Glossary of subtitling terminology

Cross-references are indicated by italics.


analogue technology   A technique for video and audio transmission and recording, where the signals can vary continuously in pitch and intensity. They need a certain bandwidth to be transmitted.

aspect ratio, film   or film format: The ratio between the height of the projected image and its width. Film for commercial use can be of different widths: 16 mm, 35 mm or 70 mm. The sprocket holes and sound track(s) are along the edges of the film. Silent movies had a picture size of 18 x 24 mm, or proportions of 3:4 or 1:1.33 (like a normal TV screen). Older 35 mm sound films have an aspect ratio of 15.25 x 21 mm or 1:1.37 (“normal” format, today mainly used for TV and video use on 16 or 35 mm film). Widescreen films are usually shot in a format of 1:1.66 on 35 mm film, but can be projected in formats like 1:1.75 or 1:2 by masking off upper and lower parts of the projection window. Panavision (Cinemascope), Techniscope and Technovision all use the 1:2.35 format on 35 mm film. 70 mm films are rare today and use an aspect ratio of 1:2.2 or 1:2.35. Other techniques like SuperScope, VistaVision, Todd-AO, AgaScope, Dyaliscope, Technirama, Super Technirama 70 and Super Panavision 70 have fallen into disuse.

aspect ratio, TV   The “normal” television image aspect ratio is approximately 4:3, depending on the masking in the television set. Widescreen ratios, 15:9 or 16:9, are now being progressively introduced. (For some obscure reason, television ratios are always given in the form width x height instead of the standard height x width!)

AV   Audiovisual

bandwidth   The frequency spectrum needed for an analogue signal to be transmitted by antenna or cable. A PAL or SECAM signal needs 7 Mhz (7 000 000 Hz), a telephone voice needs 4 Khz (4 000 Hz).

Betacam-SP   A professional system for video and audio recording, mainly used for ENG.

Betamax   A now obsolete home video system.

blanking lines   Also known as the blanking interval; lines outside the visible image on a television screen; used to transmit concealed signals such as teletext or a VITC time code.

caption   Text that has been inserted in the original picture by the maker of the film or programme (or a title that replaces it). Note that in the USA the word usually denotes subtitles for the hard of hearing.

character generator   A device that transforms digital signals into typographic characters. It can be located either in the television broadcasting system (e.g. for open subtitles) or inside a TV receiver (for closed subtitles or teletext).

Cinemascope   Trade name for a widescreen film aspect ratio, today usually called Panavision.

closed subtitle   Subtitle of the teletext type that can be viewed by means of a decoder and character generator in the television set.

coding   Converting information into digital form.

compression   A technique for reducing the number of bits in a digital signal, by reducing the quality of the record (keeping only what the eye and ear can perceive) or by reducing redundancy (keeping only what changes from one image to the next, leaving the background unchanged). One example is MPEG 2.

cueing   See: timing, spotting. The process of defining the in and out times of individual subtitles.

cut   A sudden change from one image to another. Hard cuts are sharply different scenes, e.g. day to night. Soft cuts are less startling changes of scene or colour, a fade or a pan. Cuts play an important role for subtitling.

decoder   1. An electronic apparatus that transforms digital signals into information that can be used, like letters or words. 2. An apparatus attached to a TV set that permits viewing of encoded satellite or cable programmes or closed subtitles, often called “black box”.

Digibeta   DIGItal BETAcam. A professional video recording and cassette system using digital technology.

digital technology   A technique for signal transmission and recording where, in contrast to analogue technology, each value of a video and audio signal is transformed into binary information with only two levels, 1 and 0. This permits transmission, recording, copying and storage without any loss of quality.

display   Text that is an integral part of the picture, e.g. shop or road signs.

DVB   Digital Video Broadcasting. A working group aiming to set a standard for video picture compression, based on MPEG.

DVD   Digital Versatile Disk. Somewhat like a CD-ROM disk, but with an exceedingly high storage capacity of  very many gigabytes, sufficient for several films and many sound and subtitle channels.

DTV   Enhanced Definition Television. A system that retains the present 625 (PAL/SECAM) or 525 (NTSC) lines whilst providing better image quality and widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio.

ENG   Electronic News Gathering, a generic name for all kinds of gathering, editing and transmission of news material for tele­vision.

font   A set of typographic characters that share certain design characteristics. It belongs to a typeface family: It can have different styles, italic, bold, etc.

format (film or TV)   See aspect ratio.

frame   1. In motion pictures, one of the successive pictures on the film strip. 2. A single traversal of the scanning electronic beam of all the lines in the picture, composing the image.

frames/second   The speed of a movie or video. For most  films, it is 24 frames a second; in PAL/SECAM, 625 lines in 1/25 second, in NTSC, 525 lines in 1/30 second.

HD MAC   High Definition Multiplexed Analogue Component. European standard for television HDTV, a 1250-line, 16:9 aspect ratio, 50 frames/second, analogue transmission system.

HDTV   High Definition TeleVision, a technique for improving the quality of the TV image quality and increasing its size. It usually works with 1125 or 1250 scanning lines instead of 625 or 525 and has around five times as many luminous points. The aspect ratio is usually widescreen, 15:9 or 16:9.

HF   A High Frequency modulator transforms video and audio signals to the high frequency band used for television transmission. A HF decoder (e.g. in a TV set) transforms this HF signal into the frequencies used by the screen and the audio equipment.

intertitle   Predecessor of subtitle; in the days of silent movies, explanatory text or dialogue written on paper or cardboard, photographed and inserted between takes or sequences of the film to keep audiences informed about what was said or happening.

kerning   Adjusting the horizontal spacing between letters.

laser subtitling   A method of subtitling cinema film by means of a high power, very narrow laser beam, developed in the late 1980s.

LTC   Longitudinal Time Code. A time code recorded alongside the images on a magnetic recording, often on one of the sound tracks.

master list   A script of a film or TV show containing subtitels of the actors’ lines in the original or a pivot language, to be used by subtitlers translating into other languages. The master list gives the essence of what is said as well as suggesting a proper length of the subtitle.

modem   A MOdulator/DEModulator.

modulator   A device that converts a signal from one form to another, e.g. from digital to analogue, or from low frequency, LF, to high frequency, HF.

monospaced font   “Typewriter font”: each letter occupies the same space.  

Mp3  MPEG1 audio layer 3. A technique for compressing digital sound. One of many formats for stocking sound.

MPEG1  A compression technique now mainly used for computer animations and videos on CD-ROMs. It gained its name from the Motion Picture Expert Group (within the ISO, the International Standardization Organization) which met to discuss the necessary technical specifications. 

MPEG 2   The standard system currently in use mainly in TV companies to compress video data down to a minimum of 10% of its original size. 

MPEG3  is intended for HDTV and video-on-demand, as then huge amounts of data have to be transmitted. It is today especially used for audio compression: a very high rate of compression can be reached without great loss of quality.

multilingual subtitling   Subtitling a film or TV programme in several languages to be shown on the screen or distributed simultaneously.

multiplexing   Transmitting several different signals within the same bandwidth.

MUSE   MUltiple Sub-nyquist Encoding. Japanese HDTV transmission standard, 1125 lines, 50 frames/second, 15:9 aspect ratio.

NICAM-stereo   Near-Instantaneously Companding Audio Multiplex, an improved stereo system.

NTSC   National Television System Committee, the US colour television system based on 525 scanning lines, 30 frames/second, 4:3 aspect ratio, also used in Canada, Japan and parts of South America.

open subtitle   Subtitle which is an integral part of the film or programme and cannot be removed according to the wishes of the viewer.

optical subtitling   A method of subtitling cinema film by copying photo­graphed subtitles onto the film print, in use in different forms since the 1930s.

PAL   Phase Alternation Lines. The colour television system, based on 625 scanning lines, 25 frames/second, 4:3 aspect ratio, used in many countries of the world.

Panavision   See: aspect ratio, film

Péritel connector   See: SCART/Péritel

photochemical subtitling   A method of subtitling cinema film by impres­sing the photographic type plate subtitles directly onto the film copy after chemically removing the emulsion; in use since the 1930s.

pivot language   The language used in the master list for preparation of multilingual subtitles.

pixel   PICture ELement. The smallest point of light or colour of an image.

post-production script   A copy of the text (sometimes with descriptions of the action, language notes, etc.) of a film or TV show, prepared or edited after shooting. See also pre-production script.

post-script   See post-production script.

pre-production script   The text prepared for the shooting of a film or television show, in most cases not suitable for subtitling, as dialogue as well as the order or existence of sequences may have been changed. See post-production script.

proportional spacing   The space occupied by each letter is a function of its design: a “W” takes much more space than an “i”.

repérage   See: spotting.

sans serif   Used to describe letters that have straight lines without short “adorning” strokes, serifs, at the ends. Considered more readable in subtitles.

scanner   See: telecine

scanning lines   The lines that build up the image on the TV screen, 625 lines in the PAL and SECAM systems (of which 50 are used for information outside the image), 525 in NTSC and 1250 or 1125 in HDTV.

SCART/Péritel connector   Syndicat des Constructeurs d’Appareils Radiorécepteurs et Téléviseurs/Péri-(circum-)télévision. In most European countries simply called SCART connector. A standardized multiconnector that is used to connect many kinds of audiovisual equipment.

SECAM   SÉquentiel Couleur À Mémoire. Colour television system, based on 625 scanning lines, 25 frames/second, 4:3 aspect ratio, but differing from PAL; used in France, some African countries and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

serif   The short strokes that mark the ends of the straight (and some of the curved) lines of a letter. Cf. sans serif.

simulation   After translation and spotting, the subtitler or an editor reviews the film or program in a simulation session: a screening with the subtitles on the video screen just as they will appear on the final product. Modifications of text and timing can be made during the simulation.

spotting   Synonyms: timing, cueing. Formerly, a mechanical procedure carried out indepen­dently of the content and nuances of the dialogue by technicians (repérage). Now used to describe the process of defining the in and out times of individual subtitles.

stereo   Abbreviation of stereophonic, two-channel sound equipment. In the subtitling context, one of the channels can be used for a timecode.

subtitle   Text which represents what is being said on the screen whether it is a visible, open subtitle or a closed teletext subtitle which can be added to the picture if viewers so wish, provided they have a teletext decoder in their television set.

S-VHS   Super-VHS. An improved version of VHS with consumer, not broadcast quality. It works by separating b/w and colour signals, thereby achieving a sharper image and less colour distortion

take   An uninterrupted shot taken by a movie or TV camera.

telecine   Also known as a scanner: a TV camera coupled to a film projector and used to convert film images into signals suitable for transmission on television.

teletext   A system by means of which written information is superimposed on a television signal and broadcast. The signals, concealed in the blanking lines, activate a character gene­rator in the television set, which creates the characters and mixes them into the television picture when a specified teletext page is selected.

time code   When a magnetic or digital recording is time coded, a “clock” is recorded alongside each frame in the form 10:41:32.06 , hours:minutes:seconds.frames. (Note that the last two digits do not represent 1/100s of a second! There are 24 frames/second in a normal film, 25 frames/second for PAL and SECAM video and some films, and 30 frames/second for NTSC video.) When the recording is played, the signal is read and the time code information picked up and used by e.g. the subtitling equipment. It can be displayed in or outside the image.

timing   Synonym: spotting or cueing. The process of defining the in and out times of individual subtitles.

typeface   See: font.

U-Matic   A video cassette recording system for professional use, made by Sony. There are two versions, high-band, for transmission use principally in ENG, and low-band, where the quality can be lower.

VCR   Video Cassette Recorder. (Also a brand name for a type of home video cassette, now obsolete.)

VHS   Video Home System. Video recording and cassette system, also used in professional contexts where the image and sound quality does not demand broadcast standard.

Video   ~ signal, ~ system, ~ camera, ~ disc, etc. Having to do with the transmission or recording of images and sounds and presenting them as an image on a screen.

Video-2000   (sometimes abbreviated V-2000) A now obsolete home video system.

Video cassette   See: VHS, S-VHS, Betacam-SP, Digibeta, U-Matic, VCR, Betamax and Video-2000.

videotape   is a term mostly used for open-reel magnetic tape of different widths (2", :", 1" or 2") for broadcast purposes, but is also found in video cassettes.

VITC   Vertical Interval Time Code; a time code usually found on lines 19 to 21 of the blanking lines; highly suitable for subtitle preparation on a VCR because it remains accurate with slow motion and stills.

wide-screen   See: aspect ratio, film, and aspect ratio, TV.

word wrap   A feature in word processor and subtitling programs which automatically takes a word that will not fit onto one line down to the next line.


Updated 17.12.2003               <----Home                   Top of page