Subtitles are one of those things that most people initially sneer at. However, once you start using them, it’s hard to stop. Nowadays, I never watch any movies or TV shows without subtitles because the experience is simply subpar without them.
Reasons to start using subtitles include:
- Translations. Obviously if you’re watching anime or a foreign language film and you don’t speak the language, you’ll need a translation. For most people, subtitles are less jarring than dubbed audio and therefore the preferred way to watch.
- Inaudible dialog. I love British dramas, but as an American it can be tough to understand characters with thick accents. Problems with audio mixing are common as well, such as when sound effects are too loud while dialog can barely be heard.
- Narrative comprehension. If you watch a lot of science fiction with made-up proper nouns or a series like Game of Thrones with hundreds of names, then subtitles can make it much easier to follow along and understand what characters are actually talking about.
Unfortunately, when you download movies and TV shows off the internet, they usually don’t come with subtitles, which means you have to add them in yourself. This is actually a lot easier than you might think so don’t worry too much. Here’s what you have to do…
Where to Download Quality Subtitles
Before you can turn on subtitles for a video, you’ll need to find and download a subtitle file that has been synced with that particular video file. This can be easy as pie if, say, you downloaded a movie off of a torrent site. However, you may not find any available subtitles if you download a YouTube clip.
When looking for subtitles, we only recommend these two sites:
- Subscene — My personal favorite. Unless the movie or TV show you’re trying to watch is underground or decades-old, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll find subtitles that work. Subtitles are categorized by title, language, and whether or not they include hearing-impaired cues.
- OpenSubtitles — This database is pretty big and the subtitles do work, and you’ll even find some that can’t be found on Subscene, but beware that this site is heavy on the ads. Grabbing subtitles here can feel like a game of elimination as you try to figure out which download links are the right ones.
Once you have the relevant subtitle file for your video, you can add them using one of two methods. I definitely recommend the easy method because it’s faster, more reliable, and involves less work, but the hard method is fine too if you prefer to complicate matters.
The Easy Way: Overlaying Subtitles During Playback
Most modern video players support file-based subtitle overlays. If yours doesn’t, then you should consider switching to ones of these Windows video players, Mac video players, or Linux video players. They’re all free and they’re all packed with nifty features, with subtitle support being the least interesting feature.
For this, we’ll demonstrate using VLC Media Player, because it’s free, open source, cross platform, and the most widely used video player as of this writing. But again, most other video players operate in the same way.
Automatic Subtitle Overlay
If you name the subtitle file exactly the same as the video file (excluding the format extension) and keep both files in the same folder, then VLC will automatically load the subtitle file as soon as the video is loaded. Or in other words, when you start playing a video file, VLC will look in the same folder for any subtitle file with the same name.
So if you have a video named:
Then the subtitle should be named, for example:
Manual Subtitle Overlay
If you want to keep the file names separate, if VLC doesn’t recognize the subtitle file you want to use, or if you have multiple subtitle files and you want to load a specific one, there are two manual methods you can use.
First, you can use the menu and select Subtitle > Add Subtitle File… to browse and select the one you want to use. Second, you can simply drag the subtitle file from File Explorer (or Finder or whatever file manager you’re using on Linux) and drop it onto VLC after the video is loaded.
The Hard Way: Burning Subtitles Into the Video File
Using Handbrake, this is relatively simple. It just isn’t as quick or easy as the overlay method above. But since Handbrake is free, open source, cross platform, and supports pretty much all modern video formats, don’t be afraid to give this method a try.
All you have to do is launch Handbrake, select the video file as the Source, switch to the Subtitles tab, click Add External SRT, and select the subtitle file.
Using this method, you have two options: “Forced Only” mode will burn the subtitles into the video data itself, whereas if you turn the “Forced Only” option off, the subtitle will be embedded as a separate track that can be toggled and selected in whatever video player is used to watch it. (With the latter option, you can embed multiple subtitle tracks into a single video.)
Why Do You Use Subtitles?
Now that you know how to add subtitles to a TV show or movie, hopefully you’ll never have to watch anything without subtitles to guide your viewing experience. That being said, I’m curious: for what reasons do you personally use subtitles? Are they reserved only for foreign translations? Or do you use them 24/7 because they aid in narrative comprehension?
Please let us know in the comments below! And if you know of any other websites for downloading subtitles or methods for adding subtitles to videos, feel free to share those too!
Image Credit: Sergey Shubin via Shutterstock.com
Originally written by Simon Slangen on February 4, 2009