click here to skip directly to page content
Media Access Group  Versión en español
About Us Services and Products Research and Development Resources Get Involved

A wealth of information for producers, broadcasters, distributors, exhibitors, consumers, parents, and educators.

MAG Guide Vol. 1

How to Record Video Description Using Your VCR
Descriptive Video Service®
If you teach a student with vision loss or have such students at your school, then the Media Access Group at WGBH can assist you in providing those students with more accessible resources. Through its Descriptive Video Service (DVS®), the Media Access Group provides video description for viewers with vision loss on numerous educational and entertaining television programs that air on PBS, cable and commercial networks each week, many of which can be used in your classroom.

Audio description provides descriptive narration of key visual elements, making TV programs, feature films, home videos, and other visual media accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Key visual elements are those that viewers with vision loss would ordinarily miss and include actions, costumes, gestures, facial expressions, scene changes, and onscreen text. Inserted within the natural pauses in dialogue, audio descriptions of important visual details help to engage viewers with the story.

Audio description is also used in classrooms of fully sighted students, as the descriptions provide additional learning opportunities for building vocabulary and developing description skills.

How to Access Description on Your TV
In order to access audio descriptions, you must have either a television or VCR equipped with the Secondary Audio Program (SAP) feature, or a stand-alone SAP receiver. Most modern stereo television sets have Multi-Channel Television Sound (MTS), which offers a choice of mono sound, stereo sound, or SAP, a feature mandated by the FCC as part of its standards for stereo TVs. The SAP feature is accessible through the TV's remote control or through the onscreen menu. It is sometimes labeled "MTS" and usually provides a choice of mono, stereo or SAP.

The SAP Feature
The SAP feature allows a TV station to broadcast an alternate soundtrack to viewers without changing the program's visual presentation (as open captions do) -- a capability used in different ways by different broadcasters -- while the mono and stereo channels typically carry audio that reflects the program's original audio soundtrack. In the case of many PBS, network and cable programs, the SAP channel is used for DVS, which provides descriptions of the program's visual elements for viewers with vision loss.

How to Record DVS on Your VCR
If a described program does not air during classroom time, it's easy to record a described program onto VHS tape, which will enable you to view it with the entire class at another time. Just follow these simple instructions for recording DVS onto VHS, and you can open up a new world of television "viewing" for all of your students!

Most VHS videocassette recorders (VCRs) allow users to choose one of the three audio options when recording a program on tape, a selection that is usually available on the VCR's onscreen menu. To record the DVS track of a described program, rather than the standard program audio, simply choose the SAP option on your VCR and record the program in the usual way. Using this process, the program will record with both the original soundtrack and the DVS track, enabling you to play the VHS tape on any VCR (no special equipment is needed) to hear the descriptions. Prior to taping a program with DVS, it's a good idea to test the SAP recording process and capability of your VCR. If you have any questions or problems with the DVS recording process, consult your VCR user's manual.

Films with DVS
If you also would like to show films to your students with vision loss, there are a variety of described movies available on VHS for purchase through the DVS Home Video Catalogue( (see contact information below), or for loan from many public libraries. Call your local library for information about the availability of its described video collection. In addition, the list of first-run theatrical and IMAX® films being released with description and closed captioning for specially equipped movie theaters is growing. For a list of current films released with description and closed captioning, and theaters equipped with Motion Picture Access (MoPix®) systems in your area, visit

For additional information on programs broadcast with description, accessible home videos, DVDs, and theatrical films, contact:

Contact us

Caption Services Description Services NCAM