Airlines flying in and out of the United States may be required to close-caption all video content for the hard of hearing under rules that might be released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as early as February of next year.

This will be the subject of an industry panel to be held during the APEX Technology Committee Meeting on November 19-20 at the Hyatt Regency, Newport Beach, California. The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) has established a working group chaired by Jonathan Norris of Lumexis to review existing closed-caption standards (see APEX 0403) and to determine if these standards should be updated or expanded.

In September, APEX board member and chair of the Technology Committee Michael Childers met with government officials and identified representatives of the DOT, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (“Access Board”), and technology advisers to the DOT with whom APEX may work to establish closed-caption technology standards that would be acceptable to both the DOT and airline community.

A conference call was held at the end of September in which these officials and APEX representatives established the ground work for collaboration. While these efforts are temporarily interrupted by the government shutdown, APEX’s Closed Caption Working Group (CCWG) is building membership and identifying the issues for review.

A conference call between these representative of the DOT, Access Board, and technical advisers, and attendees of the APEX TC is planned, according to Childers. The CCWG will also report on its work during the TC. CCWG consists of representatives of airlines, Hollywood studios, post-production facilities, and IFE systems providers.

The subject of closed captions in IFE is not new. In 2006 the DOT issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would have required closed-captions on all video content on aircraft flying in and out of the U.S. APEX—then WAEA—responded to the NPRM drafted by Pierre Schuberth, currently with Thales, and Childers. This response explained that IFE systems are proprietary closed systems whose monitors are not equipped with Line-21 captions like terrestrial televisions, and that implementing closed captions in 2006 meant loading two versions of every movie and TV show onboard—one with captions and one without.

The response advised that the IFE industry was beginning migration from MPEG-1/2 systems into MPEG-4 systems which more easily accommodated closed captions and suggested a timeline for that migration. The DOT and the APEX TC worked closely in this review and in 2008 the DOT announced that it was reluctantly tabling the closed-caption requirement due to the state of IFE technology and that it would continue to monitor the industry’s migration.

In 2007, APEX adopted a closed-caption standard based on bitmap—a “rendered image” solution that enabled captions to be provided without boarding two complete versions of every movie—one with and one without captions—but short of the simplicity of Timed Text (in 2006 still referred to as “DFXP”). Emirates was the first airline to offer this kind of closed captions, provided by Panasonic, but few other airlines have adopted closed captions. Panasonic, Thales and Lumexis all offer closed captions in accordance with the 0403 bitmap standard.

While the IFE industry has migrated into MPEG-4, the timeline envisioned by APEX in 2006 has moved more slowly due to the recession at the end of the decade. While systems delivered to aircraft today are MPEG-4, content deliveries to existing systems are still nearer to 60 percent MPEG-1/2 and 40 percent MPEG-4.

This raises the question of whether a single closed-caption standard is practical in an industry where the lifecycle of an IFE system might be 15 years, or whether a dual standard involving both bitmap and timed text solutions might be codified.

Editors Note: To the best of our knowledge, Emirates is the only airline to offer closed captioning. If you are interested in closed captioning, we suggest you contact the industry expert, Michael Childers

At APEX last, we ran into Bryan Rusenko who told IFExpress that he is going out on his own and if you seek digital workflow business development, he is your person –

No doubt you have seen the Airbus Long Haul Standard Seat Size news release, aside from the issues the competition might have with it, we agree based on increased age, increased girth, and increased need for space…we like it! And, we like the info graphics as well! Infographic #1 Infographic #2