Why hard-coded subtitles on a streaming service are a bad idea

Streaming services might be our only hope for sanity right now, but they themselves are at the mercy of one thing: broadband speed. Watching on a slow connection? Then your picture quality will decline or you’ll get jumpy playback.

Hello “buffering”!

NowTV is particularly vulnerable to this, I find, with the service frequently downgrading itself in times of stress to “Remember that fifth generation copy of a VHS tape you used to have in the early 90s?”

Which is still fine. Even if the picture is a bit blurry, the audio is still clear and you can usually work out what’s going on.

Except if you’re watching something with hard-coded subtitles.

Go soft, not hard

NowTV has recently jumped over Sky’s own Sky Go to become a much better, easier to use app. It now offers downloads on mobile devices and it finally has subtitling options.

So why NowTV feels it necessary to have hard-coded subtitles for Babylon Berlin and other foreign language shows, I don’t know. I mean my German is okay, but enough to cope with the intricacies of a murder-mystery plot during the final days of the Weimar Republic? Not all the time. So if I can’t actually read the subtitles, I (and many others) won’t have a clue as to what’s going on whenever the picture goes fuzzy.

The option for soft-subtitling (enforced or otherwise) is there, which would mean crystal clear subtitling even when the picture itself is poor. Other streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon, offer either dubbed or soft-subtitled versions of show. So what’s up with NowTV (and iPlayer, which has far better subtitling than Now anyway)?

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