I've searched around for an answer to this, but I can't seem to find it. Perhaps someone here can help?

I've created several M4V files through Handbrake from a DVD I own, and added them to iTunes. The episodes of the TV show appear OK, but the soft-coded subtitles I selected in Handbrake don't appear as an option when playing the episode on my iPad. But, if I open these same M4V files through VLC Player, the subtitles are there, and can be turned on and off.

If they're in the M4V file, why can't I enable these subtitles on my iPad? :(

4 Answers 4


As you discovered, DVDs often store subtitles in the VobSub format, which are images, not text. QuickTime and the iOS Video app only handle SRT/3GPP format text subtitles.

Using the very handy (and free) Subler, VobSubs can be converted to SRT subtitles and packaged in an MP4/M4V. It does this using OCR, but I've found the results to be quite accurate, since the source material is pretty clean.

If you need support for non-english subtitles, you need to go here and download the proper Tesseract language file, unzip it (so you have a .traineddata file), and place it in the Contents/Resources/tessdata folder in the Subler.app bundle.

Converting from VobSub to SRT with Subler

  1. Open Subler, and create a new file.
  2. Import your existing MP4/M4V (or MKV) file (File → Import → File…).
  3. The import settings should be automatically set up properly, but make sure that the subtitle track's action is set to 3GPP Text, not Passthru.
    • Other tracks should be set to Passthru, unless you have audio in a format the MP4 container doesn't support (but this should have been taken care of by Handbrake).
  4. Click Add.
  5. Optional: Click on the subtitle track and change the Forced setting to All Samples Are Forced, if you need forced subtitles (i.e. always on, for foreign languages).
  6. Optional: Add any metadata you might want. Subler has a nice auto-search option (File → Import → Search Metadata Online…).
  7. Save the file. This should be relatively quick, since it's not transcoding any of the video or audio.
  • 1
    Great answer, but you make a mistake in your first sentence. Subtitles are sometimes stored in Closed Caption format on DVD. These can be read by Handbrake with ease. Fantastic to know there's a way to deal with the common VobSub format, though. Thanks! Oct 5, 2012 at 8:20
  • 3
    Is there a Windows alternative for Subler? I want to add srt subtitles to a mp4 file, without re-encoding the whole video (like HandBrake does).
    – compie
    Dec 30, 2012 at 13:53
  • @robmathers thanks and one more detail. Ffmpeg doesn't find the subtitles AT ALL because the stream starts later than the segment that's analysed. That's fixed by lengthening it with options -probesize and -analyzeduration. Want to edit the answer? Or should I?
    – simone
    Sep 21, 2017 at 13:54

After doing more research, it appears that the following is true:

There are three types of subtitles:

  • Closed Captions
  • Vobsub
  • SRT (external file)

Basically, according to this post on the Handbrake forums, only Closed Captions can be used to reliably "soft code" subtitles into M4V files for use on iOS devices. ("Soft code" meaning the subtitles can be turned off and on.)

You can only "hard code" (aka "burn in") Vobsub subtitles (I think they're actually images), and SRT files can often corrupt, meaning you only get part of a sentence.

Slightly annoying, but good to know: Go with Closed Captions when you can.

Unfortunately that also means that if you don't have CC (or an SRT file) then your iPad will not let you enable subtitles -- even if they're there -- as it doesn't support Vobsub.

  • Burned in means the subtitles are added as part of the video stream, so directly in the picture. You should be able to burn in any source of subtitles, though evidently this way you can never turn the subtitles off.
    – Gerry
    Oct 4, 2012 at 13:45

I would not group SCC Closed Captions with Soft Subtitles. They are very different from one another.

SCC Closed Captions are a binary format that can only be installed at encode time.
Make a mistake and you'll have to re-encode the entire video file. Most soft subtitle tracks, OTOH, are text files, the simplest being SRT (SubRip).
There are many places on the Internet where you can obtain the SRT files for popular movies and TV shows.

You'll see this referred to as "fan-subbing." If you want/need to create your own SRT files, Jubler is a good, free choice.
QuickTime also supports SCC Closed Captions but you'll need to use Composer ($50) to install them.

For my purposes, I favor SRT/3GPP soft subtitles over SCC Closed Captions because soft subtitles look better and are much more flexible.


Go back to version 9. There is no other solution for a certain type of problem. Starting with Version 10 and carrying on with 11 and 12 (the current version only recently released) all refuse to honour soft subs that were previously compatible. This type of sub is present in the m4v file on your computer but is actually stripped by itunes from the file when transferred to your ipod. That's really important so I'm going to repeat it in caps:

Itunes versions 10 through 12 (and this has been happening for years so future versions will probably do the same) STRIP THE VALID TX3G TEXT STREAM FROM THE FILE WHEN SYNCING SO THERE ARE NO SUBTITLES PRESENT ON YOUR IPOD.

I have done this with numerous video files though on a limited number of devices (mainly classics and nanos) and it is possible that newer devices do not experience the same stripping.

Method to confirm this:

  1. Confirm via a suitable program like MediaInfo that the soft subbed file has soft subs compatible with ipod. There will be a text stream called something Timed Text in TX3G format. The very useful Handbrake encoder will convert external SRT and some muxed subs to TX3G subs automatically if requested. For a one hour video the size of the text stream shouldn't be much bigger than 200 kiB and could easily be smaller. If it's VobSub or several megabytes in size then you're dealing with a bitmap sub which as explained above won't show on an ipod.

  2. Sync this file to your ipod with your current version of itunes.

  3. Using finder/explorer navigate to the video file on your ipod. I like to find the video size on the hard drive then search by file size in the music folder (even though it's a video it's in the music folder) in ipod_control folder of the ipod.

  4. Check the file on ipod with your media info program. If using version 10 or later there will be no text stream present; using version 9 the same stream found previously will still be present.

  5. Remove/mark as watched/uncheck the video in itunes it and resync so that the file is removed from your ipod. (If you don't remove it then you won't see any changes in step 7 since the file won't have been transferred by a different version of itunes.)

  6. BACKUP your itunes library. Later versions of library are 100% incompatible with earlier versions.

  7. Roll back or "upgrade" itunes and repeat the process with the same video file to get the opposite result.

  8. Reinstall your preferred version and restore backed up library if necessary.

In older versions of itunes I've also seen the problem that the ipod will display subs during the wrong video, that is, the text stream looks as if it has been transferred to the wrong file. I thought of this confirming method too late to check that a file that should have a sub doesn't at the same time that one that shouldn't have one does have one.

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