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Subtitled Movies

If we all spoke the same language this section wouldn't be here. But if we want to watch a foreign movie we have two options: Subtitles or Dubbing the Audio into the appropriate language. Subtitles leave the original audio track, in cantonese for example, and a translation of the dialog added to the bottom of the screen. Dubbing changes the original audio with a translation of that dialog.


I have nothing anything against dubbing movies as long as it is done well. There is a few movies that fit into this catagory. Jackie Chan's Supercop is a welldone dub, it was dubbed in English by Jackie Chan/Michelle Yeoh themselves. This turns out to be very important for a good dub to work. Most movies do not have enouph resources to get the original actors to redub the audio, or the original actors don't speak the language to be dubbed in so they get a new cast to just redo the voices. Choice of voices for these dubs can be VERY poor. Words also get changed around to try and match the movements of mouths in the original language sometimes compromising story/plot/etc.


This is my favorite way to view any foriegn film! Widescreen with Subtitles! Prefferably the subtitles will appear in the black section at the bottom of the screen (within a 1.78:1 window). Like stated above subtitles use the original audio which is usually superior (there are exceptions) and add text down at the bottom of the screen that follows the dialog of actors. Unfortunatly the subtitles are not always acurate because it depends on the person who is making the translations, how well do they comprehend both languages. If they are not VERY fluent in both languages the translation can be incorrect. This is where some Hong Kong movies get bad names for thier subtitles. Sentances by a poor translator are often mis-spelled, improper english (or other languages), incomplete sentances, etc...

Another benefit of subtitles is no annoying unsynced sound (mouth moving but no words coming out) that you find in dubs all the time. Don't watch a dubbed movie just because youre afraid you'll miss action or something. Believe me, whenever there is action they are not talking so much that you can't take your eyes off the subtitles. Usually there are NO subtitles during the fight/action scenes (Jackie Chan/Jet Li/Yuen Bio/Sammo Hung movies).

Subtitles vary in position on the screen with relation to the picture. Some subtitles appear in the very bottom in the black bars if it is a widescreen movie others appear on the image itself. Depending on the aspect ratio this is a big deal when viewing on a widescreen TV because certain mode's will cut the subtitles off. See the widescreen subtitle section below for more details on the modes.

The safe subtitle ratio is 1.78:1 (16x9). That is the subtitles should appear within the 1.78:1 window in the center of the image. This enables widescreen and standard TV's to display the subtitles without any problem. If subtitles go below this ratio they can be chopped of when viewed on a widescreen TV. Certain widescreen TV's have options that do allow the viewing of these subtitles. The following are a couple of these modes.

  • 1. Shift up: can pan up or down to allow you to move the image up eliminating the black bars on top while viewing more of the subtitles below.
  • 2. 1.66 Zoom mode: this mode doesn't zoom in as much there will be black bars on the side but you will be able to see more on top and bottom to view lower subtitles.


Electronic subtitles appear on DVD's. Any DVD with removable subtitles has electronic subtitles. These are usually the best because they are usually always readable. Analog subtitles are those that may have been in the original theatrical print and that same print was used to transfer to video. Electronic subtitles are added after a film print without subtitles is transfered to video. The electronic subtitles are either added on-the-fly by the player (DVD) or recorded onto the video with a titler that overlays the subs on the image (these are not removable).


All the examples here are shown how a standard TV would view them and then how a Widescreen TV would view them. The Blue Bars on the top/bottom are the parts that would be masked off.

Notice that these examples do not show the resolution gained/lost by the widescreen TV it is just showing what would be seen on the widescreen TV. For more information on what would be displayed in a partitcular ratio reffer to the Widescreen/Standard TV sections

4:3 subs over picture

These subs are some of the largest subtitles I've seen. I personally don't like them and they are not removable but I can't complain that I cannot read them. You could also use the shift up , 1.66 zoom mode, or normal mode here to see more of the subs on a widescreen TV.
  • Shift Up: moves whole picture up to see bottom of subtitles, this would cut more of the top off of picture.
  • 1.66 Zoom Mode: cuts less picture off of top/bottom that enables more of subs to be seen. Small black bars appear on side of picture.
  • Normal Mode: doens't remove any from top/bottom there is no lost picture. Black bars appear on the side of picture.

2.35:1 subs below and image shifted up

The image here has been carefully fit into the 1.78:1 window that is the safe area for a widescreen TV. There is no lost image or subtitles in this picture and the subtitles are completely in the black area of screen (making them more readable and non-interfering with the picture)

2.35:1 subs on picture

Subs are right on the picture. This is used a lot on non-electronic subtitles that appeared on the original print. If subtitles appear on the original print they are often captured from the film to video and do not add subtitles afterword. This can make the subtitles hard to read. Here we see electronic subtitles over the image which is at least readable but not as much as below, etc.

2.35:1 subs partially below image

The image is centered on display while subs are still fit into the 1.78:1 safe window. I preffer this method than the one above.

1.85:1 subs on image

On this aspect ratio the subtitles MUST appear on the image or they are not compatable with widescreen TV's. Remember they must fit into the 1.78:1 ratio which is so close to the 1.85:1 ratio there is no room in the black area to put them. Any movie that has Subs that go below the image on a 1.85 movie is not completely compatable with a widescreen TV. There are other ways to watch it depending on what your widescreen supports but you still can't take full advantage of your widescreen TV.

1.66:1 subs on image

Subtitles here even though on a 1.66:1 image are mostly still within the 1.78:1 safe window. So you don't mind cutting off the top and bottom you can view it in the zoom mode or just use the 1.66:1 zoom mode to not loose any information, including subs.

Poor Subtitles
Click here to see two examples of very hard to read subtitles.

Subtitled Anamorphic Movies
Click here to see two examples of movies that are anamorphic that have subtitles.

Chopped subtitles on Widescreen TV
Click here to see two examples of movies that the subtitles are chopped off on widescreen TV's.

© Ethan Killian 2002 | Last Updated: