Closed Captions on TV/DVD Sets

So I happened to get a Toshiba MD13P1 for Christmas from my parents, which is a combination TV/DVD unit. I had originally intended it for use in my own room, but it’s taken its place in the living room now that there’s plenty of room out there that just begs for filling up.

This is a nice little unit, despite that we don’t actually have cable TV to hook into. It has very nice picture, great sound, and DVDs play flawlessly. It has built-in closed captions, which makes me quite happy, being hearing impaired.

But here’s the rub: the closed-caption decoder on the unit only decodes captions from TV shows. We’ve discovered this by a little trial and error with DVDs we know to be captioned but that don’t have subtitles. So we’ve had to play any DVD that doesn’t directly have captions on my faithful laptop, autumn. Strangely, this seems to have the effect of turning my nice little TV/DVD combo into a paperweight in some situations.

But why doesn’t the closed caption decoder cover both units? In cases such as these, plugging in an external DVD player would probably force the pickup of captions through the unit, but this doesn’t make any logistical sense — if you buy a combination unit, you sort of expect — nay, demand — the ability to use closed captions on any application that unit is good for.

So what’s up with this? Is this the only model to do this, or is this a bigger plague than I make it out to be? Am I the only one that finds this a very strange loophole in the FCC’s Part 79 Closed Captioning Rules? A more digestible version of this information is available through the FCC’s Consumer Information on Closed Captioning. All that document states is that "the Commission has required that all analog television sets with screens 13 inches or larger sold in the United States contain built-in decoder circuitry that allows viewers to display closed captions". This unit does do that, but it seems like that rule should reasonably apply to all parts of the unit.

So I’m more than a little puzzled and somewhat irked — what’s the point of shelling out $200 for a TV set if it doesn’t caption everything it should caption? Admittedly, this television was a gift, but good money was paid for it, and I feel somewhat slighted by Toshiba. I doubt, however, that there’s all that much that can be done about it past my current solution.

Update (10:57PM)

I decided to do a little web searching and ran across the following from the National Captioning Institute’s FAQ:

Why don’t the captions show up on my DVD?

The problem may be with the DVD player or it may be with the DVD. Some of the early models and some inexpensive models don’t support closed captions.

The problem may not be the DVD player, but rather the hookup, decoder, or TV with built in decoder. Some consumers have written to say that using an S-video hookup with certain models of DVD players and television sets prevents the captions from being displayed.

One possibility is that the DVD distributor opted to use English subtitles instead of captions, so if the viewer is looking for captions, they can’t find them. The subtitles do not need to go through the decoder to be displayed the way captions do. Captions must go through the TV decoder to be displayed. Subtitles are turned on and off through the DVD player.

I’ve used DVDs where I know the last option to not be the case. I’m not sure about the other two options on there.

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