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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Subtitled text

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If you’ve ever watched a movie with subtitles (probably for foreign language film, but also for native language film, because it’s great fun to see to good movie ruined by bad subtitles viz. Baghban), I would like to ask you a question. Where do you place subtitles on screen?

If you are like most people, you place them at bottom of the screen horizontally. You may not have thought otherwise, or your technology doesn’t permit alternative placement, but if you could chose, do you think that bottom placement is best? It’s always been that way and bottom of the screen seems to be the default position, so may be some thought has gone into this? Perhaps, though that may not be the case. I don’t know about other players, but MPlayer permits me to position my subtitles anywhere from top to bottom of the screen. I have found that top of the screen placement is best for me. Why?

I’ve found that when I am reading subtitle at bottom, I am not able to watch video above it carefully. When my eyes focus on subtitles, video comes in periphery of my vision and things go blur, and I miss some quick act. When I read subtitle placed at top, I can read it and watch video at the same time. In short, I find part of screen below focus of my eyes more easy to see than part of screen above. This has to do something with how our eyes work and eye tracking studies would’ve shown something though I’ve been unable to find any information to that effect online. My hunch is that when we read something we read from “top” of our eyes so some vision is left to cover what is below, and not vice-versa. What is your experience? Corollary: if placement technique is non-issue, what would be best position for subtitles on screen? By the way, here are two short articles about how we read online (hint: in F shape, in short sentences).