How can I display accessible rich media in RealPlayer, QuickTime, and Windows Media Player?

Updated January 11th, 2013

In order to display captions or audio description in multimedia, also called Rich Media, you will need to create the captions and then add them to the media, specifying the media type (RealPlayer, Quicktime, etc.) The National Center on Accessible Media provides a series of Accessible Digital Media Guidelines which cover a variety of formats and digital media. In particular, Guideline H: Multimedia, provides details on how to add captions with SMIL, SAMI, Flash and QuickTime's QText.

SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, pronounced "smile") is a World Wide Web Consortium specification markup language that enables simple authoring of multimedia presentations that integrate streaming audio and video with images, text, or any other media. For additional information, consult the W3C Synchronized Multimedia page.

SAMI (Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange) is similar to SMIL but was developed by Microsoft and is supported solely by Microsoft products, including Microsoft Encarta® Encyclopedia, Windows Media™ Player, and some Microsoft multimedia titles. For further information, consult Microsoft's documents Understanding SAMI 1.0 and Adding Closed Captions to Digital Media.

Both SMIL and SAMI are easy-to-learn HTML-like languages, and authors often write SMIL and SAMI presentations with a simple text editor. The third major media player, QuickTime, historically has supported its own proprietary caption file format, QText, which requires additional work to convert a file into a QuickTime movie. However, the current version of QuickTime additionally supports SMIL.

The National Center on Accessible Media offers a free software tool called Media Access Generator (MAGpie) to produce accessible multimedia in both SMIL and SAMI output. Although MAGpie is a user-friendly tool with excellent supporting documentation, users often report difficulty in getting MAGpie output to work in the various media players, such as Real, QuickTime, and Windows. This problem is due in part to diversity in how media players handle captions and audio descriptions (each does so differently) and in part to users' understanding the different files placement for SMIL, SAMI, and QText.