DTV Struggles With Closed Captioning

As HD gains momentum in the United States, some set-top box manufacturers, DBS and cable firms are struggling to provide closed captioning in the digital realm with any semblance of reliability.

One young woman profiled in the Sacramento Bee in California who had lost her hearing in her twenties soon found that her new Panasonic HD set and the set-top box from her cable company (SureWest) did not work in tandem, with closed captioning disappearing altogether after a couple of months. The cable firm finally gave her a new STB still in the testing stage, which provided a temporary respite.

The woman's problem is a "familiar story to a growing number of the estimated 31 million hearing-impaired TV viewers nationwide," according to the Bee. Some lingering problems persist in the Sacramento case, including a recent incident when the captions "slid off the left edge" of another woman's HD screen.

Larry Goldberg director of media access at public station WGBH in Boston, a recognized expert on closed captioning, said he hears about similar problems throughout the country affecting DTV hardware and software, and believes there are several culprits responsible for the problem--including local broadcasters who do not properly encode their closed captioning data, despite the fact there is an FCC-mandated standard in place for digital closed captioning.