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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So, what happened to the competition?

On July 9 2006, the last actively maintained ASS-Based General-Purpose Subtitling Software (henceforth ABGPSS) competition that Aegisub had - Sabbu - was dropped by its creator, kryptolus. Sabbu was an important program in the sense that it was the first ABGPSS to support Unicode and to be cross-platform. With Medusa and SubStation Alpha long dead, Subtitles Workshop being far from usable for anime fansubbing purposes, and SSATool designed for very specific purposes, Aegisub obtained monopoly on the ABGPSS business.

But what really happened? Was that a good thing? Let's take a quick look at all the related software.

Substation Alpha started it all. Written in Visual Basic, it had many advanced features for its time, and many timers still think that it's the best timing tool ever made (I was recently shocked to learn that some old-school fansubbing groups have been using Aegisub even for timing!). As revolutionary as it was, it was essentially useless for typesetting and had too many quirks for most users.

  • What happened to it? It was discontinued many years ago by its creator, Kotus.
  • Who still uses it? Many old-school timers still do, apparently, and won't replace it with anything else.
  • Why was it important? It supported genlocks, but it also helped ignite the digisubs revolution. The current standard subtitles format is a direct descendant from SSA's own version 4 format, which is the source of many oddities in the format.

Medusa is the tool that I actually used when I was a "fansubber" (it's worthy pointing out that I was also a fansubber [sans-quotes] for a brief while). Medusa is infamous for its instability. Not only was it also written in Visual Basic, like its predecessor, but it managed to exploit that fact in new unique ways, making it infamous for its instability and propensity for misbehavior. It was such a marvelous tool that I (and many other typesetters) decided that it was better to simply typeset with good old Notepad+VirtualDub. This technique would later inspire Aegisub's video mode.
  • What happened to it? kaiousama, its creator, apparently attempted to rewrite it from scratch into a greater abomination known as "ChronoSub", which would use the dreadful USF format as its primary format. He vanished after that.
  • Who still uses it? Masochists. Aegisub was designed to replace Medusa specifically, so there is no real reason to use it, unless you are on Windows 9x.
  • Why was it important? It was the first ABGPSS to support the Advanced Substation Alpha (ASS) format, and the first to include a video display for typesetting.

Sabbu was an important step in the right direction. This was the only program still in active development when Aegisub started, and that competition probably helped both programs grow faster - I know that Aegisub did benefit from it! This program made fansubbing in UNIX systems a possibility, and solved many of the problems from the older tools. However, it suffered from an unusual GUI, that many people could not get used to.
  • What happened to it? It was discontinued 3 years ago.
  • Who still uses it? Many timers believe that Sabbu's audio timing mode is as good as audio timing can get, and so they stick to it. Because of that, Aegisub 2.x series basically copied Sabbu's timing mode, so now both programs are almost identical on that aspect. (Except that Aegisub supports a few extra tools.)
  • Why was it important? It was the first time that an ABGPSS was developed following modern trends and it was, for a while, the only option that UNIX fansubbers had.

So the situation now is that Aegisub has nothing to compete against. I do not deny that this is somewhat frustrating - many people claim that the entire fansubbing community is driven by fierce competition between groups, and the same holds true of its tools.

Sure, Subtitles Workshop does many of the things that Aegisub does - but it does many essential things very poorly, and has horrible support for ASS. Certainly, there are specific tools (many kept "in house" by paranoid fansubbers who actually believe that they have much to gain from that practice) to do many tasks, especially karaoke. Even SSATool is being incorporated into Aegisub ever since its developer joined our staff. But I miss the thrill of having a real, actively-developed tool to compete against.

Since the dawn of time (since before I started Aegisub in June 2005, that is), there have been rumors that a certain fansubber has been working on a certain fansubbing tool whose ultimate goal would be to replace Medusa (even the name implies that). Well, Medusa has, I believe, been replaced. Perhaps there is still hope for some fun game in the back stage of the community?

Maybe it's only natural that such projects would eventually die out - Sabbu was the only open-source amongst them, but, even then, kryptolus was the only developer. I hope that Aegisub survives for as long as subtitles and fansubbers are around, but I have to keep in mind that, statistically speaking, the odds aren't in my favor...

That said, remember that Aegisub is a free project - if you develop tools for the fansubbing community and would like to join our staff, we will always welcome developers who prove themselves capable of helping us. Ultimately, the goal of the Aegisub project is to be THE tool for all subtitling needs in the anime community.

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  1. I think that you forgot someone on the *nix side... I'm talking about Subtitleeditor ( Just for me it's the most stable ABGPSS for gnu/linux and *BSD (I don't know if it is available also for mac through macports)

    I also want to thank you for the time that you spend on this fabulous software :)

  2. I think it's more a case of not even being aware of it.

    I have looked a bit at it now, only screenshots and source-code, though, as I don't have any "Unixy-enough" systems to test on.

    Subtitleeditor doesn't seem too bad, but it seems its focus is rather different from Aegisub. Maybe... and it doesn't reach anywhere near Aegisub in features ;)
    But it'll be interesting to see how it develops in the future.

    The major problem I see with subtitleeditor is that it's Gtk+ based, meaning it will look and feel wrong on both Windows and Mac systems.

  3. Of course, Sabbu also suffered from the GTK issue. And, actually, I had heard about that program, but I had completely forgotten about it. :)

    There is also a French and a Chinese program, popular in their respective countries, but I don't even remember their names.

  4. AFAIK, in Chinese fansubbing community(also applies to HK and TW area), there are 2 popular ones available. One is cySub and the other is PopSub.

    CySub is known to have an user friendly interface and I believe its learning curve is lower compared to aegisub. But meanwhile, cy's features are not as versatile as aegisub has:)
    One major problem cy has is that sometimes its rather unstable in some respect(memory violations), and the creator dropped it in the last 1 or 2 years. However, I think it's a fine tool for people who prefer the 'react' way of doing timing rather than use waveforms. It also has scripting capabilities using PHP.

    For popsub, i'm not really familiar with it unfortunately. But one of its emphasis is that it can take your response time (heard the sound and hit the timing key) into account when doing the timing.

    Just to share some things that we have in our area, hope this won't be of an annoyance here:)

  5. Before aegisub, I was looking for a unicode subtitling program that can correctly display complex Indic script fonts, specifically Khmer. I found most of the above, but they did not display correctly. During my search, I found Sean Leonard's system for rapid subtitling. It may be still in development and could be a future competitor. Visualsubsync seems to be still in development, but it is more a limited program. Though it might not be fair to compare there is a shareware program called Lemony Subtitler. I tried the trail version and found the interface to be very diffent from the fansubbing programs above. On the other post I saw that the next big version will support image base subtitles. That includes dvd subpicture, I hope? MaestroSBT doesn't seem to work with unicode well.

  6. Jeezz!!! I still remember the "unpredictable shutdowns" in Medusa, lots of work lost and lots of gallons of vodka to kill the pain!!! There was a commercial app pretty decent 4 or 5 years ago, but I can't remember it's name, it was something like a female japanese name, but it was gone to the oblivion with the rest of my HD and I couldn't find it again.

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