Can you get closed captioning over HDMI with DIRECTV?

This is one of those weird ones.

Before high definition, a lot of televisions had a neat feature. If you muted the sound, the captions would come on automatically. It was a friendly use of the closed captioning system that’s required on all televisions for the use of people who can’t hear.

The truth is most TVs still have that feature, but most of us don’t use it. Why? HDMI. If your DIRECTV equipment is connected via that friendly HDMI cable, closed captioning doesn’t work on your TV. Why? Because legally, it doesn’t have to.

Legally, if the receiver or DVR itself is capable of putting out closed captions, then it doesn’t have to pass captions over the HDMI cable. Passing closed captioning over HDMI isn’t impossible, but it does take some extra work to accomplish. It’s easier to generate the captions in the receiver and then put the entire image, captions and all, out to the TV. So that’s what pretty much everyone does.

If you want to see captions on your DIRECTV receiver, press the {INFO} button on live television and arrow over to the Captioning menu. From there you can choose DIRECTV Captions or Closed Captions, which are both really similar except the DIRECTV Captions give you some extra stuff that isn’t strictly legal with closed captioning (which is regulated by the government.)

The only thing is your DIRECTV receiver doesn’t know when you mute the TV so it can’t turn them on automatically. It wouldn’t be impossible for a DIRECTV remote to send a signal to the receiver when you press {MUTE} but, the thing is, it doesn’t and it probably never will.

If you use a component connection from your HD receiver, you will get closed captioning data to the TV, but you also end up with a big bulky cable and five different RCA connections, and that assumes that the TV can still take component connections. Most can’t.

So, this one falls under, “sometimes you win sometimes you lose.” Those friendly captions that turned on when you muted the TV don’t happen automatically. I still wish they did, but it’s no reason to go back to an old standard definition receiver just to make it happen.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.