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Sheet music OCR software
Sometimes, I get tech requests I never expect. That was the case with the product I'm about to spotlight here. I was asked if there was a way to OCR sheet music. My wife sings in a choir and wanted to hear what her songs would sound like, so she could practice the music.
It made sense. After all, if you can process text into its digital equivalent, you could theoretically do it with music. Music scoring is a consistent language that's represented in a similar way to text.
As it turns out, the Musitek SmartScore X2 Pro ($399) does just that. It's actually quite amazing the first time you run it. We scanned in a copy of her choir music, imported it into SmartScore, and the software played the music. It was a little eerie.
Now, here are the cautions: this is deeply complex software for the music professional. We only tapped a very small portion of the overall capability of the system, which includes ways of tuning the OCR for recognition, and even allowing you to assign different instrumentals to different parts of music, to get the software to automatically orchestrate the music.
It's incredibly cool, but you probably should read the manual. The company just updated the software and the update they sent me hasn't arrived here yet for testing. But the previous version is pretty amazing, and I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone with an interest in turning a computer into a 21st century player piano (and so much more).
Vizio smart TV
It would be fair for me to tell you that until this recent purchase, I thought smart TVs were stupid. After all, if you have a Roku or an Apple TV, why in the world would you want a smart TV, with all the normal manufacturer shortcomings that come from those mashups?
I still, sort of, think smart TVs are stupid, but I recently found a pretty good reason for buying one anyway: cheap, multi-function monitors. The one I'm bringing your attention to is the VIZIO 24-inch Class Razor LED Smart TV ($199) and the reason I'm bringing it to your attention is that it's under two hundred bucks.
Since 24-inch monitors are running about $150 these days, if you spring for an extra fifty bucks, you get a screen with speakers, and the ability to drop into Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. Granted, the implementations of these services are pretty sucky, but the ability to get double-duty from what would normally be just a monitor is a pretty good deal.
I have one mounted as second monitor, and if I don't need the extra screen real estate for a while, I often switch it to Netflix and run a Top Gear in the background. Fast cars keep me calm.
Oh, and I didn't show you a picture of the front of the TV, because it looks like every other TV. The interesting bit are the connections on the back. It's got both WiFi and a network adapter, along with the usual connection suspects. My only complaint is I wish this thing had two HDMI inputs, but for under $200, I can't really bust on it much.
A fast USB 3.0 hub
Granted, there's nothing particularly exciting about a USB hub, but when you get a working, powered USB 3 hub, things start to get interesting. After all, USB 3 is very fast, which means that you can add things like external drives on through USB 3 and see smokin' performance.
I'm using the D-Link DUB-1340 4-Port Superspeed USB 3 Hub ($49.99) and I've plugged phones, hard drives, scanners, and more into it, and it just works. Not bad for fifty clams.