Google is officially bringing one of its most useful Android accessibility features to Chrome. The company announced today that its browser can now caption any audio and video you play in it. This feature, called Live Caption, was already available in Android devices and offered onscreen transcriptions of anything playing through your phone's audio system. This rolled out in the Chrome release overnight and we now have more details from Google about how Live Caption will work on the browser.
By making this available for its desktop browser, Google just brought an important assistive tool to even more people on different platforms. Not only will this benefit those who've traditionally been left out from audio-only pieces of content like people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but it could also be helpful in situations where you need to understand what someone is saying but can't turn on your speaker.
Chrome's captions won't just work for websites or video players online — they'll also be available for local files saved to your hard drive when you open them in the browser. According to Google, these automatically generated real-time captions will work "across social and video sites, podcasts and radio content, personal video libraries (such as Google Photos), embedded video players, and most web-based video or audio chat services."
Of course, the usefulness of Live Caption relies largely on the accuracy of the transcription. So far, the tool has worked well on Android, based on our experience, and since the Chrome version uses the same technology, it's likely to be as accurate. It also looks similar visually, with a black box and white font providing the captions, and if it's the same as on Android, you'll be able to move the rectangle around so it doesn't cover what you're seeing. Still, it remains to be seen how the system will handle captions for multiple audio streams playing across different tabs, for example.
The company says the captions are generated on-device and works offline so you won't need an internet connection for it to work. You can enable the tool by going to the Accessibility section under Advanced section in your browser settings. It only supports English for now.
This move is significant, especially considering there are still places on the internet that still haven't enabled live captioning for audio content, not to mention occasional new features that roll out without thought for the deaf or hard of hearing community. Plus, Chrome is one of the most popular browsers around (even if it's slow to disable third-party tracking) meaning plenty of people who use PCs or Macbooks can use the new feature. Live Caption will be available globally (in the latest release) on Windows, Mac and Linux and will be coming soon to ChromeOS.