Subtitles burn-in

Posted on 7 February 2013



I want to burn in subtitles to my master file. How to do that in osX with my prores masters? Here is my quest for a simple solution.


We’ve found this roundtrip through handbrake but it’s really cumbersome and not very good for quality as you need to go through a h.264 codec twice.
I believe that the essence of this solution is that the video plays through Perian, which renders the subtitle track as a video-overlay.

This is what happens:

  1. Download and install the free handbrake. Open your prores master. Then go to the subtitles tab and add the .srt subtitle, select it as default subtitle. Then export this as a MKV file (with h.264 codec, RF20) using ‘add to Queue’ and then process this queue.
  2. Now the trick is in the playback of this MKV file. So download and install the free Perian, as this will enable playback of the MKV file in QT and converts the subtitle track as a overlay videotrack 2 (instead of text track).
  3. Optional: You might want to resize the subtitles as they are very big for a full HD screening. Download and install the free Quicktime 7. Now I think you might want to use your QT Pro licence, have not tried it without. Now in QT open Window – Movie Properties and resize the subtitle videotrack: Display size 1000, offset 460×500 (For HD material). Then save it. It will not recompress I think, just save the titles to a proper overlay-videotrack.
  4. Now you can convert this MKV file to your final master with compressor or squeeze.

Two footnotes:

  1. The first bad thing about this approach is you will use a recompressed intermediate master. There is an option to set RF to 0 (uncompressed), but this might give purple artifacts instead of the expected uncompressed quality.
  2. The second bad thing is that step 4 sometimes just doesn’t seem to work. This could be because I was choose save-as so I could make a reference movie.

handbrake can burn-in SSA (Substation Alpha) subtitles, see their manual here. Unfortunately this only works if  the SSA subtitles are already in your source file, so this doesn’t help me much.

Rewrap for Perian

Perian will load the .srt file automatically, as long as you’ve put it there as a sidecar file with the same name. So a quick way would be to rewrap the ProRes .mov master to something that is played through Perian. Then it’s easy to burn them into a new master. Unfortunately, Perian does not support ProRes or XDcam.


I’ve tested the free Subler, Hootenanny and a few others. I have not found a way yet to save the titles into my Prores .mov masters.

However, Subler is a nice alternative for Handbrake to add the subtitle track to your h.264 master and then save it as a mp4 file. It is a muxer like mpeg streamclip, so it will not touch any of the streams: it will not recode your video. After you added the subtitle track (as 3GPP text) you can save it as a mp4 file and view it with quicktime by turning subtitles on in the quicktime menu. This is a nice alternative for those users that don’t have Perian. Because playback of .mp4 or .m4v files is natively supported by quicktime, it does not use Perian and the titles are just rendered as text-layers by quicktime. They will not be burned into the video if you export it using quicktime, squeeze of compressor.

It would have been better if both quicktime and encoding software just supports .srt sidecart files!

FCP SRT Importer

A really good option is to use this great SRT importer for FCP XML, written by the french Michael Cinquin.


It looks like you could use QT Pro in windows to do the trick, this post explains how it works. Then you can export the movie and choose “iPod” from the Export format settings. QuickTime will flatten the movie and burn the subtitles directly onto the video. You can save your original file in QuickTime format in case you need to edit or add additional subtitle tracks.

Another option is the use of virtual dub or format factory.


For now, I really like the FCP SRT importer route. You might consider saving a master without subs first, and then using that master in a new sequence with subtitles, exporting it as a reference movie.

Posted in: Post-production