IBM ViaVoice recognises speech and converts it into text or commands, enabling you to sideline the keyboard and mouse for common tasks such as creating documents, composing e-mail and browsing the Web. ViaVoice doesn’t simply convert spoken word into text, though: it interprets voice patterns and analyses context to reproduce speech accurately. Speak normally into a microphone and ViaVoice accurately reproduces it, whether you say “two’s company” or “to his company”.
Speech recognition traditionally appeals to people who have difficulty using keyboards and mice, and in law and medicine where documentation proliferates and dictation is the norm. Desktop packages like ViaVoice and market leader Dragon NaturallySpeaking make voice input a viable proposition for anyone seeking relief from bashing keys.
ViaVoice 10.0 Windows Pro USB edition has a new speech engine giving faster recognition and now accepts input from digital recorders. You can jump in and begin dictation immediately; training, which helps ViaVoice to recognise your speech patterns, is now optional. Accuracy will be better if you can spare 20 minutes for this training, though, and your input speed can exceed average touchtyping rates. See here for a screenshot.
Other changes are mainly of interest to users upgrading from a previous version: the VoiceCentre Taskbar can now be configured, macro problems have been fixed, and you no longer have to use an administrator account on Windows 2000 or XP. One change — the use of TCP/IP for communication between ViaVoice modules — will alert personal firewalls, so watch out.
ViaVoice has excellent recognition accuracy, but voice command and control is as important as accuracy if your aim is to dispense with your keyboard and mouse. Here, ViaVoice could do better. It has great touches — with practice, you can combine computer navigation commands with text dictation, and you can record macros that apply to any application. Out of the box, though, navigation works best with a limited set of applications.
Microsoft Word, Excel (97, 2000 and XP versions) and Outlook are the favoured few where you can use natural language control such as “Add an attachment” or “Change the font to Verdana” instead of having to step through commands as they appear on application menus.
In other programs you can voice most menu commands, but only with Windows 98 SE, Me and XP — not 2000. For Internet Explorer, AOL, Netscape Messenger and Outlook Express, ViaVoice Pro USB provides command sets to enable voice control.
IBM packages four separate versions of ViaVoice 10.0. The Pro USB edition we reviewed is top of the range and is the only version with Windows 2000 support, customised command and control, and advanced dictation. It includes a headset microphone and a USB microphone adapter that improves sound quality. The Advanced edition has a cheaper microphone but, like Pro USB, can import and convert into text both sound files and recordings from Sanyo and Olympus digital recorders. The cheaper Personal and Standard editions have the same high-class speech recognition, with voice control limited to Web browsing only.
In brief: IBM ViaVoice 10.0 Windows Pro USB edition
Excellent voice recognition and improved usability make this release a worthy alternative to Dragon NaturallySpeaking. As an upgrade from previous ViaVoice releases, the decision is not so clear-cut. Price: $345
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