ViaVoice Pro USB Edition 9.0

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent
  • $229.95

Pros

  • High 92 percent dictation accuracy
  • lets you control the browser with your voice
  • includes top-quality USB microphone.

Cons

  • Requires a fast computer with lots of RAM
  • demands more than 500MB of your hard disk.

IBM’s ViaVoice Pro 9.0 boasts high (if not perfect) dictation accuracy, works better within Word than Office XP's own speech engine and lets you surf the Web by speaking.

ViaVoice 9.0 is not revolutionary – in fact, it barely departs from version 8.0. As with 8.0, all of our test installations went smoothly and typically took just under 30 minutes, including the short training session that involved reading text aloud. Likewise, ViaVoice consumes just as much disk space as previous versions, chewing up a whopping 510MB.

There's no change, either, in ViaVoice's interface. The VoiceCenter toolbar, which holds all the program's major commands, occupies a thin strip at the top of the screen and sports just a single button (to turn the microphone on and off) and one menu (to access the program's commands). You can also shrink VoiceCenter to just a single icon in your system tray, turn it into a cartoon-character ‘agent’ that rests on the screen, or even dock it against an application window (smart if you dictate mostly into Word, for example).

ViaVoice works with the spoken word in three ways. First, it dictates your words into every application that accepts text input; second, it lets you command and control most Windows applications (and the desktop) by speaking commands; and third, it reads text back to you. The first way is the most impressive, the second is the most useful, and the third is the most reliable.

With just a click, you can start dictating in any Windows application. We used ViaVoice to talk to scores of programs, from Outlook Express to Quicken and Excel. All worked fine. Of course, accuracy varied, depending on what we read -- a generic memo with short words and little specialized vocabulary turned in the best scores. On average, ViaVoice puts down the correct word 92 percent of the time, a substantial 5 percent improvement over the previous version. We give credit to the first-rate Plantronics USB microphone headset that’s bundled with the Pro edition. Still, you should be prepared for the odd error. Once, when we said, ‘Fetch our slippers’, ViaVoice wrote ‘Fetch Christopher's’.

ViaVoice comes with its own stripped-down word processor (SpeechPad) for dictation, but the speech software works best with Microsoft Word 2000 and 2002. Within Word, you can dictate and even edit using your voice, with plain-English phrases such as ‘Delete this paragraph’. Even Office XP's own speech engine can't do this; and ViaVoice 9.0 seems to take dictation faster than the previous version, too.

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ViaVoice is better than ever at operating your computer and particularly excels at guiding the browser. Unlike the speech engine bundled with Office XP, ViaVoice navigates the Web -- through Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, or AOL 6.0 --guided by voice commands such as ‘Back’ or ‘Scroll down’, and the first few words of a link. The program rarely stumbles here, although occasionally we had to say a link twice. Want to switch from dictation to program control? If you're in the middle of dictating to, for instance, Word, ViaVoice needs only a short pause to recognise that ‘File open’ means you want to open a file, not stick those words in your document. Office XP's own speech recognition mode makes you manually switch between dictation and program control by clicking a button on the toolbar.

Finally, ViaVoice will read, in a robotic voice, any text in any open document or dialog box. Click the Begin Reading command in VoiceCenter's menu to start this tool, which is a boon to anyone with a visual impairment. Although it sounds a bit stiff, ViaVoice's text-to-speech voice is always understandable, even when it reads names and places.

If you already own ViaVoice 8.0, there's no need to upgrade. But if you have version 7.0, you should, if only for ViaVoice 9.0's vastly improved speech surfing.

Among version 9.0's new tricks are a key-control feature that lets you toggle the microphone on and off with one key (so your muttering isn't taken for dictation) and four new specialised vocabularies -- Computers, Business, Cuisine and Chatter's Jargon -- to complement the program's existing vocabulary. Naturally, we found the Computer vocabulary valuable -- ViaVoice even renders ‘megabyte’ as ‘MB’.

ViaVoice's helpful technical support is just a click away. The help file is thorough and the online FAQ is quite detailed. If you can't find an answer in either of those sources, you can email questions or call technical support.

If you need only an occasional built-in typist, Office XP's speech recognition engine may suffice. Otherwise, ViaVoice is a good choice.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Localization English
Category office applications
Subcategory office applications - voice recognition
Package Type retail
Distribution Media CD-ROM
Version 9.0
Software
Subcategory office applications - voice recognition
Category office applications
License Type box pack
Version 9.0
License Category shrinkwrap
System Requirements
Min RAM Size 64 MB, 96 MB
Min Hard Drive Space 512 MB, 510 MB
OS Required Microsoft Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition, Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition
OS Family Windows
Additional Requirements 4x CD-ROM, USB port, mouse or compatible device, sound card
Min Processor Speed 300 MHz
Min Processor Type Pentium II
Header
Brand IBM, Lotus Development
Product Line ViaVoice, IBM Via Voice
Model Pro USB Edition, Pro Edition
Localization English
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
System Requirements Details
Min Operating System Microsoft Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition / Windows ME, Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition
Min RAM Size 64 MB, 96 MB
Min Hard Drive Space 512 MB, 510 MB

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