The digital solution to language translation, subtitling and dubbing.

Reviewed by Françoise Herrmann

TM SYSTEMS offices in Los Angeles @ (818) 508 3400
TM SYSTEMS offices in Sao Paolo (Brazil), Caracas (Venezuela), and Toronto (Canada)
*After reading a preliminary draft of this review, TM SYSTEMS surprised me with the following wonderful offer for ATA Chronicle readers. For 60 days following publication of this article in the ATA Chronicle a special promotional price of $1200.00 is offered payable in 12 months, with no interest or charges. A timed dongle will be issued to ensure that payments are received in a timely manner.

For all translators who have received videos in the mail for transcription of scripts, or for the combined "skip the transcriber" transcription-translations to save clients time and expenses. For all translators who have spent long hours going fast-forward and rewind for each segment of the video, or to zero in on a particular frame, freezing screens to pick up counter time reference points, rewinding to insert speaker names, switching from monitor to TV screen, and from mouse and keyboard to remote control, the TranStation™ component of TM SYSTEMS is a fantastic new way of revisiting transcription and translation for dubbing scripts, and subtitling, as well as closed caption, without the VCR.

TranStation™ software is at the heart of a four-component award-winning system for language localization of all video-mediated materials in the fields of marketing, television or feature film production. Using this system, videotapes and VCRs become obsolete as the whole process, from production to dubbing and subtitling, is transformed from analog to digital. Accordingly, the Prime Time 2002 Emmy Award for Technical Achievement that TM SYSTEMS received is only awarded to innovators who dramatically improve, or permanently change, the face of television broadcast. For translators, working mid way in the process between production and dubbing or subtitling, this also means revolutionary changes, not the least of which subsumes that the tedious process of manipulating both a computer and a VCR has been eliminated.

Normally, the estimated time for transcription of scripts is "video run time times 5". Factor in translation, either in combination with transcription or post-transcription, and the result is a time-consuming process, which perhaps would only matter in terms of costs, inasmuch as you are paid for every minute times five of the video or audio material. The problem however, is that, beyond time and costs, the process of transcribing scripts is unusually tedious. Switching screens from VCR to computer, switching controls from keyboard to remote, switching gazes, all of this switching tends to tax short-term memory more than usual, and the result is lots of rewind and fast forward, sometimes just for one phrase, as well as constant interruption in the flow of translation. In comes TranStation™, and you will look back on your previous experiences in transcribing and translating as some dinosaur era, or sweat lodge.

Like all exceptionally well-designed electronic tools in support of work practices, TranStation™ eliminates the redundancy of repetitive tasks by automating them, creates new possibilities, and supplies the combination of ease, speed and immediacy of access that are the hallmarks of digital mediation. This is also a really user-friendly program in terms of installation and learning investment, which requires only practice with hand-to-eye and -ear coordination for perfect results. TranStation™ also comes with an excellent 51-page user manual, reminiscent in clarity and detail of the original print manuals of the early 90s.

The TM SYSTEMS TranStation™ package includes one CD-ROM, and a dainty high-tech design dongle (a security key containing licensee information) that plugs into the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port of your computer, and lights up. The USB port is an altogether different port from the parallel (printer) port you may use for the TRADOS™ dongle. Thus, you do not have to worry about port shortages, or the stackability of dongles, as you can use up to 127 devices on a USB port (with USB hubs), including several TM SYSTEMS dongles, (and the TRADOS™ dongle when it is USB-based). Additionally, the TranStation™ dongle contains its own driver program, designed for activation of the TranStation™ license you purchased, or for remote control extension of the license, so that you do not have to insert any additional disc containing the driver. This means you just plug it in, and it works!

TranStation™ is compatible with all versions of Microsoft Windows, from v. 95 to XP, and only MS Windows. The program requires a 200 MHz processor or higher multimedia PC; storage discs for media files (IDE recommended); a CD-ROM drive; a mid-level video adapter with 4 MB video memory; and a SoundBlaster™ compatible sound card. The recommended screen resolution is 1024x768 pixels.

Installation happens in a snap with the Installation Wizard as soon as you have loaded the program CD in your CD-ROM drive. The program stores on your computer and is then accessible via the Start menu after you have re-booted your computer.

Once launched, the TranStation™ software appears on the upper left hand corner of your screen just like a media player, as in Figure 1 below. TranStation™, however, is much more than a media player on several counts. First, because this is a media player that provides increased and specialized control for manipulating the video files. Secondly, because the TranStation™ media player creates new possibilities that did not previously exist with the VCR, which allow you to view your dubbed text or subtitles running in a simulation mode with the video. And finally, because this is a program that automates the redundancy of certain routine tasks in translation and transcription of scripts such as inserting time codes. The enhanced media player functions and the transcription/translation support functions for dubbing and subtitling are reviewed in the following paragraphs.

Figure 1: TranStation™ media player

Regular Media Players such as the WMP (Windows Media Player™) or QuickTime™ for Macs allow you to view video files, to adjust the sound, to start and stop, and to blindly access some point in between with a scroll bar. Beyond the most compelling feature that consists in eliminating the need for your VCR, the media functions of TranStation™ afford you far more control for manipulation of the motion picture. You can move backward or forward in several set increments of seconds. You can set the rate of the motion to slower or faster. You can access any frame discretely per hh:mm:ss or by using a special scroll bar that follows the motion in lieu of freezing it. And you can listen to the right or to the left audio sound track, and view with or without sound (in mute mode). With this increased control over the motion pictures you now have immediate click access to any speech segment, which you can listen to for clarity, for sound field length and position, or for correlation with visual cue and body language, without the VCR and all the juggling between multiple devices and control buttons that is usually involved.

Beyond increased control over manipulation of the video images, the TranStation™ media player is also linked to MS Word in a series of two-way functions that support, expand and dramatically perfect your activity of transcribing and translating for subtitling or dubbing. In general this means that once TranStation™ is launched, all you need to do to start working is to open an MS Word document in any language that you use-almost as usual-since there is lots more you can do that invisibly correlates with the media functions. First, for dubbing or scripting you can cue dubbing blocks, automatically using the spacebar and a single definition for each of the various characters. This means on the one hand that you no longer have to identify or type in the time codes and characters as a separate task for each segment of transcribed or translated text. And on the other hand, it also means that you can playback the DUB blocks (functioning invisibly as video markers) of your translated or transcribed text, on the media player in a simulated mode, to verify your transcription or translation according to duration, lip sync, and timing. Simulation in the DUB mode runs as closed caption so you can really see word by word how the dubbed text correlates with the action on the video screen. Seeing your dubbed text running in closed caption with the video is not possible with the VCR, which means that TranStation™ not only replaces the VCR, it expands the functional possibilities, and in this case, supports a dramatic improvement in the accuracy and quality of dubbing or scripting, as well as saving time.

Similarly, in the subtitle mode, the connection of TranStation™ to MS Word allows you to actually see your subtitles running on screen with the video! (See Figure 2 below). Once you have translated the script (and if you haven't already done a DUBbing file that you can automatically convert to a SUBtitling file), you simply highlight an intuitive subtitle text in your MS Word document, select Timing in the subtitling menu of the media player, which launches the video and inserts your text in the media player. Then, using the space bar you spot the video, which at the same time marks subtitling blocks in the MS Word document that indicate time in and time out of the subtitle. Perhaps the only difficulty that you will encounter is one of hand-to-ear and -eye coordination, as you must hit the space bar on the dot, though it is easy to correct any missed cues, either re-timing or manually editing. In an assisted subtitling mode, the program automatically cues time out based on the number of characters per subtitle and the rate of reading. In an interactive subtitling mode you mark and spot your own time out cue. Finally, as for dubbing, in the simulation mode you will be able to verify both timing and readability of your subtitles on screen with the video images. The debug program that runs prior to simulation supplies perfect assistance for any conflicting in-and-out cues or syntax errors when you have edited the cues. Seeing your subtitles running with the video, and how they actually work is both invaluable, and simply not possible with the VCR. Thus, TranStation™ not only replaces the VCR, enhancing, improving and simplifying tape-viewing functions, it also creates new possibilities that truly transform and improve the practice.

TranStation™ perhaps sounds too good to be true! True it is, though you need to be aware of the following two issues. First, the price of the software will undoubtedly be prohibitive for many translators. It is hoped, however, that this "star price", commensurate with the glamour of the Hollywood supply chain, will perhaps be offset with increased demands for transcription/translations; the combined decrease in costs and turnaround for clients; and the expanded fee structure for translations that include ready-to-use subtitling, closed caption or dubbing files.

Secondly, in an imperfect world that is still analog, it is also quite possible that you will still be receiving source files on videotape, especially since not all of your clients in the supply chain will have already converted to digital production using other TM SYSTEMS components. A fortiori, considering the costs of the remaining TM SYSTEMS components. TM SYSTEMS components range from $7000 to a mind- boggling $32,000 for all of the components that production agencies use. However, you will be pleased to know that for an additional, affordable investment of time and money, you will not be forced to revert back to the dinosaur era, pre-TranStation™. You will be able to use your TranStation™ regardless of whether you receive a videotape or an MPEG-1 source file since you can always convert analog videotape data into digital data on CD-ROM or DVD.

There are currently several ways to convert analog videotape data into digital computer-mediated data or MPEG-1 files for motion pictures. First, there are companies whose business it is to convert VHS videotapes and other analog media to digital media. You will find lists in the Yellow Pages and on the web, when you search VHS-to-digital video conversion. The charge ranges from $15 to $20 per videotape of 1 or 2 hours, with a 1 to 2 business-day turnaround, depending on the vendor. Providing that your deadline is not too constricting and your client or agency is willing to cover the cost of the conversion, this is definitely the easiest option.

Another option is to purchase an analog-to-digital media conversion device. For a laptop the analog-digital conversion device is external. For a desktop the analog-digital conversion device is an internal PCI card that includes the sockets for plugging in your VCR. Since these products convert all kinds of analog data, this also means, for example, that you can use them for watching and storing TV or video camera data directly on your PC. TM SYSTEMS recommended the pioneers in this domain, called Dazzle products, among many that are now competing in this corner of the market. Dazzle incidentally, as of April 2004, has been sold to a company called Pinnacle so that Dazzle products are now called Pinnacle PCTV Deluxe ($189.00), corresponding to an external laptop-compatible conversion device; and Pinnacle PCTV Pro ($89.00), corresponding to the internal PCI card compatible with desktops. Depending on your analog-to-digital conversion needs and the demands you receive for videotape translations, you may elect to purchase these products. For the testing purposes herein, I simply opted for the service option at $19 for a one-hour videotape.

When the TM SYSTEMS new web site becomes fully functional (, you will find that there are some interesting features on this site. For example, there is a plan for hosting a discussion forum for TM SYSTEMS users, including a one-hour period dedicated to direct communication with the CTO of the company, Carlos Contreras, which promises many interesting sessions. Beyond support via email, this feature appears as an innovative and welcome bonus, since it is a gateway to participation in the design conversation and to updated versions that will correlate even more closely with your needs. Another feature includes provisions for a special translator section which will offer the ability for TM SYSTEMS TranStation™ users to list their individual language pairs and specialties to reach the worldwide user group of dubbing and subtitling vendors, and BIG production agencies.

Except for the unfairness of the out-of-reach price, TM SYSTEMS TranStation™ appears as vital a tool as TRADOS™ or TERMIUM™ for translators who do scripts. It deserves a befitting "two thumbs up" for being so much fun to use, and for quietly transforming, expanding and perfecting our practices. Get it! Even if it means bringing up the issue of financing on the TM SYSTEMS forum. And enjoy! You will never want to use your VCR again for translation.

Figure 2: TranStation™ showing a translated subtitle, perfectly timed, under a video frame in simulation mode.
[The artistic video clip Read my Lips of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair is available upon request in MPEG-1 format, with TranStation™ French subtitle file.]