Chrome can now live-caption audio and video, online or offline

Now you can see real-time captions for speech on the web or on locally stored audio and video files.

Google's Chrome browser has gained the ability to generate real-time captions, allowing users to view captions on pretty much any video or audio content, whether it's on the web or stored on a local hard drive. 

Live Captions is technically an accessibility feature and should come in handy for anyone with hearing difficulties. But a lot of people also just like reading what's being said on a video.

The live captioning feature has been available on devices like Google's Pixel phones and Samsung's Galaxy S20 since last year.

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Google says real-time captions can be generated for social and video sites, podcasts, and radio content. But just as importantly, the feature also works for local audio and video files saved on a hard drive – that is, the Live Caption feature works offline. You just need to play the files in Chrome.

To turn on Live Caption, you need to go to Settings and click on Advanced in the left menu. The feature can be enabled from the Accessibility panel.

Chrome downloads a small speech recognition file. The next time any audio or video containing spoken text is played, a box appears at the bottom of the screen displaying text as if someone is typing at the speed of speech.

It's really quite impressive and useful. Chrome's live-captioned text appears at about the same pace as YouTube's closed captioning option for this video of Linus Torvalds giving a tour of his home office. Other more widely viewed videos on YouTube offer closed captions that appear before a sentence is spoken.

Zoom recently offered its live captioning service to free accounts, but hasn't rolled it out to all users yet and the feature needs to be requested. Until then, Chrome's live captioning might do the trick.

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Google notes that the captions are created on-device, so that any private local video and audio files you want to be captioned aren't being processed in Google's cloud.

Live Caption is available on Chrome 89, the latest version of Google's browser for Windows, Mac and Linux. It's coming to ChromeOS, but there's no mention of live captioning for Chrome on iOS.