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Confused about Closed Captioning and HDTV ...

by Bill Osler / March 17, 2009 8:22 PM PDT

I am completely new to HDTV, but decided to make plunge recently. I bought a Samsung LCD TV and an Onkyo receiver. My cable company uses Scientific Atlanta cable boxes. I also bought a Samsung Blu-Ray player but I have not yet unpacked it.

My wife has poor hearing, so we frequently use Closed Captioning when watching TV or DVDs. The closed captioning came across OK with our old TV (using a regular RF coax input from the cable box to the TV).

I tried hooking up the new equipment with HDMI cables direct from the cable box to the TV and also tried connecting cable box to receiver to TV so I could use the upscaling capabilities of the receiver, trying to see what gave me the best picture with non-HD input. The cable company has not yet turned on the HD channels so I cannot test them. I was stunned to discover that I cannot get closed captioning so far.

The Samsung owner's manual says that the closed captioning has to be turned on at the cable box (?) but essentially all of the controls for the cable box are password protected so I don't know yet if that is an option.

I started searching for information on this and found all kinds of conflicting reports, but it looks like a LOT of people are having problems with Closed Captioning and HDTV. There were claims made in various places that Scientific Atlanta, Onkyo and Samsung won't support Closed Captioning except in non-HD analog mode (like the RF signal) but the information was all very confusing and it was not always clear whether the problem was in specific equipment or whether the digital stuff just was not engineered with closed captioning in mind.

I have to make a decision rapidly about whether to put all of this stuff back in the box and return it. Any suggestions? Is there any clear information about Closed Captioning and HDTV? I simply cannot afford to spend a bunch of money on HDTV and then run it in analog mode. The old system worked well enough except for the analog picture quality.

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The FCC is clear about it.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / March 17, 2009 11:10 PM PDT
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It sounds to me like . . .
by Coryphaeus / March 18, 2009 12:14 AM PDT

a glitch in the cable box regardless of SD or HD content. Have you contacted your provider? This would have been my first choice since CC is provided by the cable company.

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CC with cable box and DVD
by Dan Filice / March 18, 2009 3:21 AM PDT

I also use the Scientific Atlantic HD cable box, and I need to go into the Menu options and choose Closed Caption for the cable box. If the cable box isn't pushing through the CC from the source, then your TV won't display it. Once you tell the cable box to use CC, you don't need to worry about it in your TV menu. Your TV CC option is for when you have it hooked up to rabbit ears or directly to a coax without a cable box.

To see CC when watching BR DVDs, you need to choose CC inside the Menu Options for each disc. This tells the disc to show CC.

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Thanks everbody ...
by Bill Osler / March 18, 2009 11:19 AM PDT

When we first contacted the Telco about Closed Captioning the immediate response was something along the line of "Closed what?" but they eventually gave us the password for the set top box so we could change the settings.

I'm annoyed by the fact that this has to be done in the set top box, which is a pain, instead of being able to easily turn it on and off on the TV as I can for traditional TV. Still, if that is how they did it then I can live with it.

Is there some reason HDMI cannot handle Closed Captioning the same way it is done in regular analog signals so the CC is decoded in the TV instead of the set top box?

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by Pepe7 / March 19, 2009 1:17 AM PDT
In reply to: Thanks everbody ...

That sounds correct AFAIK, unless things have changed recently. I'm not certain if there is a standard yet for sending along the CC info via HDMI or DVI. I believe it used to be sent over line 21 of the analog NTSC standard, so it should work via analog connections. My very vague understanding is that the CC info needs to be added (as an overlay) to the MPG stream provided by the decoding device, namely, the set top box in your case. It's still all a bit greek to me ;). Just be glad they at least were willing to provide you w/ a code to use(!)


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Set Top Box and Password
by Dan Filice / March 19, 2009 4:02 AM PDT
In reply to: Thanks everbody ...

I'm confused why you would need a password to change the settings for the set top box. On the remote for my Scientific Atlantic box, there is a "Menu" button, and when I press it once, I get some basic choices to change the box settings (one of which is the choice to choose CC only when Mute is chosen and one to choose CC all the time), and when I press it a second time, I get into a deeper menu where I can choose settings for Audio, Aspect Ratio, etc. Why do you need a password to change basic settings on your box? Something's not right. Choosing CC for your cable box isn't a mystery than needs passwords.

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All the boxes/firmware aren't configured the same
by Pepe7 / March 19, 2009 4:32 AM PDT

I agree with you in spirit, but FWIW, some cable companies boxes are actually more 'locked down' than others, although this is certainly not the norm with Comcast (for example). The Comcast firmware/online programming guide may be not so good but at least they don't lock down their Moto boxes.


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I agree it should not be a mystery ...
by Bill Osler / March 19, 2009 4:39 AM PDT

We didn't get any instructions with our Scientific Atlanta cable box so I'm groping around in the dark here. Last night I did download a copy of an instruction book that I think is for the correct unit but I don't have it handy right now. Up until then we were relying on limited information from a fairly lame support system at the Telco.
When I hit 'Menu' one of the options is 'setup'. That's where they told us to go to change captioning ... and that option is password protected. I have no idea WHY. It is possible that hitting 'Menu' a second time would bring up a different route to captioning - I'll have to check that out later.
To change captioning we have to choose Menu | Setup, then scroll down to some other option, then scroll down to the captioning option and change it, then 'submit' once or twice. When I do this there is no picture/sound from the program, and after I change captioning the picture/sound do not resume for about 30+ seconds while the box reconfigures itself.
The whole process is needlessly complex and inconvenient, and the disruption in viewing will mean that nobody wants to change options during a show.
It seems to me that the designers of the cable box interface should be embarrassed at their lack of skill.

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by Dan Filice / March 19, 2009 8:59 AM PDT

First, Pedro, I didn't think of that, and that is an important factor I didn't account for.

Bill, I am very interested to know if the issue you encounter when selecting CC is a function of the actual cable box or if it's a function of Telco and how they send their signal to the cable box. I have a feeling that it's the cable box. On mine (I think it's the Scientific Atlantic 8300HD box), I can select CC and it will show up after a few seconds, but there is no interruption in the actual program or it's audio before CC is enabled. Very weird.

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sounds like crappy firmware/non-robust hardware
by Pepe7 / March 19, 2009 10:22 AM PDT
In reply to: Interesting...

That doesn't sound unusual if it has to overlay the CC info on top of the MPEG stream on a lower-end cable box. I guess it really would be helpful to learn from the OP which telco/hardware box specifically he's working with(?) Even Comcast has had their share of firmware issues with some of the older Moto boxes. 'Glitchy' doesn't do it justice sometimes ;).


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The details ...
by Bill Osler / March 19, 2009 10:42 AM PDT

Telco: Yadkin Valley Telephone is Telco/cable provider
The box: Scientific Atlanta, HDN330HD is the model I think.
The box may change if/when I subscribe to DVR services. That's an option I have not yet chosen and I think it requires an upgraded box.
The box does describe CC as an 'overlay' option.

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by Dan Filice / March 20, 2009 3:09 AM PDT
In reply to: The details ...

I looked this up on the Scientific Atlantic website and I see that it's their box that does phone as well as TV signals. Ouch! Looks like a "do-all" kind of product that doesn't do anything well. I've only used their HD cable boxes strictly designed for TV signals. Maybe you can separate your phone service and use one of their TV-only cable boxes.

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That's curious ...
by Bill Osler / March 21, 2009 8:45 PM PDT
In reply to: HDN330HD

I could not find much information about it on the Cisco/Scientific Atlanta web site, but I'm puzzled by something in your post. The web site says this box will do telephone stuff? It doesn't have a standard RJ11 type telephone jack. There is an ethernet jack (8P8C?) and a USB port but the manual I have gives no explanation for either of these.
My phone service comes in on the same fiber cable but the cable, phone and Internet are separated outside the house by a different box:

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IPN330HD- IPTV solution
by Pepe7 / March 23, 2009 3:54 AM PDT
In reply to: That's curious ...
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It looks similar ...
by Bill Osler / March 23, 2009 12:16 PM PDT

The connections on the back side on mine are arranged differently but it looks like a similar box.

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by Pepe7 / March 23, 2009 3:58 AM PDT
In reply to: HDN330HD

Hi Dan,

Depending upon the provider and hardware, these little boxes actually might not perform all that poorly. Perhaps the ATT U-Verse equipment isn't the best example, but in other places/w/ other providers, it may just serve someone's needs well. Granted, you can quickly see why having a separate HSI (cable) and/or VoIP modem could be beneficial. At least I can still work from home/VPN to the office with my trusty Motorola SB5100 if my other two Comcast issued devices crap out suddenly (grrrrrr).


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hdmi and closed caption
by jscott76633 / April 10, 2009 12:01 PM PDT

same thing with me...i lost all my hearing in vietnam and absolutely have to have cc....bought a samsung lnt5271 that cost a lot of money at least to me it was a lot of money...could not get closed captions to work..after reading the samsung manual for this tv i found out that you cannot get cc with the HDMI cables, but can get it with the component cables...this defeated HDTV and of coure this upset me...called best buy and they sent a tech out and he could not fix it he called samsung and they said no not with the HDMI buy sent two more techs out later after i raised cain and after about a month of them working with me one of the techs from best buy figured out a way to get cc with man i suppose??? now i get cc with HDMI cables but i cannot tell you how he fixed it BUY HE DID!!! and now i am haappy again..crazy things happen with these new HD tvs...perhaps you can call best buy and they can fix it for you also...i will try to help you fix it if you want...perhaps i can look at how these cables are hooked up and we can get your tv working with the HDMI cables so you can get does work with the HDMI cables regardles of what their manual says...

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You might ask how he did that magic ...
by Bill Osler / April 10, 2009 1:13 PM PDT

My understanding is that the HDMI protocol does not include any provision for CC so the only way to get it on a signal over HDMI is to insert CC as part of the digitalization process. In my case I can get CC from my cable box (once my Telco finally broke down and told us how to do it) and that works with HDMI but it is hard to turn on/off, or I can use the standard definition video output from the cable box since it DOES include the regular CC information. Neither solution works well.

Unfortunately I'm still limited in accessing CC from my Blu-Ray player because there is not much point to Blu-Ray unless you use the HD capabilities. I hope that most of the Blu-Ray content will have adequate subtitles ... but I don't know yet.

Anyway, if you can find out how the guy got the CC working that would be great.

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HDMI and Closed Captions (revision)
by jscott76633 / April 11, 2009 3:18 AM PDT

in my message i am not talking about a dvd disc with the blu ray player which i do have..... I am referring to regular HD TV channels on the TV not the blu ray comes thru perfectly when i use the blu ray player, No problem withe the dvd player and cc as the cc is on the disk itself....until a tech came out from best buy and several weeks of trying to get cc to play on the tv channels I was not able to get cc with HDMI cables in HD...the samsung manual on my lnt5271 TV says that it is not possible to get cc with the HDMI cables...HOWever, a tech from best buy somehow worked around it and i now get cc with the HDMI cables and it is defineitely in High Definiton...the tech is not working for best buy anymore and i cannot reach him to find out how he did it BUT he did it! and it is not with another component it is only hooked up with the HDMI cables thru the HDMI connection...

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That sounds like a cable box setting ...
by Bill Osler / April 11, 2009 6:03 AM PDT

Are you on cable? If so then I'd guess that the tech changed the setting in your cable box. That is the usual way of doing it.

The situation with over-the-air (broadcast) HDTV is a bit different, and if you bought your TV in the US then it is required to include the ability to decode captions. On my TV the instructions for setting up CC for broadcast HD channels look simple enough, but I can't test them. I haven't even tried to get broadcast HDTV. Our analog broadcast reception is pretty bad because we live far from the transmitters and my impression is that the effective range for HD broadcasts is less than it is for analog.

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Blu-ray subtitles
by Slackenerny / April 10, 2009 6:36 PM PDT

Hi Bill,

I live in New Zealand so can't help you out much with your cable gripe. I'm quite surprised to hear though that you're having soooo much trouble just to getting CC on your HDMI, since I would have thought it'd be much easier (at least technically) to have CC on a digital transmission than on an analog one. If you're saying it needs to wait for like a minute for the CC to come up then the box must be booting every time you attempt to enable CC. Strange. May well be then that this is a problem specific to your cable-box model. Sad

However regarding Blu-ray subtitles I really don't think you'd run into the same problem as with your cable. Switching on subtitles on Blu-ray should just be a click of a button on the remote, very much like in the case for DVD. And you can always set your subtitle option when you view a particular Blu-ray disc in the menu option of the disc (i.e. the menu title of the BD disc, not the BD machine). Just want to post to reassure you that there should be no worries for viewing subtitles on BD (as long as the BD disc in question has subtitles). Wink

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Thanks ...
by Bill Osler / April 10, 2009 9:23 PM PDT
In reply to: Blu-ray subtitles

One of these days I'll actually have some HD content to test out but I have been trying to make sure everything else works right before spending the money on the BluRay discs or HD cable upgrade. For a while there I was not at all sure I would keep the new equipment.

When I toggle back and forth between closed captioning and non-captioning, the cable box does not have to go through a 5-10 minute full boot process like it does after a power loss but it does appear to do a partial reset. I don't pretend to understand the technical details. I have no idea why the process should be so difficult. Actually, though, my box is not as inconvenient as some. Motorola makes some cable boxes that have the following process for controlling the captioning:
Turn your TV ON, then turn your cable box OFF. Press the Menu button on the front of your cable box. A system menu will pop up and you should be able to find an option to turn CC off/on ...
It is OBVIOUS that the people who did the design work related to this don't much care about the concerns of the hearing impaired when they make things this complicated. It should be fairly obvious that people will want to turn the captioning on/off as needed so it should be easy and convenient, just as it usually was with analog TV. Oh well.

I suspect you are correct about the BD subtitles. I HOPE that all BD providers will include subtitles. Some of my DVDs have captioning but NOT subtitles and getting everything set up so I can watch them has proved challenging. I will probably end up having both my old DVD and my new BD player connected so I can use an analog connection with the DVD and a high quality video connection with the BD player.

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CC on Blu-Ray
by Dan Filice / April 11, 2009 12:46 AM PDT
In reply to: Thanks ...

I have 2 Blu-Ray players (PS3 and Panny BD35) and one OPPO upconverting player, and all 3 are connected via HDMI and all 3 easily send CC titling. My PS3 seems to do it most easily as I simply press the CC button on the remote and the CC titles show up. No need to go into the menu to choose CC.

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CC on the remote for a BluRay player?
by Bill Osler / April 11, 2009 2:01 AM PDT
In reply to: CC on Blu-Ray

Your BluRay remotes include an option for CC, not just for subtitles?

That's interesting. My Samsung BluRay player's manual does not even MENTION captioning. I think that Samsung's assumption is that BluRay will use subtitles instead of captioning. They are similar but not interchangeable because good closed captioning includes mentions of important background noise and such that subtitles don't generally mention. I know that some BD content providers are including regular subtitles as well as subtitles for the hearing impaired (which would be more-or-less like CC) but I don't know how widespread that is.

Since I do not yet own a BluRay disc I haven't checked for captioning availability ... yet.

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It depends on the disc itself
by Slackenerny / April 11, 2009 2:34 AM PDT

Most movies have subtitles (there're a few which don't, but they would be a rarity). I think a lot of the newly released titles have the additional one for the hearing impaired (so one subtitle track with just the dialogues, and another one with the dialogues plus the descriptions), but sadly that's not guaranteed. Maybe you can try out by renting one.

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Bill, I could be wrong about CC vs. subtitles
by Dan Filice / April 11, 2009 5:14 AM PDT

Sorry, I could be wrong about the Blu-Ray subtitles vs. CC. You bring up a good point that I need to check. The button on the PS3 remote is called "CC", but I'll need to look at some discs to determine if they are simple subtitles or descriptive subtitles.

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I'll bet they are subtitles ...
by Bill Osler / April 11, 2009 5:52 AM PDT

I have seen conflicting information about the availability of closed captioning on Blu Ray but my impression is that when Blu Ray is viewed via digital connections there is no option for closed captioning. It's all subtitles in that case. Some manufacturers do not distinguish between captions and subtitles so things can get confusing.
I'm told that some BD content has separate files for SD analog display and that these files sometimes include closed captions but my impression is that this information is not usually accessible via HDMI connections.
I have seen reports that some component video connections (specifically 480i) can carry captions but not all TV manufacturers support this, and I really don't know how many DVD/BluRay players support it.
I hope that in the end most/all manufacturers will support subtitles for the hearing impaired since that would be the most straightforward solution at this point.

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I checked, it's CC
by Slackenerny / April 11, 2009 5:54 PM PDT

I just checked with my The Dark Knight BD on PS3 connected to my HDTV via HDMI. It has descriptions ([SHOTGUN BLAST], [PEOPLE SCREAMING], [ELECTRICITY CRACKLES], [SILENCED GUNSHOT]). Actually, there is no "dialogues only subtitle" for English on The Dark Knight. Basically to the BD disc manufacturers it works like this: there are built-in bandwidth for "subtitle tracks" on the BD, and they would decide how many tracks they would put on there. In the age of DVD, there will usually be like 5 max. subtitle tracks available (perhaps due to smaller storage), and these would consist of maybe "English", "English for the hearing impaired", "Finnish", "Turkish", "Chinese", "Malay"..... five of those would be included in any one DVD disc, so obviously which five that would make the cut is a choice for the movie studios. Usually this decision is influenced by the market zones that the DVD's are intended for. It's the same with BD, except that because you now have like 50GB studios don't usually need to make the decision anymore and they would throw all the available subtitle tracks in their repertoire on the single disc (for The Dark Knight BD mine has like 20 different subtitle tracks).

So you see, it wouldn't make a difference whether the machine is connected to the HDTV via HDMI. The "English subtitles" and "English CC" tracks are two independent standalone tracks. To the disc an English CC track is no different from a Chinese subtitle track. The availability comes down to the disc itself. Movies are better because usually the studios would make available the subtitle tracks. If they happen to have the one with the descriptions available the chances are they would throw it in the BD as well, but sadly sometimes they don't have that. The real problems are titles like documentaries or TV series. Some of the older (or "nostalgic") ones of these may not even have any subtile with them at all, because probably "closed captioning" wasn't the norm in the days when the studios made the shows and they don't want to throw in that extra efforts to make the CCs just to have them available in the discs (the earlier you can get the discs to sell, the earlier the revenues go to your books, right?).

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Excellent. Thanks.
by Bill Osler / April 11, 2009 9:31 PM PDT
In reply to: I checked, it's CC

So what they have done is put good quality captioning as one alternate for the subtitles. As long as they take that approach there should not be any barriers to easy access for viewers.

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by TheSprklnEmerald / December 23, 2009 12:51 PM PST
In reply to: Thanks ...

Thank you so much for your specific instructions about the cable box and turning the captioning on/off. Your answer was perfect, and I now have the CC working on my LG HDTV. Cheers!

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