Many years ago when I was studying ASL (American Sign Language), my teachers had to rely on separate devices that were connected to their TVs to provide subtitles – subtitles that were limited and, to tell the truth, not very accurate . Nowadays, almost every video (and TV) has subtitles for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have difficulty following the voices of the device.
Unfortunately, subtitles are not that common for video conferencing, although we rely more on them for business and social meetings. With Zoom, for example, you can set up subtitles before a meeting by going to Settings. However, it does not have its own tool. You must either use a third-party service or assign someone to manually enter meetings during the meeting.
Two video conferencing services that recently became free – Google Meet and Microsoft Teams – now offer built-in subtitles. Out of curiosity, I both tried to see how accurate they were.
I didn't use any special equipment. I simply started a meeting with a 13-inch MacBook Pro 2017, using the system camera and microphone like most business meetings. I was sitting about my usual distance from the screen. I then read the first verse of Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" to see how well it was translated into captions.
If you don't remember this well-known font, it starts as follows:
It was once a bleak midnight while I was thinking, weak and tired,
About some strange and strange amount of forgotten traditions –
As I nodded and almost took a nap, there was a knock suddenly,
When someone knocked gently and knocked on my chamber door.
"It's a visitor," I murmured, knocking on my chamber door.
Only that and nothing more. "
Note that this was a very informal test. External noises and subtle differences in my measurements could also have influenced the results. That being said, the following happened.
Microsoft Teams recently added a subtitle tool to its toolkit.
The teams recently added the ability to use subtitles in their meetings. In fact, the feature is marked as a "preview", so it is likely to be worked on. Turning it on is easy: Once you have started the meeting, click on the three dots in the menu and select "Enable Live Subtitles". The subtitles are shown at the bottom of the screen above the video.
The team version of the subtitles shows two lines of text above the bottom of the video for a few seconds, which come from the bottom up. Each line takes a moment while the AI visibly corrects itself. While this worked mostly, in one case the teams actually had the correct wording – "chamber door" – and then corrected it to "chamber or".
The end results were:
It was once bleak midnight.
While I was thinking weakly and tiredly.
Over many known, indecent volumes of
As I nodded and almost took a nap, suddenly
there was a knock.
From someone who gently wraps himself up
my chamber or just a visitor me
murmured and knocked on my chain. Would or
only that and nothing more.
Google Meet shows up to five lines of subtitles at the same time.
As with teams, activating subtitles in Meet is very easy: just click "Activate Subtitles" at the bottom of the window. At this point your video will be moved up and there is a black bank between this and the lower menu where your subtitles will be displayed.
In the labeling field, the speaker is identified with a name and a symbol. As with teams, the labels are moved from bottom to top. In this case, however, up to five lines are visible at the same time.
While Meet seemed to prefer following sentences, its accuracy, at least in this one example, was far higher than that of teams. This was not surprising since Google has played with speech recognition and subtitles on several of its services.
The end results were:
It was once midnight, bleak, while I was thinking
weak and tired about some quaint and curious
Volume of forgotten lore while I almost nodded
When I suddenly took a nap, it knocked
Someone tapped my chamber gently
Door is a visitor. I mumbled and knocked on mine
Chamber door only this and nothing more.
The ability to close subtitles doesn't seem to be an important feature when choosing the service to use for your video conferencing. However, keep in mind that you may have colleagues, friends or relatives for whom subtitles are not a luxury, but a necessity.