Review: Reader Review: ViaVoice

A powerful and impressive voice-to-text solution for Mac users (December 12th, 2001)

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Product Manufacturer: IBM

Price: $76.00

The Good

  • Installation, Accuracy of recognition.

The Bad

  • Somewhat lousy headset.

The software itself seems to come on one CD that includes both American and British English versions. The version that gets installed depends on the version of English set in the International preferences. Despite not having lived in the UK for many years, I still have quite a strong British accent, so I installed the British version.

Installation is simple and quick, but I ran into one glitch where both the software screens and thin manual show one of the plugs for the headset connected to the Mac speaker jack. On my G4 733, this is a special mini jack and the headset can't be connected. A quick call to Andrea solved the problem - the microphone jack needs to be used instead. Both IBM and Andrea need to update their documentation to cover this problem. Something else that I noticed during the installation is that the software identified my Mac as a dual G4 but it is a 733 MHz single processor. These two small problems suggest that ViaVoice was coded before the appearance of the latest Macs!

The next stage is to read a number of sample stories to create a voice model. This takes about an hour if you read 3 or 4 of the stories. Quite clearly, the software's accuracy improves from the start with the more models that you read. Once the installation is completed, the application is very easy to use both to dictate into IBM's speak pad application or into other applications like Word, Mail, etc. In speed terms, on this Mac with 768 MB of RAM, the dictation keeps up with me quite well as I speak. The accuracy is astounding given that I have only been using the software for a few hours. At present, it is about 90% when I speak at normal speed, and it is improving with every document.

I think I am correct in saying that the adaptive learning process only functions when using the speed pad application. If you choose to dictate directly into Word, I think there is no adaptive learning. When the software makes a mistake, correction is very simple either through double clicking the incorrect word and repeating it or retyping it. On the whole, I'm incredibly pleased with this purchase because I spend a lot of time each day translating Japanese to English; my usual throughput with manual input is about 2500 to 3000 words - on the first day of using ViaVoice, this increased to 4000 and I can see that it would be easy to reach 5000 words.

Another point is that the software also works with Japanese versions of Word, etc. After a long search these last 5 years, IBM ViaVoice for Mac OS 10 is the answer to my prayers - no more wrist ache at the end of a long day's translation! I purchased it in the UK for about $76, the BEST money I ever spent on an application.

One minor complaint is that at present only the bundled USB Andrea headset is supported and it has relatively poor noise cancellation characteristics meaning that you can only use the software in a relatively quiet office. I have a Plantronics DSP-500 head set which is far better quality (it cost more than ViaVoice alone) but IBM doesn't support it yet despite having sold Plantronics headsets bundled with ViaVoice for PCs. There is a chance that they might remedy this situation.

In the course of dictating this review, the software made about 6 mistakes mostly with the names - not bad considering that I have a slight cold.

by Robert H.


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