How to Add Subtitles to Video Files on Your Mac

You don’t have to be a movie buff to appreciate a good foreign film, but unless you know the language, you will need to watch with subtitles. Adding them to your movies, TV shows and video files can be fairly easy, and you have a few options to do so.

The file format of the video usually doesn’t matter when it comes to adding subtitles, but naturally, playback is another story depending on how and where you want to watch it. If you’ve got a film that doesn’t have any subtitles at all, you can usually find them at websites like MovieSubtitles.org and AllSubs.org or by simply checking through a search engine. Subtitle file formats are typically found in .srt, .sub, .ssa, .ass and MicroDVD, and all of them should work with the options that I’ll outline here.

Keeping it Simple

The first method is the easiest, and doesn’t require any software to make it work, but you won’t be able to merge them together permanently. Nor will you be able to view the subtitles on the iPhone or iPod if you decide to sync the video over.

  1. Locate and download the subtitles file in the language you’re looking for.
  2. Create a new folder and place the subtitles file into it.
  3. Take your video file and move it into the same folder.
  4. If your video file is called Life is Beautiful.avi, for example, you just need to change the subtitle file to match that of the video file, which would be Life is Beautiful.srt in this case.
  5. Drag the video file into a free video player like VLC on your Mac and you should now see the subtitles appear during playback.
A Video Folder

A Video Folder

Aside from simply playing the video with subtitles on your Mac, you should be able to see the subtitles when streaming video from one Mac to another across a home network. This can also work if you’re using media server software to stream through one of the big three video game consoles.

Editing Subtitle Files

Subtitle files can be a challenge in cases where the text doesn’t synchronize properly with the video, which is why you may have to download a few different files and experiment with this process. If the pickings are a little slim, you can use a free app called Jubler to edit them. It takes a little getting used to, but the main interface shows a timeline of when each line of text displays in the duration.

Jubler

Jubler

Changing the timing of all these manually can be time-consuming, and it’s only in a few cases where you might have to do it on a wide scale. Personally, I had to do it for the entirety of the French movie, A Very Long Engagement (English title), because there was a latency of eight to 10 seconds throughout the whole film, making it virtually unwatchable.

The good thing about Jubler is that you can also create your own subtitles in cases where you might want to include them. If you have a movie or video that is in English but has parts in another language, you can always make the subtitles yourself and slot in the right times in correlation with the footage. You can even edit the size, type and style of the font.

Merging Subtitles With Video

If synchronization isn’t an issue and you’d prefer to merge subtitles with the video permanently, then you can opt to go with an app called Submerge from Swedish developer Bitfield. At an inexpensive cost of $9 U.S., Submerge is a useful app that makes merging subtitles with video very easy. The Settings pane that opens up to the right of the interface offers up a host of options in how you want the subtitles to look and where you want them to go. By default, they align to the centre, but you can also move them to the left or right, if you prefer.

Submerge

Submerge

Clicking the “Render” button at the top will load the subtitles based on the choices you made, so you can see how they look while the video is playing. The “Export to” button gives you the standard iPhone, iPad, iPod and Apple TV, but you also get the Sony PSP, Playstation 3 (480p or 720p), Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360. There’s even a choice for cell phones. The exporting process is pretty simple, though it could take a while to convert the video. Bitfield suggests that Elgato’s Turbo.264 hardware encoder would be a viable option to speed things up.

The subtitles are optimized for whichever format you choose to export to. This means you should have no issues viewing them on the smaller screens of the iPod, iPhone and PSP. You can, however, change the resolution of the video by using the “Force” options under Movie on the menu bar.

If you’d prefer to check out the fonts, styles and sizes on their own, you can go to Submerge>Preferences under the menu bar and sample everything by clicking the “Subtitles” tab. Here, you can see how everything looks without having to constantly guess and sample before rendering the subtitles with the video.

Doing More With Merged Subtitles

Bitfield also offers iSubtitle, a deeper app ($19 U.S. for license) that makes it easier to integrate subtitles in multiple languages within the same video file. The interface is very similar to Submerge with a pane sliding out to the right. Adding extra subtitle files is as simple as clicking the + symbol and selecting the ones you want. iSubtitle will then do all the legwork of integrating it into the video without disturbing the other existing subtitle files.

Under the Metadata tab, you can also automatically or manually add details like a TV show’s name, episode and season. And with Chapters, you can create your own chapter breaks in the video anywhere you want.

iSubtitle

iSubtitle

The best part is that all this data — multiple subtitles, chapters and details — is recognized when importing the video into other apps like iTunes, QuickTime and VLC. Even if you choose to watch using a media server with a game console, you can use a remote to skip chapters and choose subtitles like you would with any regular DVD. But this can be a little hit or miss, as the consoles aren’t officially supported by the software with any presets.

Export Options

Export Options

There is full support with presets for the iPhone, iPad, iPod and Apple TV. iSubtitle’s core feature is that it renders the subtitles independently, meaning that the resolution of the text is optimized with the best possible quality for whatever device you’re using to play the video. The key is that the subtitles will look the same no matter how you’re watching them.

Conclusion

And that just about covers it. No matter which method you opt for, you should be able to view, edit and even create subtitles for whatever video files you want. The beauty of all this is that it becomes easy to watch anything in a foreign language, so long as subtitle files are available.

It’s been my experience that ripping DVDs doesn’t always transfer the subtitles that originally came with the disc. It was this scenario that ultimately lead me to find the best method in attaching or merging them together with those movies and shows. But even for those who are hearing-impaired, these methods could provide good solutions to being able to watch anything, regardless of language.


  • Gray Stockton

    Nice, that is actually really helpful. It looks like a much better way to do things so I don’t have to run everything through iMovie.

  • Benji

    Yes, thanks a lot! I’ve seen many apps, but none of them are using soft subtitles, iSubtitle does! Very cool to be able to choose subtitles on my iPod touch :-)

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  • maccolar

    Nice guide, it’s really useful for me. I used to use this DVD Creator for Mac to burn video with subtitle, it works pretty well too.

  • waidn

    “Personally, I had to do it for the entirety of the French movie, A Very Long Engagement (English title), because there was a latency of eight to 10 seconds throughout the whole film, making it virtually unwatchable.”

    Try hitting H or J in VLC.

  • Tom9

    Another cool tool that uses soft subtitles is VideoDrive (http://www.aroona.net). Simply keep your AVI and SRT files together, and import them in iTunes. It’s very fast because it does not reconvert the video. After that, you can always toggle your subtitles on and off. Very nice. it also includes a fix for the infamous Leopard and Snow Leopard “screen goes black in front row when subtitles kick in” bug.

  • pedro homero

    Instead of VLC (which is a fine piece of software, but…) i would recommend Movist (http://code.google.com/p/movist/) as a video player. It renders subtitles much better than VLC or Quicktime Player (w/ Perian) because it renders them as vectors, not as bitmaps.

    Consider the following screen caps:

    Quicktime:
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_wiWgojwI61c/S0-5rnf6bnI/AAAAAAAAKVY/7Rme8OyJ6hQ/s1600-h/Screen+shot+2010-01-15+at+12.37.10+AM.png

    VLC:
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_wiWgojwI61c/S0-51ZHeMoI/AAAAAAAAKVg/xcaUsjRicFk/s1600-h/Screen+shot+2010-01-15+at+12.33.45+AM.png

    Movist:
    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_wiWgojwI61c/S0-5_kUfxtI/AAAAAAAAKVo/2NkkB8dGTVs/s1600-h/Screen+shot+2010-01-15+at+12.35.21+AM.png

    As you can see (and on a full screen 27′ iMac the difference feels even more) the rendering of subs is totally different on all three, and movist’s is much better.

  • Pitch89

    Another free complete subs editor: Subs Factory

    http://subsfactory.traintrain-software.com/

  • A dissapointed reader

    Maaaan, is this a guide or are you trying to sell Bitfield stuff? Jesus…..

  • http://www.softelgroup.com/ Chantal Terry

    This sounds (no pun intended) simple, yet I still struggle to get the basic movie downloaded without considering sub titles. Equally, of late my audio is not in sync with film. Any suggestions on how I can repair this as I am watching movies and the audi is either behind or ahead of the film. This has only just happened in the last four or so movies. I pay for my subscription to download.

  • Rebecca High

    Thanks! As a foreign film aficianado it’s sometimes hard to get decent all-in-one files. This was a really helpful piece.

  • Dee

    Awesome, Thanks bud, just what i needed, got submerge!!

  • LaurentR2D2

    Thank you for this interesting article. It helped me a lot :)

  • Dee

    I was going through this and got confused when I saw the screen shot because I was doing the exact same thing with the EXACT SAME movie, Elite Squad. What a coincidence!

  • iLucas

    Hi, does anyone know about a Mac App which can be used to watermark videos? I have been thinking in using subtitles for such purpose – but most subtitles apps seem confusing to use – and I only need to place a small line of text, such as a web address or email. I have try PulpMotion advance, but I dislike the resulting file size it produces – I get a 1 GB file coming from an original 20 MB file, so even if the resulting video is watermarked is practically useless because must video hosting services limits the size of videos to be uploaded to up to a size of 100 MB, average.

  • john j rambals

    thank you

  • Jeff

    I bought submerge, exported my video to Apple TV and it produced an m4v file that won’t play in iTunes, on the Apple TV or in VLC. Waste of money.

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  • rea

    thank you so much..the instructions help me a lot.. i was able to put subtitles on those favourite movies I downloaded on my macbook..

  • Juan David

    This was very useful. Thank you!

  • Marcelo

    Really helpful, you show what people need to know and even more than that!

  • Jon

    Thanks *but* this only seems to output to .MOV – I’m trying to get a film to play on a media capable TV with the subtitles. The TV plays the subs when they’re a separate file, but the font is too small. I want to hard-code larger subs into the AVI, but this S/W doesn’t seem to do that.
    I also created the .MOV containing the subs (Plays with subs in Quicktime but *not* in MPlayerX – which would imply they are still soft!!) and tried converting it to .AVI with Handbrake but there are no subtitles… either soft or hard.
    Looks like I’ll be making a DVD image of the AVI with Handbrake, adding external subs, then ripping it back to an AVI…
    That will take a while but I’ve spent more time messing with this program. Oh well…lived and learned.

  • JAVIER

    It does not have audio when I load a movie into isubtitle. I have a Mac OSX 10.7.5 intel core i7.
    Do you guys know why is this?
    Except for this the app is fantastic.. !

  • Mr P

    Yep, exactly the same problem as Jon. Waste of money unless you want .mov copies. Won’t play on TV.

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