The RIM Speaks!

LillianH · October 7, 2004 2:35 pm

Your World
by Karl Heller (GonWaki)


If you are a subscriber to the RIM, be sure to download our Sept/Oct edition, available to subscribers on The RIM Website.

If you are not a subscriber, you can easily become one by clicking here!. Of course, single issues of the digital magazine are also available - Here!

Making it Talk

A funny thing happened a few months ago while I was helping Dee Marie format text for our second issue. Working over the telephone and somewhat bored while waiting to begin work on the next section, I started to poke around in Adobe Reader. Quite by accident during this search and destroy procedure (my technique for exploring any program's menu bar) I stumbled upon the right combination of submenus and mouse clicks. All of a sudden I heard strange emanations from my computer. Once I figured out what was happening, I burst out into a fit of laughter. The stupid computer was SPEAKING the entire text we had just formatted! Unable to talk for several moments, I simply held the telephone up to the speaker for Dee Marie to hear. From that point on we didn't get much formatting work done it was just too much fun exploring the various voices.

I have to admit I'm not a fan of synthesized voices. But for anyone with visual impairment, this can really be useful. Best of all, this works with both PCs and Macs provided Adobe Reader 6 is installed (previous versions of reader do not support text-to-speech). Like past versions, Reader 6 is available as a free download from Adobe and is recommended when viewing the magazine.

Graphic259.gif Download Reader

So how do you get Reader to speak? As long as you have sound enabled and some voice packs installed, it's easily accomplished. Simply open any PDF. Then, from the menu bar, select VIEW > READ OUT LOUD and choose either READ THIS PAGE ONLY or READ TO END OF DOCUMENT.


Macintosh Speech

What can I say about the Mac? Turn them on, open a PDF, and tell it to speak. Nothing could be simpler. Unfortunately, for all the built-in features my Mac has (Powerbook G4), the speech quality is less than that of the voices available on my PC. If you intend to use your Mac to assist the visually impaired, get different voices.

Despite the difference in speech quality, there are two major advantages to the Mac speech engine. First, special text or punctuation, such as a bracket "[" or brace "{" is not treated as a speech object on the Mac platform. Macs simply ignore the special characters whereas Windows systems pronounce the symbol. For instance, the article title and header on page 6 of our March/April issue (Eric Post's article on polarizer images) would be spoken as "Polarizer Images Seeing Under the Sea by EricofSD leftsquarebracket eric post rightsquarebracket." Second, the Mac speech engine doesnt suffer from stuttering, something common with the PC engine. Borrow a friend's PC and give it a try if you don't believe me.


Assuming your PC was configured for text-to-speech when Windows was installed, making it talk should be as simple as commanding Reader 6 to speak.

But what if your computer is not configured for text-to-speech? First, you should be using Windows98 or newer for PCs. If your computer is running Windows95, consider upgrading to something newer. However, if you are determined to stick with '95, you will most likely need an auxiliary program to get your computer talking properly. Next, make sure that you have the sound components installed for Windows. This will require your Windows CD. No surprise there, right? Once everything is installed, your computer should be able to speak with one or two default voices. If Microsoft Office2003 is installed on the computer there will likely be a few voices options, specifically Lernout & Hauspie's (LH) Michael and Michelle. Of the stock voices for PCs, these are among best I've heard. Are there better? No doubt. Are there better voices for free? Maybe not.

Now that you have your computer speaking, you may wish to add a few voices (like the LH Michael and Michelle mentioned above). Don't worry; you won't have to purchase MS-Office to get them. They're available for FREE straight from the web. One of many sources for free voices is ByteCool. In addition to voices, you can also download two different speech programs: CoolSpeech and TextSound. Although the demo versions are time-limited, full versions are available for purchase and download via the Web. If you're running an older version of Windows, using a program like CoolSpeech may be the easiest way to get your PC to speak.

If you're really picky about the way your computer sounds, scroll down farther on ByteCool's Voices page to the section labeled "Commercial Text-To-Speech Engines." Check out the available samples and decide for yourself which is best.

Fad or Future?

Even with the flaws inherent in today's text-to-speech engines, there is room for speaking computers in our lives. Where the technology goes from here is anyone's guess. Right now there is a definite need for text-to-speech systems for the visually impaired. Perhaps someone will devise a more interactive computer system for typical users in a few years -- one that contains good speech recognition and speech features. For now, maybe it's just something neat to play with while waiting for a task to finish. Deciding how to use it is up to you. Your computer is your world.

For further discussion on this topic, readers can send email to RIM subscribers have the additional option of joining me in the Dear Rim Forum on the The Renderosity Interactive Magazine site).

By the way, neither Renderosity Interactive Magazine nor I have any connection with ByteCool. I just happened to find their site useful during the writing of this column.

Article Comments

thomllama ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 08 October 2004

hehehhe funny people are just now figuring this out... Mac's have been speaking (and you can speak to them) since OS7.. back in what.. 1989 I think? :)

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 10 October 2004

Oh this is grand fun for us PC users :] I know I was laughing so hard when I first heard The RIM speak, that I almost fell off my chair! Just TOOOOoooo much FUN! Dee-Marie

gerrut ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 11 October 2004

PC's also have been speaking for a veeeery long time, it's only very boring to listen to. If nothing's wrong with your eyes, and because this is a graphics site I assume there isn't, you'd better read it yourselves.

Jimdoria ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 12 October 2004

Text-To-Speech on the PC is still a bit of a patchwork, despite being around for so long. Windows XP has text-reader functions built right in. You might also check out Speakonia ( for a FREE text to speech application that lets you use different voices.

icelandknight ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 12 October 2004

Often it's very plesant to have something read to you. It's probably reminiscent (for some) of their parents reading to them when they were to go to sleep. I remember the first time I discovered that Windows could read text, I had it reading all my poems back to me... and even made some corrections to phrases, after I heard it read! - I guess I COULD have read it out loud myself... or onto a cassette, but it wouldn't have been the same. It's always amazing to find your computer can do something MORE than you thought it could! Adds a new dimension to a machine. Personally I can't wait until our computers are Artificially Intelligent... and we're trading "Personalities" online, like bubblegum cards in the old days. "Good morning (insert your name here). I hope you are well rested and ready to take on the day. Today you will be - going to work in a few minutes, then - lunch at the Kebab place, and back to work till 5 pm, when I hope you come back to watch some TV before replying to the - 15 eMail messages - I have waititng for you." I can't wait!

underzog ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 19 October 2004

This was fun!. I put it to read some cientific text with equations and all. It did great, hard to follow but certainly fun. It really reminds me of the old sci-fi movies "Take me to your leader" :-)

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