What’s the Difference Between Voice-over and Dubbing?

Video is growing at exponential rates today. Companies and individuals can now easily access a global audience through low-cost platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and even Twitter.  With this global consumption of video, there is also a demand for both voice-over and dubbing, depending on the type of video.

At CMI, we often get asked the following questions:

  • What is the difference between voice-over and dubbing?
  • When and why should I use dubbing or voice-over?

Voice-over and Dubbing Defined

So what is voice-over or V/O?  Voice-over, also sometimes referred to as, “UN style,” is mostly narrative in nature, does not lip-synch and does not transmit the tonality and overall richness of what is being said in the original footage. 

Dubbing, also referred to as Language Replacement, is recorded by professional voice actors and the audio track of the original video footage is mixed with the alternate language recordings of the dialogue.  Word choice is extremely important as the translated video must be synchronized with the lip movement of the actors on-screen.  The result, as compared with voice-over, is much more precise, both from translation (and ADAPTATION) of the original spoken content, as well as a technical delivery point of view.  A well- crafted dub is unnoticeable to the viewer, as it is truly an “acted” voice recording that uses sound engineering and editing to ensure true lip synching - making the original actor seemingly mouth his/her dialogue in the target language.

When to use Voice-over vs. Dubbing?

So, our clients ask, “When do you choose voice-over and when do you use dubbing?” 

Voice-over is frequently utilized in news-related segments, digital learning or documentary clips that are short and where translation is the primary objective.  Why? 

  • V/O has more of a “translation” only aspect to it, with less emphasis on nuance of tone and emotive content.
  • V/O tends to work best for shorter segments of content, such as footage from in-the-field reporting, or conference proceedings where the voice-over is really the recording of a live interpreter (hence the term “UN Style”).
  • V/O, by its very nature, constitutes an additional soundtrack to the original. While this conveys “authenticity” in a reporting environment, it also risks becoming distracting for longer form content.

 Dubbing should be used when information retention is paramount:

  • Well beyond spoken words, tonality, nuance, dialect, accents etc. combine to convey a richer message. For entertainment products, such as films and performance driven videos, dubbing is in fact the only true way to capture the totality of the original content’s intent.
  • When the video content is conveying a large amount of high-impact information, such as in high impact training environments or sophisticated lectures with information intensive presentation slides, the retention of the information presented to a foreign language audience is significantly enhanced when the audience is not distracted by competing audio feeds (such as V/O) or graphic localization (subtitles). Dubbing makes the content look like it is native to the audience’s ear.

Localize Your Video Content

Do you have video or film content that you want to reach an international market with voice-over, dubbing or even subtitling and closed captioning?  At CMI, we have been localizing video content for over 50 years and can help you reach your globalization objectives. 


Contact us today so we can help you with your dubbing, subtitling or captioning project.

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