Roku and Amazon are so close to making captions easy to toggle


The Roku Voice Remote Pro, and the Amazon Alexa Voice Remote Pro.

Phil Nickinson

The concept that distant controls ought to embody a devoted button for captions shouldn’t be, in and of itself, a foul one. In reality, it makes a complete lot of sense, whether or not the distant belongs to a tv or a peripheral like Roku or Amazon Fireplace TV. We acknowledge the truth that it might add complexity and, presumably, value to a tool. (And that it’s comparatively straightforward to simply flip ’em on and off inside apps as it’s.) However we consider it might be value it.

We didn’t choose Roku and Amazon Fireplace TV out of skinny air in that earlier paragraph. They’re the 2 greatest streaming platforms on this planet. And because it seems, they each have distant controls with user-programmable buttons. Whereas that’s not fairly the identical factor as what we’re imploring the likes of Roku, Amazon, Google, Apple, and others to make use of, it’s one thing that’s out there now. (Although the remotes in query aren’t shipped by default with each system — you’ll need to spend extra to get them.)

The Alexa Voice Distant Professional and the Roku Voice Distant Professional embody two buttons which you could program your self to carry out numerous actions. There are limits to the choices and what you are able to do with them, nevertheless it’s nonetheless higher than nothing.

Right here’s the state of play relating to the programmable buttons and captions:

Amazon Alexa Voice Distant Professional

In our Alexa Voice Distant Professional assessment — sure, we reviewed somewhat distant management — we had been unequivocal in saying that it ought to simply be included within the field of all Amazon Fireplace TV gadgets. It’s actually good, from the shape to the texture to the choices.

Buttons on the Alexa Voice Remote Pro.
Phil Nickinson

There’s good and unhealthy information relating to captions, nevertheless. The unhealthy information is that there isn’t an apparent “Toggle captions” choice for the buttons. That’s a disgrace and one thing Amazon ought to be capable of repair comparatively simply if it needs.

The excellent news? There’s a fairly straightforward workaround, although it does require you to make use of each buttons. The programmable Alexa Voice Distant could be tasked to repeat a voice command, too. Which means you’re not restricted to the choices offered on the display once you first try and program one of many buttons.

So I hit the Alexa button, mentioned “Flip captions on,” after which held down Button 1 and set it to repeat that motion. I then did the identical factor for Button 2, programming it to “Flip captions off.” It’s somewhat clunky, nevertheless it works nice.

Amazon Fire TV custom button shortcut.
Phil Nickinson

Just one downside right here: That scheme works nice within the Amazon Prime Video app, nevertheless it doesn’t work in each different streaming app I attempted. (And that features the Amazon-owned Freevee.)

In different phrases, a customized perform that actually solely works in a single app isn’t a lot of a customized button in any respect.

Roku Voice Distant Professional

Issues are barely higher relating to the Roku Voice Distant Professional. Once more, this distant doesn’t include the least-expensive Roku streaming devices, which is a disgrace. However in case you have it, you will have two programmable buttons at your disposal.

Roku Voice Remote Pro buttons.
Phil Nickinson

Just like the Alexa Voice Distant, Roku offers you a number of choices from which to program one of many buttons. However not like Amazon, a type of choices occurs to be “Closed captions.” You can also program a voice command, the identical as with the Alexa distant, which supplies you one other avenue to activate captions or subtitles. (Although I couldn’t get that half to work for some cause.)

Setting one of many programmable buttons offers you the choice to show captions off, have them all the time on, or have them on should you hit the replay button on the distant (which takes you again a number of seconds), or when the TV is muted.

Caption options on the Roku Voice Remote Pro.
Phil Nickinson

That’s fairly useful. However it’s additionally not common. It really works as supposed with Roku’s personal video choices, similar to something you watch on The Roku Channel. It additionally works on Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ — three apps all owned by Disney and which ought to be utilizing the identical tech stack. It additionally works on Max, the streaming service previously often known as HBO Max, in addition to with Paramount+. There could be different apps on which it really works, too — these are simply a number of the larger ones I attempted.

However it additionally fails to work on some fairly main apps. YouTube and YouTube TV are out. So, too, are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV.

So what went fallacious?

It’s fairly clear that whereas captions and subtitles are included in all of the apps the place you’d anticipate them, there’s not one customary implementation of them throughout the apps themselves.

That’s one thing the platforms truly may handle. There’s a cause developer requirements exist, and that is exactly why. Amazon and Roku — and all the opposite platforms, for that matter — may inform the assorted video companies “It is advisable to code your apps in order that if a button press tells an app to show captions off or on, your app will achieve this.” It’s somewhat extra difficult than that, in fact, particularly once you get into the variations between subtitles and captions.

However it’s doable. And regardless that we’re speaking actual first-world issues right here — it’s not like clicking a distant a number of occasions inside an app to toggle captions is all that tough — it may go a great distance towards, effectively, one thing.

A minimum of getting a few cranky outdated writers to cool down.

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