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How Do Caption Descriptions Help Tell a Story?

Posted on: 8/16/2013 2:45:51 PM under News 


The most fundamental purpose of captioning is to provide a visual experience that as closely as possible mimics the auditory experience of the program. Critical to this process, especially for musically oriented shows like Glee, are sound effects, especially pertaining to styles and tones of music. For instance, poor captioning may include the description [ JAZZ ]. What kind of jazz? A Louis Armstrong solo? A funeral dirge? A better caption would be [ UPBEAT JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING ], which contains the important information as to the tone of the scene. 

Also important: what are we listening to? A sound effect such as [ ROCK ] falls a little short. A rock falling from a cliff? A pebble shaken in a tin can? This probably refers to rock music, but who knows? Clear caption descriptions can mean a lot -- one deaf viewer even admitted feeling a caption such as [ TENSE MUSIC ] to be patronizing. "Tense" tells the viewer what to feel, whereas something like [ FAST-TEMPO ROCK PLAYS ] gives the viewer the same feeling, without the heavy-handed editorial. The most imporatnt elements of good music sound effects are a description of what kind of music, and the tone of it -- upbeat, low-key, heavy. Yet the captioner should never be too visible, and begin waxing poetic, rather than reporting on the sounds objectively.

Two viewers spent a year recording the music sound effects that appeared in their captions, across every network and caption provider, and shared them with a local news reporter, which we'll now share with you. See which you think are effective and which are ineffective:

[ ROCK ]


[ JAZZ ]















And the lightning round...






How Do I Fix a Problem With My Captions?

Posted on: 8/14/2013 11:08:38 AM under Blog 


Are your captions acting up? We want to help! Email with your issue, and we'll do our best to help you fix the problem ASAP!

First, we need a couple answers to get to the bottom of your problem.

  1. A detailed description of what you are seeing, and if possible, a description
  2. The network, program, and air time of the program with the captioning issue
  3. Does the issue occur on every network or only one/a handful?
  4. Your cable provider
  5. Your location (ZIP code and where you are watching, i.e. at home or in a restaurant)

Alternatively, your cable provider is required by law to keep a hotline just for captioning issues. This number is located somewhere on your cable bill.

We look forward to assisting you!



Movin' on Down: VITAC is Expanding!

Posted on: 8/9/2013 2:16:53 PM under News 


Office SpaceCall it "Movin' on Down" -- in an unprecedented maneuver, the Systems and Engineering Department in our Canonsburg, PA, headquarters has relocated from the second floor to the ground floor, carting computer hardware, blueprints, and manuals into our newly-acquired office space beside Finance and Accounting. Did they leave because we, the second floor employees, fiddle with our clicky pens all day and roll our squeaky chairs back and forth? Or is it due to the three Tims' (of Systems and Engineering fame) crippling fear of heights they encountered, working 20 whole feet above ground level? Perhaps they just wanted to be within viewing distance of their darlings, the 15 satellites that make up our dish farm and can pick up any channel in the world.first-floor kitchen

None of these are accurate. The exodus from the second floor is the result of VITAC bursting at the seams with new and existing work, and the understanding that we are only going to grow more! The move will be especially beneficial to our Multilanguage Services Department, where MLS Captioners John Podgursky and Patty Andres-Sanmartin previously had a time-share on their captioning equipment, in a small office also occupied by MLS Coordinator Dan Garbark. MLS Pittsburgh will be moving into the old systems offices, leaving a little more elbow room for all, and even more room for future expansion!

Editor's note: we haven't totally ruled out the possibility that Systems and Engineering just wanted to be closer to their satellite dishes.



VITAC Volunteers: Habitat Build Day 2013

Posted on: 8/6/2013 2:01:42 PM under News 


VITAC Habitat buildProviding accessible media for the deaf  and hard of hearing may be VITAC's bread and butter, but that's not the only way our 330+ employees are helping the community. Last Saturday, a crew of 15 VITAC employees, friends, and relatives convened in McKeesport, PA, for VITAC's first annual Habitat for Humanity corporate build.

Despite traffic delays and detours, volunteers from nearly every department turned out bright and early on Saturday morning, ready to work hard and talk shop with their coworkers from across the aisle or across the state. Superstars/Realtime Captioners Jen Murray and Julie Layton came the furthest, braving five hours on the highways from eastern Pennsylvania to the Pittsburgh area for the build, but even the locals had to push through bad weather and road closures to make it to the cozy build site across the street from McKeesport High School.

The house, a charming three-bedroom with a basement and two baths, was the Julie and Jensame one sponsored by Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen as part of the team's promotion of local charitable causes. While the future hall-of-famer was not there, VITAC volunteers got to paint, garden, and laquer under the same roof as the center fielder.

Volunteers started the day by prepping the bedrooms for painting -- brown for the master, red for the play room, and for the teenage daughter's room -- hot pink, obviously! The highlight of the morning was when the future homeowners themselves showed up to help, though they had long ago completed the volunteer hours that Habitat requires of homeowners-to-be. They were all very appreciative of VITAC's help and just about outworked all of us over the course of the day!

Everyone contributed heroically to the 4-5 hour task of renovation (still in progress), and the project took on a life of its own. Though the agenda included only painting and drywall installation, the volunteers gravitated towards their areas of expertise, and by the end of the day, VITAC had checked the following off its bucket list: weeding, lacquering, removing doors, scraping decals from windows, stripping paint from the back porch, mastering the shrinking-garden-hose technology, and leaving behind a cozy, comfortable home.

The day went quickly, and when it came time to close up shop, Damon Ealy said what others surely thought: "When can I come back and finish the job?" We got a lot done, met some of our out-of-town coworkers, and really just had a blast! From everyone at VITAC, thanks to everyone who helped make this wonderful team build possible. Tune in next year for part two...

Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit that offers subsidized housing and renovation for low-income families. The organization relies on corporate sponsorship, donations of money or materials, and the sweat equity of volunteers to make this happen. To volunteer with Habitat locally, click here. To check out more pictures, visit our Facebook page.



[ "JAWS" THEME PLAYS ] -- Shark Week 2013!

Posted on: 8/2/2013 11:35:44 AM under News 


You knew it was coming...






It was here last year...

Shark Week 2013

...but then it disappeared...

Discovery Shark Week

...into the ocean deep...

2013 Discovery Channel Week of Sharks

But you knew it would be back...

Great White Shark Week

...circling... finish what it started...

2013 Discovery Sharks 2013...

Shark Week on Discovery starting August 4th at 9pm

So strap on your novelty shark fin and take to the nearest ocean, lake, or swimming pool, but be sure to get home in time to park your tail fin in front of the Discovery Channel this Sunday at 9pm EST, with the VITAC captions on. Shark Week is upon us!



VITAC Kennywood Day, Hoorah!

Posted on: 8/1/2013 11:18:49 AM under Blog 


In the course of human events, it becomes necessary, about once a year, for any employee of the captioning industry to throw down their steno machine, to disengage from their keyboard or telephone, to detach the retinas from the image of VITAC's proprietary VNL captioning software, in favor of sun, relaxation and good times.

Once a year, VITAC's staff does just this at historic Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, PA, for a dMarissa Grubb and friend Meganay of rides, carnival food, and fun. Though it was difficult to abandon the beloved halls of VITAC headquarters, the calling of Kennywood proved even more powerful than the desire to provide the highest quality realtime and offline captioning in the industry (not to mention subtitling), and over 150 employees and their loved ones made the journey to the park, famous for its wooden roller coasters.

Founded five-score-and-fifteen years ago (aka 115 years ago, in 1898), Kennywood Park boasts rides such as the Racer, a nationally registered historic landmark, which features two trains leaving simultaneously, intertwining on the track and seemingly eMark Panichella and Steph Witter catching raysnding on the opposite track from where they began! The more modern of the rides include the Phantom's Revenge, a reincarnation of the Steel Phantom, which travels 82 miles per hour and overlooks the defunct steel mills on the Monongahela River. The most recent addition is the Black Widow, a spinning/swinging ride that is truly a thrill.

The day began with soft drinks and a buffet of grilled goods, at historic pavilion 3, (see image, top), which historians have never definitively proven was not built by George Washington himself (Colonel Washington, as he was then known, fought at the Battle of the Monongahela, which occurred on Kennywood's current site). Around 3, the picnic disOffline Captioners Marissa and Justin contemplate the Phantom's Revengebursed like so many Continental soldiers  after ambushing the Tories, and VITAC's finest took to the rides -- the Thunderbolt rocked us, the Jack Rabbit double-dipped us, and the Raging Rapids soaked us. All the while, the historic carousel played its calliope, and Noah's Ark whistled in the mist.

There were theatrical performances, and even a laser light show in the evening, featuring good ol' Americana music (regrettably, no fife quartet serenaded guests with "Yankee Doodle"). When the Kennywood staff ushered guests out of the park at 10:30, VITAC's employees left refreshed and ready for another uninterrupted year of captioning excellence.



Tick, Tock -- IP-Captioning Deadline Nears

Posted on: 7/26/2013 3:09:10 PM under Blog 


CVAA deadlineAs July comes to a close, we are reminded of the ever-approaching deadlines of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA). The bill, which President Obama signed into law on October 8, 2010, ensures that our increasingly web-based media viewing culture is accessible to all people.

Here's a review of the key dates that have already passed, and the ones yet to come:

September 30, 2012: Prerecorded programming that has not been edited for the internet must have captions on the web if the program aired on TV with captions. This means that the content owner can simply use the original caption file for their web content, possibly requiring transcoding, but not re-captioning of the program.

March 30, 2013: All new programming that aired on TV and was later published in its entirety to the web, has to have captions on the web. This means that live programming, when published to a website in its entirety, must be captioned.

September 30, 2013: Prerecorded programming that has been substantially edited for the internet must be captioned if it is shown on broadcast TV on or after this date.

March 30, 2014: The confusing one -- content that resides in an online archive or library without captions must be captioned within a certain timeframe after it airs on TV, regardless of whether or not it was edited. The earlier dates apply to programming that airs on TV and is later placed on the web. This date applies to programming that already resides on the web and THEN airs on TV.

So, say the "Leave it to Beaver" pilot already exists on Netflix, but has not aired on TV recently. As soon as it airs on TV after March 30, 2014, the clock will be ticking for the content owners to caption the episode online. The amount of time they have depends on when the pilot airs on TV, but will be no more than 45 days.

Many customers have archived programming currently posted online, uncapotioned. It's not yet required to be captioned, but will be if it airs on TV in 2014. Rather than trying to keep track of when content airs on TV, they are choosing to caption their entire archive in advance of the upcoming mandate.



Joshua Hanna

Posted on: 7/22/2013 4:35:19 PM under Employee Spotlights » Current 


Production Coordinator

Est. 2010

Canonsburg, PA

Josh Hanna











What was it like where you grew up?
I grew up in suburbia (Washington, PA). My neighbor and I used to ride bikes and listen to Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson. If you've ever watched the movie "Now and Then" it was pretty much like that.

What is your fondest High School memory?
My fondest memories would be just having my senior English class with my favorite teacher, Mrs. Hennen. She passed away a couple of years ago. She was an amazing lady. I will always remember her teaching me about literature and acting, and giving me confidence in my abilities.

Where is your favorite place in the world? Why?
Not to get too sentimental, but my Nana's house. There are a lot of memories of growing up there. But in close second would be Duck Doughnuts in the Outer Banks, NC. You can get doughnuts with bacon on them aka heaven.

If you could have lunch with anyone in history (living or dead), who would it be?
Oprah, because I might get something at the end of it, like my own personal dolphin. But I would most like to have lunch with the great Mel Brooks. His movies really taught me what comedy was, and how to laugh off the bad things in life and how to make a joke out of it.

Who is the most famous person you ever met?
I have never met anyone famous. But that's okay, because I feel like if I did I would really geek out and embarrass myself. Also, I like to think that I'm famous, and I have mirror, so that works.

What do you like most about working at VITAC?
Most definitely my co-workers. When working an early shift or some extra hours, it is helpful to have people that I can turn and share a joke with. For sure, some amazing people work in Online.

To learn more about Josh's interests, visit:



Now Available -- Low MPEG-2 Encoding Rates for New Customers

Posted on: 7/19/2013 10:17:10 AM under News 


VITAC is now offering new customers low rates for encoding to MPEG-2 from any and all video formats -- including MPEG-2! That is, you send us any HD, SD, or VBI "line 21" deliverable without captions, and we'll return a captioned, 508-compliant MPEG-2 file to you.

Here's how it works:

1. MPEG-2 to MPEG-2 encoding--

Upload your program to our secure FTP server. Our highly qualified Offline and MLS teams caption the program, review its quality, then send the file to our Media Encoding Suite specialists, who will encode the caption file to the MPEG-2. We send the verbatim-captioned, 508-compliant file to you through our FTP server. Your viewers will be pleased, and you'll have more room left in your budget.

The encoding process takes only as long as your program's TRT, and a flat encoding rate of just $50 per file now applies for new customers! Standard Offline turnaround time is three days for up to three hours of video. Flat rate does not include caption prep.

2. Other format to MPEG-2 encoding--

Deliver any video format to VITAC via mail or FTP server. We create a verbatim 100% accurate caption file. Our Media Encoding specialists transcode your deliverable from any format to MPEG-2, then encode the caption file. We return the MPEG-2 to you via FTP server, and you, the new client, pay less.

Any process involving transcoding takes longer than simple encoding, but varies, depending on the deliverable. Standard Offline turnaround is three business days for up to three hours of material. A flat encoding rate of just $50 per file now applies for new customers! Rates for transcoding (changing file formats) vary, depending on the deliverable. Flat rate does not include caption prep.

To inquire about turnaround times, call Client Sales & Services at (724) 514-4077. Standard Offline turnaround is three business days for up to three hours of material.

So get that stack of uncaptioned DVD's in the mail, and upload those digital deliverables to our encrypted FTP server on the double! Some clients for whom we've provided encoding to MPEG-2 over the years:

  • Comcast Federal Newsmakers
  • KUBE
  • Cinetic Media
  • Sagemont Church
  • Unity of Houston Church

Join the list today by calling Client Sales & Services, or start by taking a tour of our Media Encoding Suite.



VITAC Partner Wins Prestigious Award for Audio Description

Posted on: 7/18/2013 11:49:56 AM under News 


American Council of the Blind LogoIn addition to providing over 57,000 hours of offline and 220,000 hours of realtime captioning every year, VITAC offers a little known -- yet federally mandated -- service called audio description. Also known as "video description," audio description involves a narrator describing significant on-screen action in a given program so that low-vision and blind audiences can enjoy the same content as seeing viewers. Think of it as closed captions for the blind, rather than the Deaf and hard of hearing.

VITAC works hand-in-hand with one of the best audio description producers in the country -- Audio Eyes, LLC -- to produce premium description for some of the most popular content on TV! (Which shows, you ask? Check 'em out here.) Just announced -- the American Council of the Blind's Audio Description Project has awarded Audio Eyes' President, Rick Boggs, a 2013 Achievement in Audio Description Award. More specifically, a Barry Levine Memorial Award for Career Achievement in Audio Description! Congrats, Rick!

Rick has spent his career recording sound and music, advocating accessible media, and leading/founding companies that do both of those things! His contributions have not gone unnoticed -- mandates for video description on about four hours of programming a week for the top 25 broadcast TV markets have been in effect for a year. To learn more about audio description and Audio Eyes, LLC, please visit their website.


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