Universal Subtitles Video Editing Workflow: Working With the Subtitle Track

Posted on February 14, 2012 by Martin Tzanev

Universal Subtitles is an online subtitling/captioning tool for web videos. My colleague Bryan Nunez commented on the potential uses of the service in this post. You can use Universal Subtitles to translate videos that already exist online, e.g, on YouTube or Blip.tv, regardless whether they are in your account or someone else’s account. You can watch a step-by-step video tutorial here that demonstrates how to use the subtitling interface.

Once the translation is finished, you can (1) share the video with the subtitles by embedding it in a web site, blog post, or a social networking site. Alternatively, (2) you can download the subtitle track to use locally on your computer. The subtitle track is available to download in several formats: SRT, SSA, SBV, DFXP, etc.

In this post, I will go over the second of the above two options – the various ways you can make use of the downloaded subtitle track.

I. We most recently used Universal Subtitles to create Arabic subtitles for a training video. I will add a link to it here once the video gets published. Once the subtitles were done by a remote volunteer translator, I downloaded an SRT file from Universal Subtitles and uploaded it to the YouTube account where the video lives (learn how). This way, the translation lives together with the original video and it is available to access directly on YouTube via the CC button, or it can be embedded in a web site. The advantage of embedding via YouTube is that, unlike Universal Subtitles, YouTube does not use Javascript to generate the embed code – Javascript is viewed as a security risk by some platforms.

II. Alternatively, you can use the SRT file with VLC player to play the video with the subtitles locally on your computer.

Both YouTube and VLC automatically format the subtitles – font, font size, line breaks, etc. Notice how different the same subtitle looks in the two screenshots.

Automatic formatting works pretty well in most cases. However, translating specialized human rights language usually results in more text than the original English. So, it’s a good idea to format the translated text for an optimal viewing experience.

However, when I tried to open the SRT file for editing on my computer the Arabic script did not show correctly. To fix this problem, I used a tool called TextWrangler to change the font encoding to Unicode (UTF-16).

III. Now, with the Arabic script showing correctly, I was able to import it in a tool such as Submerge to create a version of the video with the subtitles burned in the image. However, Submerge has limited text formatting options.

IV. The best way to format the text is to bring it into FinalCut, Premiere, or some specialized subtitling software. However, bringing subtitles into FinalCut Pro is not as straightforward as importing an SRT file to Submerge. To import the subtitle track in FinalCut, you need a specific type of XML file called XML Interchange Format.

I used a tool called Title Exchange to convert the SRT file (the file I saved with Unicode (UTF-16) font encoding) to XML for FCP. (Remember, I only had to change the font encoding because my subtitles were in Arabic – Latin and Cyrillic scripts should work straight forward). Read instructions on how to create XML for FCP with Title Exchange.

Then, I imported the XML into FinalCut Pro to edit and format the subtitles for optimal viewing. 

From FinalCut, you can either export a QuickTime with the subtitles burned into the video image or export the subtitle track as an XML file, then use Title Exchange to convert it to STL, a format that is not currently offered by Universal Subtitles, and import it into DVDStudio Pro for DVD authoring. Watch this video tutorial.

V. Alternatively, you can import the XML file in Adobe Premiere. Also, you can use Title Exchange to convert the XML file to Adobe Encore text file for DVD/Blu-ray authoring.

Universal Subtitles is a very useful tool for crowd-sourcing translation and subtitling of online videos and we would love to see some additional features that would simplify the above described process – options for text formatting in the subtitling interface – line breaks, font, font size, etc., also, some additional subtitle formats: STL, XML for FCP/Premiere, and Encore text file.

Have you used Universal Subtitles or another subtitling/captioning tool?

Please share your experiences in the comments section.

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