Ubuntu Linux: Subtitles, Video Editing and DVD Authoring

Translating movie subtitles is my new hobby. I had no previous knowledge of what subtitles are, how they are embedded in a DVD movie, how to rip them off, how to create new subtitles, and then finally how to prepare a DVD with translated subtitles that could be played on most popular software, hardware and standalone DVD players. I found out that it was not an easy job to embed UTF-8 encoded text on DVD as a separate subtitle stream. So I decided to hardsub my movie, which means that users will not have the option to turn off the Urdu subtitles.

First I needed to rip the DVD to my hard disk and there are some very good tools available for Ubuntu Linux that work great. (Warning: As always, check the relevant copyright laws for your country regarding the backup of DVDs). I used dvd::rip which rips and transcodes the files into avi format. It also provides the option to rip the subtitles separately, but since most DVD movies has subtitles embedded in streams with Pictures it was basically useless for me. However there are other tools that rip the subtitles and also help you save them as text using OCR.

There are many tools available for Ubuntu/Linux to create or translate subtitles in many different formats. I needed to figure out a Subtitle format that supports utf-8. Then I needed to find a software that allows me to embed the subtitles on the Video without any significant quality loss. After trying Subtitle Editor, Gnome Subtitles, Gaupol and Ksubtitle; I finally settled on Subtitle Editor. I had lots of trouble to use the preview features but some how I worked my out. I started working on subtitles and was very disappointed to find out that the preview didn’t display Urdu characters perfectly. Even though the subtitle format I was using had formatting and stylizing support too.

I decided to work on my subtitles without previewing them but even then I need to know if I have the tools available that would demux my subtitles on the video. Luckily we have a very nice dvdauthor tool available. It comes with a tool called Spumux. I generated a movie with my sample translated subtitles and the results were very bad. The quality of video was outstanding but Spumux didn’t displayed Urdu Characters correctly. May be, it was all my fault, may be I forgot something. But even after hours of checking through subtitles, xml file (required to use with spumux to tell it about the job) and creating many clips; I wasn’t able to get my text right.

I was disappointed and had to log on to Windows XP to see if there are any open source software for windows that do what I wanted to do. While there, I opened Windows Movie Maker, playing little with it I realized that I can add Subtitles with Windows Movie Maker. Windows Movie Maker not only did the subtitles but it also displayed them beautifully on the screen. I saved the clip and it was brilliant. But then it occured to me that if Windows Movie Maker can do this then there must be some alternate to it for Ubuntu Linux.

So lets see what we got in Linux to do the job. For video editing I tried Kino, Cinelera, and LiVES. To be very honest, it was a really very frustrating experience for me to figure out how these tools work. Kino is probably the most user friendly of all three but still Kino is a difficult thing to learn and you definitely can not work with it if you are working on an entire movie. It is good for movies you capture using your mobile phone, cam corder or other such devices. Even if I saved my movies in several small clips, it was difficult to navigate around my storyboard and add subtitles on a precise location. I wouldn’t spend time telling you about how it went with Cinelera or Lives. They both have horrible user interfaces and they are bundled with features that were completely useless for me.

In short I failed to add subtitles to my videos using Ubuntu Linux. I am now doing it on MS Windows XP, using Aegisub
and some other little open source or free applications. Aegisub is available for Linux but I was not able to install it on my Ubuntu 7.10 due to unmatched dependencies. I feel that the options for video editing are not very good for Ubuntu/Linux users. The tools we have are not user-friendly, advanced and there is not much to choose from.

Even if I failed to do my work with these tools but it does not mean that they are useless for every one else too. In fact some of them are quite sophisticated and as it is with most open source applications, they give you a lot more control than proprietary solutions. What we need to do is to concentrate more on improving them. We need to use these software, file bug reports, submit feature requests and help each other using these tools. We need to appreciate all those who are working on these projects (Guys if you are reading this, your tools didn’t help me. But thank you anyways). May be the community should organize some events where we gather around to focus on these tools and improve them.

Published by Noumaan Yaqoob

I am a full-time WordPress blogger, I write tutorials about using WordPress, WordPress themes and plugins. Need help with your website? Feel free to contact me.


  1. Thank you, that was a very complete review. I have also tried Jubler a Java-based subtitler, but with not much success (it requires mplayer to preview films, but does not recognize my mplayer installation.) I am going to try Aegisub now.

  2. At first I also thought Kino was difficult to use for larger projects. Now I admit I was wrong. Actually it’s extremely easy, since you easily can merge or split scenes, add or adjust sound and add different kinds of effect. When I discovered the options and how to use them I did tend to get overly enthusiastic with the result of to many added “special effects” to my films. I don’t write this in an attempt to protect the holy grail of open-source; it’s more of a reflection about the difficulty to develop tools that fits the mind set of everyone.

  3. I see subtitle support in GNOME (no idea about others) as a *very* badly supported (if not missing) feature for a long time now.

    Even though I’m not really interested in hard sub thing, but prefer keeping my subtitles together with the movie file and load’em whenever I like to, it is still a disappointing experience to anyone out there I guess.

    I’d like to see a brainstrom item for this one! =)

    Regards, Ali Servet Dönmez

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