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Audio Description Veteran Publishes Comprehensive AD Book

Posted on: 7/2/2014 3:38:57 PM under News 


Joel Snyder, a pioneer of audio description, recently released a book, called The Visual Made Verbal: A Comprehensive Training Manual and Guide to the History and Applications of Audio Description. As the title suggests, the book delves into the history of audio description -- a service by which a skilled audio description team describes critical events and images in a show, play, or other performance -- which Joel himself was integral in developing, as well as the best practices for implementing quality audio description.

As Snyder mentions, audio description serves the 21 million Americans who suffer from low vision or blindness. It is federally mandated for at least four hours of programming per week on major network broadcasters in top-25 markets, as well as the top five cable networks. Captioning, in contrast, is required on all TV broadcasts. "There is simply a lack of awareness of the need and a misunderstanding of the public benefit that could result from reaching out to this population, not to mention the financial benefit that might be gleaned from this untapped market," Snyder explains in The Visual Made Verbal.

The book is 180 pages long and is available for Kindle or in paperback through Amazon books. Joel recently earned his PhD in accessibility - audio description from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Joel is the president of Audio Description Associates, LLC, as well as the Director of the Audio Description project for the American Council of the Blind.

To learn more about audio description, please visit The Audio Description Project page.



What Do Frame Rates Mean in a Digital Age?

Posted on: 6/27/2014 12:08:45 PM under Technical 


Frame rate is the measure of how many frames of a video file display every second, which determines the smoothness of a video's playback. Very old video games had frame rates of 6 frames per second (FPS), and appear choppy compared to modern video games that have frame rates upwards of 125 FPS.

You may have heard about when The Hobbit director Peter Jackson filmed An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug in high frame rate, using 48 frames per second (FPS) instead of the cinema standard of 24. There was considerable outcry caused by doubling the frame rate, and critics of the new technology reported that the film appeared too lifelike and removed them from the traditional viewing experience they expected.

A program's frame rate plays an important role in how a show is captioned, since captions associate with particular frames and must match the program audio. Standard frame rates for traditional TV and movies include the following:

29.97 frames per second (dropframe) -- This standard, used for many TV productions, is essentially 30 frames per second except for once every tenth minute, when two frames are "dropped." Really, the frame count just skips over them and no frames of video are actually lost.

24 FPS -- This is the standard used for most film productions.

25 FPS -- This is the European standard for video.

Digital files have frame rates, just like traditional films and TV programs. Unlike physical film formats, a digital frame rate can be easily manipulated with video editing software. The frame rates for WMV, AVI, and FLV files are generally "unconstrained," which means they can be modified to nearly any frame rate the user desires.

VITAC handles all frame rates and video types. For more information about our offline captioning capabilities, please click here.



Can VITAC Captioners Dial in to Multiple Encoders?

Posted on: 6/20/2014 1:25:40 PM under Blog 


Dialing into multiple encoders is necessary when a program is to air on multiple networks, or an event organizer requests captioning for multiple locations. It ensures a consistent transcript of a program's audio, regardless of where it airs.

Realtime Remote Captioners at VITAC are able to dial directly into two modem connections simultaneously. However, if they connect through VITAC's Canonsburg, PA, headquarters, using VITAC's proprietary B2B systems, they can connect to about 6-8 encoders simultaneously. When using an IP connection, VITAC Captioners are able to connect to up to four different encoders. That means that VITAC is able to provide captions for about as many outlets as a customer needs for a single event! Captioning a live program via IP in addition to a phone-line connection produces a web-ready deliverable for the program, keeping your IP content FCC compliant.



SMPTE-TT: What Is It, and How Does It Work?

Posted on: 6/12/2014 3:39:24 PM under Technical 


SMPTE-TT is an increasingly popular caption file type due to the growing demand for accessible web video. But what is it exactly?

SMPTE-TT is an XML-based caption codec that is popular because of its conformity to W3C standards and superior flexibility to DFXP/TTML profiles. The acronym SMPTE-TT stands for "Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers - Timed Text," which correctly qualifies the codec as a mainstay for professional video engineers.

Why is it so great? It is closely related to DFXP/TTML profiles (the terms "DFXP" and "TTML" are often used interchangeably), which were designed by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). Every profile has different features, such as the #direction feature, which allows left-to-right or right-to-left display of captions, the latter being for languages that are read right-to-left, of course. SMPTE-TT has several additional extensions, however, that were not available in DFXP/TTML, including: #image, #data, and #information. 

1. #image -- This feature allows bitmap images to be displayed, such as subtitles (.png format only).

2. #data -- The data feature allows the player to pass CEA-708 data (the standard for captioning digital TV) through to the video player, as well as CEA-608 data (the line-21 standard for broadcast TV captioning).

3. #information -- This feature tells the player whether to display the caption data with the original look and feel (preserve mode) or to  take advantage of the more advanced display capabilities (enhance mode).

SMPTE-TT allows captions to include some attributes traditionally associated with subtitles, including foreign-alphabet characters and some mathematical symbols. Additionally, DFXP/TTML don't support some of the positioning capabilities of CEA-608 data. The FCC has declared SMPTE-TT a "safe harbor interchange and delivery format" that complies with CVAA regulations.

For more information on delivering your content as SMPTE-TT, please contact

by Carlin Twedt



VITAC Partners with "Pittsburgh Dad" Web Series

Posted on: 6/6/2014 3:07:39 PM under News 


VITAC is pleased to announce the expansion of its web captioning customer base to include local web series "Pittsburgh Dad." VITAC will be partnering with "Pittsburgh Dad" for the next six months in order to make the popular series accessible to over 50 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans.

"Pittsburgh Dad" is the invention of Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton that features once-a-week episodes of Dad dealing with everyday situations around Pittsburgh -- wrangling Jeffy, his rambunctious son, during a trip to Ikea, trying to decipher his son Brandon's report card during a parent-teacher conference ("he got an 'N' in spelling?"), and even meeting Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The series pokes fun at "yinzer" (meaning classically Pittsburgh) dads who speak their own version of correct English, Pittsburghese. Captions are especially important to the series because of the often difficult-to-understand vocabulary unique to Western Pennsylvania.

The series began in October 2011 and less than three months later surpassed its 1,000,000th view. They now have 110 published episodes, each of which averages about 50,000 views!

The coolest thing about Pittsburgh Dad is the attention they've garnered without big studio contracts or six-figure budgets -- and the fact that they have decided to caption their wildly popular series. Though the "Pittsburgh Dad" men are able to make the show their full-time jobs because of sponsorships from local brands, it was a ground-up struggle to win over the hearts of Pittsburghers and viewers around the country. By responding to popular request that the program be captioned, "Pittsburgh Dad" has proven to be a leading -- and hilarious -- example for other independent web series producers.

by Carlin Twedt



Throwback Friday -- Your Peek Into VITAC's Past

Posted on: 5/30/2014 4:31:57 PM under Blog 


Any caption viewer with a good memory and a sharp eye knows that VITAC has been providing industry-leading service for 28 years (we are one of the only companies that still proudly puts their name in the captions during show credits). While we prefer to focus on our service today and plan for tomorrow, there is little danger in looking back at our humble roots.

VITAC started out as a two-man operation in 1986 called CaptionAmerica and has grown into the 330-employee outfit it is today, the name of which is a contraction of "VITal ACcess." Back then, our first customer was KDKA-TV Eyewitness News, and we were a realtime-only shop -- our offline department didn't come about until a few years later. We did not have a website, and our marketing materials (from May 1991) still carried our old name. And if you wanted an hour of live captioning back then, it would've cost $990!

More than anything, we at VITAC concern ourselves with more modern caption technologies and how to improve our overall service to the customers.



For Commencement This Spring, Think VITAC

Posted on: 5/22/2014 3:19:56 PM under News 


This month, thousands of new graduates will flood the job market, armed with diplomas of every level, in degrees from Political Science to Puppetry. One thing they will all have in common: a commencement ceremony to mark the transition into the workforce.

While it's possible that the esteemed keynote speaker may be less than proficient at speaking into the microphone or that you may be sitting next to a screaming baby, and while you're bound to hear a couple mispronounced names, there is no reason why a proud family member should miss out on any part of the ceremony whatsoever.

Adding closed captioning to a graduation event ensures that every speech, every name, and lyrics to even the strangest Alma Maters receive their due on the event's display screen or the audience members' personal mobile devices. The process is simple: the assigned Captioner works either on-site -- in the venue or stadium -- or remotely, "writing" up to 250 words per minute and sending the information to the event's encoder, where it displays on the large screen, or to a third-party system that creates a unique URL to the streaming captions. The Captioners receive pertinent information, such as speeches, song lyrics, and graduate names, in advance, so that they can simply hit a button to make each display at the appropriate moment. Since all the names are programmed in advance according to the event program, they display accurately even when the announcer butchers them.

VITAC was proud to caption Point Park University's graduation several Saturdays ago, to an overwhelmingly positive response.

To order captioning for your commencement ceremony, please email or call (724) 514-4077.

by Carlin Twedt



In Case You Blinked: VITAC Captions Vimeo

Posted on: 5/16/2014 5:23:33 PM under News 


Earlier this year, Vimeo joined the ranks of video platforms such as YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon that allow content producers to add captions to their videos. Vimeo's support of captioning highlights a fast-growing demand for a more accessible web.

VITAC has always been on the forefront of technological advances in the captioning world, and is proud to clarify that it does provide captioning for Vimeo -- and has since Vimeo started supporting captions. Web captioning is critical to deaf and hard-of-hearing internet users, and while it has been required for broadcast television programs for over two decades now, the FCC has only recently begun mandating captions for web content. Many web content producers elect to caption their programming regardless of FCC mandates.

Click here to see VITAC's web captioning service offerings.



New Remote Captioning System Tests Successfully

Posted on: 5/7/2014 5:01:45 PM under News 


VITAC's proprietary RCS -- or "Remote Captioning System" -- is an all-inclusive box designed to make remote captioning for live events as simple and efficient as possible. Its durable protective case allows it to be shipped by delivery or shipping service, and its weight of about 100 lbs  allows anyone with a cart to easily transport the unit.  The RCS is extremely simple and was crafted with ease of configuration and setup in mind. The instructions below explain the setup and inner workings of the RCS in layman's terms.

The bolded items require action from the client.

- Our Engineers pre-configure the RCS box to meet client specifications before sending the RCS.

- The client receives the RCS box in the mail and places it in the event venue, wherever the event's audio/visual master controls are located. The box requires only a power source and  Verizon cell reception (as little as one bar of service will do). The client removes the front and rear protective panels.

- Sufficient cell phone reception (again, one bar is enough) allows the built-in MiFi system, which is comparable to a mobile hotspot, to provide an internet connection between the Captioner and the client. This internet connection allows the venue and the Captioner to communicate without the client having to connect to local internet. An easy way to test for cell reception in the venue is to simply place a cell phone in the spot where the box is to be located, and see if it has Verizon reception. Insufficient cell phone signal is extremely rare.

- The client plugs two cables into the ports on the box labeled "video in" and "video out." An audio/video engineer, or anyone in charge of the AV equipment, will know which cables these are. Once connected, the Captioner is able to receive program audio and transmit captioned text back to the client over the MiFi internet connection.

-The Captioner connects to the IP address specified on the RCS system. VITAC will transmit a test caption stream in advance. Once the RCS is powered up, and video in and out are connected, the client should see captions on the front screen confidence monitor and on their large screen display in about 5 minutes (time for MiFi to acquire). The Captioner begins captioning the program.

-As a precaution, the RCS contains a built-in UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) system that keeps the unit running smoothly even in inconsistent power. The box can work for up to 30 minutes without any power at all, but this function is intended for accidental outages, and should not be relied upon as a primary power source.

-VITAC's Engineering staff is available 24/7/365 to assist clients in the rare occurrence of a technical difficulty.

-After the event, the client puts the protective panel back on the RCS and ships the unit back to VITAC, following VITAC's instructions on where and how to ship.

It's that simple. For inquiries on pricing please email or call (724) 514-4000.



Craig Quits His Day Job -- a VITAC Employee Original!

Posted on: 5/1/2014 12:30:35 PM under News 


They're at it again -- movie-making duo and VITAC Senior Offline Captioners Eric Chapman and Todd Osleger are making a new movie called Craig Quits His Day Job. It stars Todd Osleger as the bumbling but ambitious Craig, setting off "on a quest to unite quitters the world over, or at least the ones in his apartment building with nothing better to do" according to Chapman. His antics draw scorn, praise, and everything in between. The film taps into the frustration known to anyone who has ever had a job, and even asks fans, in the trailer, to vicariously "quit" their day jobs through Craig.

The real-world comedy is a departure from their last production, the thriller Kultur Shock!, which involved three strangers' escape from the captivity of a menacing force manifested as a talking Uncle Sam doll. Kultur Shock! screened locally on several occasions -- a result the movie-making duo hope to repeat with Craig.

The movie is in its initial stages of production and will start out as a short, with hopes of expanding into a feature film next year. To check out the preview, see below (including a few nice shots of VITAC's Canonsburg headquarters). To view the movie's Facebook page, click here.



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