CEA-608 Format Captioning For Beginners

Final Cut Pro X 10.4.1 introduces amazing closed captioning tools. It offers two flavors, iTT for iTunes submission (a topic for a later article if I get asked), and the more common and legally mandatory CEA-608. 608 is legally required for all broadcast video including all video produced by educational institutions as well as TV stations and streaming services. Plus, it’s so easy and cheap to do, it’s just a gosh darned good idea to do. This blog post will explain how to get up and running doing closed captioning with Final Cut Pro X 10.4.1 quickly and easily.

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Introduction To 608 Captioning In FCPX

Let me start by informing you that working with Captions in FCPX 10.4.1 is so super easy, so fast, it’s amazingly simple! Honest to goodness, it really is! Let me help you get started with this short blog post, and the
user manual can help you finish off learning everything there is to learn about closed captioning in FCPX. After this blog post I followed up with “More Captioning Functions” post that covers everything else not in this one.

I’m going to cover initial set-up, manual creation, importing a captioning file, editing captions, troubleshooting captioning issues, exporting, and where to go from there. And I’ll keep it as simple as it really is.

Be aware of some simple concepts used with Captions.
  • Captions are clips, we’ll call them “Caption Clips”.
  • They connect to a clip in the Primary Storyline just like a regular Connected Clip.
  • They can be moved left and right and trimmed just like a normal Connected Clip.
  • They live in their own “Caption Lane”.
  • Multiple language captioning will have a Caption Lane for each specific language assigned as a sub-role.
  • When a Caption Clip is selected in the Timeline, the “Caption Inspector” automatically activates, replacing the regular Inspector.


Initial Set-Up & Manual Captions


By default when you open FCPX 10.4.1 for the first time, only the iTT caption format is enabled. Don’t ask me why, that actually seems like self-promotion for Apple, as CEA-608 will be needed infinitely more often by professionals. So to enable 608, we need to make it an active Role, which we will do in just a moment.

There are two ways to add captions: by creating them from scratch, or by importing a .scc file (608 standard format). Let’s start by creating one manually. You may have to do this anyway to to activate the 608 format Role to your Library, since it stupidly isn’t active by default.

In a Project’s Timeline that has material in it, go to the Edit menu, to Captions, and select “Add Caption”. This adds a caption above the clip your playhead is on. It actually forms a connection stem to the clip in the Primary Storyline. They go into their own Lane at the top of the Timeline pane. It should present a text box ready to type or paste text into. You can also enter/edit text in the Caption Inspector.

When working in the floating text box for captions, the Esc or Return keys will close it up so you can move on to other things quickly and easily.

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Again, by default, they are iTT format to submit to the iTunes store. We need 608 format for broadcast. So in the Caption Inspector, which appears only when you select a Caption Clip in the Timeline, at the top, click the drop-down menu arrow and select “Edit Roles”.

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In the Roles Editor, there is the old, familiar “Media” section for video/audio Roles, plus a new Captions section. In the Captions section, click the “Caption Role” button (plus sign icon) and add the 608 format to the list. Then click “Apply”.

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With that done, go back to the Caption Inspector, and change the format of your manually created caption clip, to the 608 format.

You’d normally then go video clip by video clip, as needed, manually adding Caption Clips, through the full Project timeline.


Importing 608/.scc Captions
I work in broadcast and use
Rev.com to create my .scc files as thus; Once I have picture lock, I simply submit a small H.264 file to them, and receive back a .scc file (608 standard). Once I have that, in FCPX I go to the File menu, to Import, and select Captions. Once done, I can then just tweak them in my Project’s timeline. The import process activates the 608 format Role if it isn’t already enabled for your Library.

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Editing Captions
Once you have captions in your Timeline, edit them by dragging whole caption clips left and right in the Lane. Or trim their In/Out points with the trim tool as you would any clip. Text, color, positioning, and other parameters are all handled in the Caption Inspector, which is very self explanatory.

Be aware that any limitations you run across in the Caption Inspector are those put in place by the 608 standards, not by Apple. For the intimate details, read the
user manual section on captions, it’s all super easy.


Caption Validation Errors
There are things 608 captions are allowed to do, and some things they’re not allowed to do, based on the standards of the CEA-608 format. If you violate one of these standards, FCPX will turn that caption clip red, and in the Caption Inspector you will see a code at the bottom, in the Validation section. You can find Apple’s list of these validation error codes by
clicking here.

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Exporting Captions
When you’re ready to export your captioned Project timeline, you have two choices, both available in the Share window. First, export a Master File, and in the Roles tab of the Share window. Here you can choose to embed it into your video file. Look for the entry there titled “video track” and to the right you’ll see “Embed CEA-608,” which has a drop-down menu. Select the language sub-role to use, or select the hyphen - to not use captioning at all.

To create an .scc file, look down a bit more for the “Captions” section. There you have the opportunity to check the box that exports a .scc file, called a “side car file.” In my years of television experience, I always keep a copy of the .scc file just in case. I don’t always need it, but when the situation arises, I’m very glad to have it. Better safe than sorry.

If you want to simply export a 608 .scc file by itself, and never touch the Share menu, check the next blog, “More Captioning Functions” (link below)!


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Conclusion
So it really is as simple as that, honestly, it really is. There are some other tweaks to doing multiple language captions all at once, but you can find that easily in the user manual (
click here) or any of I’m sure dozens of YouTube videos (half of which will probably give you incorrect information). They’re really easy to do, it’s not rocket science, Apple did a great job making it simple and quick, as usual. These legally demanded captions are now something we can get out of the way without much effort so we can concentrate on our creative work!

Next up, More Captioning Functions in Final Cut Pro X 10.4.1!