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One of the great things about the Apple TV is that you can usually pull up subtitles for most of the movies and TV shows you’re watching, regardless of whether those were purchased from iTunes, streaming in Apple’s TV app, or even in third-party streaming apps.
Let’s face it, with the high-power scores and sound effects in today’s movies, it’s getting much harder to hear the actual dialog. Subtitles aren’t just for folks with hearing impairments anymore, and it’s incredibly useful to be able to toggle them on quickly when you want to hear what someone just said, but don’t want to leave them on throughout the entire movie.
While the method to do this will vary with some third-party apps, traditionally you’ve been able to find them on the content menu that slides down from the top of the screen. Look for a “Subtitles” option here, which normally expands to show the languages options that are available.
In tvOS 15, however, Apple changed this up for its TV, iTunes Movies, and iTunes TV Shows apps. In these apps, the top menu is no more — it’s been replaced by several menu options that surround the scrubber bar, which previously lived down at the bottom of the screen by itself.
The Normal Way to turn on Subtitles in the TV App
This bottom section now includes the title of the movie or TV show you’re currently watching, with three buttons on the right that are used to enable subtitles, adjust audio settings and select alternative audio tracks, or enable picture in picture mode. Here’s how to enable subtitles in the new TV app:
- While watching a movie or TV show, tap (don’t press) the centre button on the Apple TV Remote.
- Swipe up. The subtitles button should be highlighted.
- Press the centre button on the Apple TV remove. A Subtitles menu should appear.
- Swipe up or down to select the language that you would like your subtitles to appear in, and press the centre button to confirm.
Note that you have to be reasonably quick with the above steps, as the menus will time out and disappear after a few seconds.
This method is reasonably accessible, but it can also quickly get cumbersome if you find yourself regularly checking dialogue in a movie or TV show, since of course you have to tap-swipe-press-swipe-press to turn them on, and then repeat that a few seconds later to turn them off again. Fortunately, there are a couple of even faster ways.
Toggling Subtitles using Siri
Like most things on your Apple TV, you can ask Siri to turn on subtitles for you, simply by pressing the Siri button on your Apple TV Remote and using two fairly obvious commands:
- Turn on subtitles
- Turn off subtitles
If you just want to review a piece of dialog, however, even this is one or two more steps than you need to take, since you’d have to rewind your video, ask Siri to turn on subtitles, and then ask Siri to turn them off again when you’re done.
Instead of going through all this, you can simply press the Siri button on your Apple TV Remote and say, “What did he say?”
This will automatically skip back about 15 seconds, toggle on subtitles, play that 15-second segment with subtitles on, and then toggle them off again.
This is arguably one of the most useful ways to use Siri on the Apple TV, although it still has its drawbacks. Firstly, you have to talk to Siri out loud, which you may not feel like doing for whatever reason — and it can also quickly get repetitive if you keep struggling to hear what the characters are saying.
Further, this method only plays the last 15 seconds with subtitles on, and there’s no way to change that. It gets cumbersome if you want to review a longer stretch of dialog.
Lastly, the What did he say? trick works great in Apple’s own apps, but it’s not always supported in third-party apps — even those that use Apple’s built-in video player.
Fortunately, the Apple TV has one more trick up its sleeve.
Quickly Toggling Subtitles with an Accessibility Shortcut
Like all of Apple’s other devices, the Apple TV includes a whole range of Accessibility features, including things like VoiceOver, display adjustments, motion reduction, hearing accommodations, and more.
In fact, Subtitles are also considered an accessibility feature, which makes sense when you think about it. The Apple TV’s Accessibility settings let you customize the layout of your subtitles, but like the iPhone, the Apple TV has a built-in “Accessibility Shortcut” that can be used to toggle any of the accessibility features on and off, from VoiceOver to Closed Captions (aka Subtitles).
The Accessibility Shortcut is triggered by triple-clicking the menu button, although it’s off by default. However, if you configure it to toggle Closed Captions, then you’ll have a really quick way to turn subtitles on and off without having to speak up or navigate through on-screen menus. Here’s how to set it up:
- Open the Settings app on your Apple TV.
- Select Accessibility.
- Swipe all the way down to the bottom and select Accessibility Shortcut. This will show a list of accessibility features that can be toggled with the menu button.
- Select Closed Captions. A checkmark should appear beside it. Make sure the other options are all unchecked.
- Press Menu or Home to exit.
You can test this by going into any video in Apple’s TV app that supports subtitles and triple-clicking the Menu button. The subtitles should appear, and you can triple-click again to turn them off.
You can also confirm that it’s working properly by going into Accessibility > Subtitles and Captioning in the tvOS Settings app. This will show the status of “Closed Captions and SDH” as either on or off, and you should be able to see it change back and forth as you triple-click the menu button.
Since it may take a bit of practice to get the triple-click gesture right, this is also a great way to practice with it. The gesture isn’t hard at all once you get used to it, but the problem is that since it uses the menu button, if you double-click instead of triple-clicking, you may find yourself exiting the show you’re currently watching, which can be a bit annoying.
Once you’ve got the gesture down into muscle memory, however, it’s one of the fastest ways to toggle subtitles on and off when you’re watching a video. Just be aware that this method won’t work everyone on your Apple TV. The show you’re watching has to include embedded subtitles, and it has to use Apple’s own video player frameworks, or have its own built-in support for the accessibility gesture.