I hate Netflix's subtitles

Usually subtitles kinda just hang out towards the bottom of the screen and, if you’re a fast reader, they sort of disappear into whatever you’re watching.

But Netflix subtitles dance around the screen, bottom, top, all around, what the heck. Why? WHY???

The only time I’ve noticed Netflix subtitles moving from bottom to the top of the screen is when there is other writing, like credits, at the bottom.

It doesn’t always move the subtitles for me even then. When I’m watching The West Wing the subtitles are written directly over the credits.

No proof of this but I suspect the subtitle placement my have more to do with the specific playback hardware and decoder than it does with Netflix’s feed. It’s pure WAG but I’d bet money on it.

I have seen it a couple of times, mostly they don’t. I like the fact that you can make them tiny and unobtrusive because I generally leave them on all the time.

Some types of subs try to match the position of the speakers–instead of always having the text
centered on the screen
the text will be
on the left side for the speaker on the left of the screen
[RIGHT]on the right side for the speaker on the right of the screen.

While on the subject of subtitles …

Last night on a show someone used the word “preternatural”.*

The subtitle for it was “pretty unnatural”. Not just wrong, but “unnatural”???

Subtitles aren’t usually done by the best people. They’re an afterthought. Little time or expense goes into them. This explains a lot.

(Even the “best” ones based on the script can get messed up by an actor changing the line.)

  • And a big shout out to all the other old Spy Magazine readers here.

The captioning language steno machine keystrokes for “pretty unnatural” is very close to the keystrokes for “preternatural”.

I see. Thanks for the info.

It’s rare for subtitles to jump around for me. I’m thinking it’s more about the show’s producer than Netflix itself.

I almost always keep them on, even if I have the English dubbing on, too. The subtitles are often translated separately from the script given the English voice-over actors. The dubbing is often “cleaner” than the subtitles, both in terms of avoiding crude language and better fluency. The subtitles give a better sense of the original meaning.

Netflix subtitles are a joy compared to Amazon’s. Amazon uses a yellow font for some stupid reason, which is very difficult to see against some backgrounds, and quite often the subtitles just disappear completely at some point during the viewing, never to return. You’d think a company that rich could get this right.

You can turn off the dubbing? I’ve watched a couple shows with the dubbing and the captions and it drives me crazy. They’re never the same and it makes keeping up impossible. It’s always roughly saying the same thing, but a little different. I usually turn off the captions, but if they are the original meaning, I’d rather have that.

IMHO Amazon > Netflix > Hulu. Amazon has the cool feature where it tells you all the actors and characters in that particular scene when you pause it. And Hulu allows you to create profiles, but they don’t actually do much of anything. Turn subtitles on in your profile? It turns them on for the rest of your family. And thankfully they fixed it, but the rewind feature used to be basically useless.

On an iPhone the captions and dubbing menu are together. Click the button, choose your audio and caption languages. The options depend on the what that show produced. The quality can vary a lot too.

The jarring thing about Netflix… I’d never encountered subtitles on by default before. I figured how to them off*, watched an episode of Altered Carbon, and realized I’m getting old and missing some of the dialog. Turned them back on.

Wish my TV CC had same font… small, sans serif, less obtrusive but very readable.
*Annoyingly, I couldn’t do it while watching. Had to exit back to Netflix HOME, go to SETTINGS and turn them off there.
(Toyed with the idea of learning a language by switching to French, way too distracting.)

Turn the dialog to French, put the subtitles in English. You won’t actually learn any French, but it’s not distracting. In fact, it makes the subtitles easier to follow, because you aren’t matching the subtitles to the dialog. But you get to keep the feel of the flow of the dialog.

That’s a standard sub/dub distinction. I know it from anime (even though I don’t watch it much anymore) and think it may have even started there. When an anime is dubbed, they will try to match the mouth flaps. However, when translated directly, Japanese has more syllables that the equivalent English text. So dubs would naturally be a bit looser in translation to fit.

Furthermore, many dubs were meant to serve as localizations, as they were designed to stand on their own in other markets, rather than being “a translation of this Japanese show.” They would fix cultural things to make them fit where their aired.

Subs, on the other hand, are inherently about being a translation, and are freed from the need to fit the dialog. They also come out more quickly, due to being cheaper and easier to produce, and thus the biggest fans of the original are more likely to get the subs. Hence it makes sense for the subs to be as directly translated as possible.

And, of course, there’s a feedback loop effect. People now know that subs are more accurate to the original, while dubs will be less exact but feel more natural, so that’s exactly what the market provides. And since you already have an audio version and a text version, it’s not uncommon not to bother captioning the dub (except where the dub is particularly famous, e.g. with Pokemon.)

I would expect that some of these reasons would carry over, but also that expectations with anime may have spread into other translations of foreign media.

Oh, and if anyone didn’t know, subtitles are just text that tell you what is being said, while captions are supposed to be replacements for being able to hear the audio. (Hence other sounds are included, tone of voice may be indicated, and, yes, the text may move to tell you who is talking.) It’s possible to combine the two into one thing, and use it for both, but they can also be different. That is why you may see “English” and “English (captions)” or similar in a subtitles menu.

“X-Ray” and, yeah, it’s a fantastic feature. Will also tell you the song playing in a scene, and I think will occasionally list shooting locations or landmarks and other trivia.

It’s something I find myself using a lot more than I thought, because it’s such an easy way to answer, “where did I see that face before…” without getting lost in an imdb hole…