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TextAloud 2

{rw_text}Giveaway of the day for January 14, 2009 is TextAloud 2 [1].
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{for=”Features as Described” value=”10″}It does what the developer says.
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{for=”Ease of Use” value=”9″}I only give this a 9 because of one small annoyance.
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{for=”Usefulness” value=”6″}Eh, not sure how useful this will be to many people.
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Installation and registration went fine. Just note one thing: by default “Full Installation” is chosen. “Complete Installation” adds a TextAloud toolbar to FireFox, Internet Explorer and Outlook. To opt out of these toolbars, either chose custom or compact installation.

There are many text to speech programs out there, free and commercial both. With its browser integration (FireFox and IE), ability to turn text into 3 different audio formats, and ability to import/read text from almost any program, I find TextAloud 2 to be one of the top level programs in this category. Granted I have not exactly used many TTS software before, but ya. Call that my sale line.

However, before we move on let me make something clear: the voices that you can use in this program is solely dependent on the voices that you have installed on your computer. If you only have Microsoft robot like voices installed, that is all that you will be able to use. This program does not come with any extra voices. It claims to come with “Mary” but I can’t remember if I had “Mary” installed before the program or not. Doesn’t matter tho because Mary is just as robot like as the rest of em! No natural voice is included with this program. You have to buy them separately.

Anyway, this is what the program looks like:

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As you can see, everything is well labeled and for the most part self explanatory. The above screenshot is in “Single” mode – meaning you can only have the program read one article at a time. If you go to “Multi” mode you will have the option to load multiple articles into the program and each article can be read one after another:

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As you can see, visually, the only difference between “Single” and “Multi” is that an “Article List” menu has been added to “Multi”. This “Article List” will list all the articles you have loaded into the program at that moment. You can select and scroll through each article individually. You can have as many articles as you want. As you add more articles, they are placed one after another, with the newest one going last. If you switch from “Multi” to “Single” mode, all the articles except for the current active article, will be removed from the program:

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Rest of the buttons explained:

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If you are in “Single” mode any article you open will just replace the last one you had loaded. If you are in “Multi” mode, each article you open will be added to the article list.

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I really wish the developer had put in the option to select what audio format you want to export to during the actual Text to File process instead of forcing you to predefine which format you want to use in the settings.

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I guess this is a good time to explain why I put a question mark by Mary in my “The Bad” above. The program claims that Mary comes with the program. I do have a “Mary” in my voice lists, but I am not sure if it came with the program or if I installed it another way because “Mary” is listed under “Lernout & Haspie” voices. I believe I already mentioned this earlier o_o.

Besides all the buttons, there are a few other things worth mentioning:

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From here you can view all the voices that you have installed on your computer that are usable by TextAloud. From “SAPI Version” you can choose SAPI4, SAPI5, or Both (like I have selected). SAPI is just an…interface, for the lack of a better word. For us home users, it really does not matter if we use SAPI4/5 as far as I know. However, some voices work only in SAPI4 while others only work in SAPI5. For example, if I set the SAPI version to SAPI 5, the Lernout & Hauspie voices will be gone and only Microsoft Anna will be left. Also, “Insert Voice Change”, that I mentioned earlier, will only work if you have the SAPI version set to SAPI 5.

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Remember how I mentioned earlier that whatever you have the audio format set to under Voice and File Options is what format will be used when “Speak to File” or “To File” is clicked? Ya well this window is what I was talking about. Again I reiterate my desire that I wish the developer had allowed you to choose what audio format to use every time you speak to file instead of forcing you to change it via options. You can choose MP3, WAV or WMA audio file formats.

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“New” will create a new article with that text you have in your clipboard while “Append” will add it into the current article you have loaded. “Cancel”, obviously, will not do either.

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From this window you an set the program to recognize a word and pronounce it as another. For example, if you type in “Cool” for “Word” and type in “Bad” for “Pronunciation” and “Apply” it, whenever TextAloud sees “Cool” it will say “Bad”. This feature is particularly useful for acrynomns and shorthand. For example, you could set “PMnet” for “Word” and “PoliticallyMotivated.net” for “Pronunciation”. That way, whenever the program sees “PMnet” it will say “PoliticallyMotivated.net”. Also, you can use this screen to correct the pronunciation of words like your name. Just type your name into “Word” and enter the phonetic spelling into “Pronounciation” and you are good to go – the program will no longer butcher your name (mostly anyway).

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The advanced tab does the same thing as the basic tab but it gives you a list of predefined phonemes to use to correct the pronunciation of your word. You can only use the phonemes in the list – if you try to type anything into “Pronunciation” manually that is not a phoneme listed to the left you will get an error.

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As you can see, you can set hotkeys for certain actions. Particularly useful hotkey I see is the “Speak Text” hotkey. If you set this hotkey, you can just highlight text in any program and press the hotkeys and TextAloud will start reading the text! You could use the hotkey to read text in your Word document for example.

In addition to all of the above, TextAloud adds a toolbar in FireFox, Internet Explorer and Outlook which you can use to read text, import text, etc:

FireFox

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Internet Explorer

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Outlook

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I have not gone over all the features (skipped a few I didn’t think were specially significant) but that basically sums up the program. Overall, I think this program is really nice. The browser integration; the ability to read/import text from anywhere; the hotkeys; the ability to export to MP3, WAV, or WMA audio files – all excellent features that make this program really nice. However, I still have a few problems with it:

Lastly, for some free voices (including voices in other languages such as Russian, etc), visit http://smart-butler.com/download.html#voices [36]. The voices will install as SAPI4 and you should be able to use them in TextAloud.

Free Alternatives:

Mary TTS [37]

Mary TTS is kind of an advanced tool that has many options I don’t even understand >.>’. However, while installing Mary, you have the options to install many free voices. While not Natural Voice quality, they are better then the Microsoft voices. Also, you can export the text in MP3, .AU, .AIF, .AIFC, or .WAV formats. There are also a much of other things. Mary does not have the browser compatibility or the hotkeys however (as far as I can tell).

Natural Reader Free [38]

The free version is a simple tool that will basically just read any text entered into it. Does not come with any free voices. You can’t export text to audio format in the free version.

TextToWav [39]

This is another program that will read the text that is inserted into the text box provided by it. However, this program stands out because during installation you have the ability to install many, many different voices. This program is actually where I got that voice link I posted above. Also, you can export text into MP3, WAV, or WMV formats.

Text2Speech [40]

An open source, very light weight program that gives you a little box where you can enter text and the program will read it. You can also export text to WAV files.

PMnet Verdict: With its extensive integration using hotkeys and browser toolbars and ability to export text to 3 different formats, TextAloud really stands out as a Text to Speech program. It is easy to use and effective. However, I wish that atleast one natural voice was included because the default Microsoft voices are annoying! If you need a text to speech program, TextAloud is worth keeping. As for alternatives, you will not get the extensive integration via hotkeys and browser toolbars, but you can get the ability to read text and export to MP3, WAV and WMV formats with TextToWav.

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