Progress Update

June 28, 2007 at 10:50 pm | Posted in MicroISV, text to speech, Text2Go, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

 Today I received an enquiry on how things were progressing and with very little signs of visible progress recently, I’d thought I’d write a quick piece on where things are at.

My current short-term goals are to

  • Get a new version of the beta out.
  • Release Text2Go onto the market.

The next version of the beta will work with a new set of high quality voices. I am currently working through the contractual arrangements with a voice provider and hope to have everything signed and sealed in about two weeks time. This has been a long and drawn out process and in hindsight I should have started this much earlier in the piece.

One of the benefits of the new voices is that they come with a custom dictionary editor. This allows users to provide guidance to the text to speech engine for any words that it may have trouble correctly pronouncing. This is great for any jargon laiden text that’s full of acronyms, abbreviations and concatenated words (e.g. microISV).

One of the design decisions I’ve been grappling with concerns the trial version of Text2Go. On the one hand I want to strongly encourage prospective users to try Text2Go with a high quality voice. Microsoft Sam, the built-in voice that ships with Windows XP just sounds terrible. However a high quality voice file can be rather large in size (e.g. 30-100Mb). Therefore if I include a high quality voice with the Text2Go trial, users could be faced with a very large download. This is likely to discourage a lot of people from even downloading it. The approach I’ve decided to take is to keep Text2Go as a standalone download which is just under 3Mb. When Text2Go starts up, it will pop up a prompt, recommending that they download a high quality voice for use with the trial. They will be given the option to download the voice, defer the download for another day or never download the voice. I hope this will turn out to be a reasonable compromise.

The other feature I want to include in the next version of the beta is support for Windows Vista. One of the exciting things about Windows Vista on the text to speech front is the inclusion of a new voice, Microsoft Anna. Anna is much better quality than Sam and is even starting to approach the quality of some of the commercial voices. This has a couple of benefits that I can see.

  • It will give a lot more people easy access to decent text to speech technology and hopefully raise the profile of text to speech.
  • It will put some pressure on the commerical text to speech providers to improve the quality of their desktop voice offerings.

The release of Text2Go onto the market will hopefully follow the beta version quite quickly. I’ve got most of the payment processing and licensing functionality ready to go. There is a bit of work to provide an optional CD shipment but I won’t delay the release if this is not quite set up. 

Just over a month ago I posted the first Text2Go beta onto the betanews website. This proved quite successful and I had a number of beta sign ups before Text2Go slipped off the front page. I’ve received some really good feedback, ideas and encouragement. I’m hoping that when I release an updated beta version, I’ll get some more exposure and feedback.

One of the mundane but important tasks that I’ve set up is an offsite backup system for my source code and other resources. For awhile there I had a typical ad hoc process that consisted of burning CD’s, USB key chains and periodically sending a zip archive to my gmail account. I’ve replaced all this with Carbonite, a web based backup system. You just select the folders on your PC that you want to backup and it will automatically backup any changed files to their hosted data centre. The initial backup takes a while, several days in my case for about 1oGb but after that, everything remains backed up pretty much all the time. I like it’s simple design and the fact that all changed files get backed up automatically. It’s one less thing I need to remember to do and it provides great peace of mind.

Looking a bit further into the future, I’m really looking forward to getting started on version 1.1. There are a heap of ideas that I want to implement for the next version.

iTunes Cover Flow and Text2Go

June 19, 2007 at 11:12 pm | Posted in iPod, iTunes, text to speech, Text2Go | 1 Comment

Cover Flow has been present in iTunes since version 7, released in September 2006. Cover Flow allows you to flip through your digital music collection album by album using a neat 3D graphical interface. When I first discovered this feature, it brought back memories of the countless hours I’d spent as a student flipping through the bargain bins at Real Groovy Records. Most searches were a complete waste of time but occasionally I’d encounter a gem of an album at a bargain price, which kept me hooked. I’m sure that Real Groovy purposefully seeded the bargain bins with the odd decent album for just this reason.

It’s not all that obvious how to display Cover Flow in iTunes, unless you know what you’re looking for. However it is very logical once discovered. You can either select it from the View menu or by clicking on the right-most view icon (marked by the red arrows below). Once visible, you can adjust the size of the Cover Flow window by dragging the window up and down using the control marked with the green arrow below. For the ultimate experience you can display Cover Flow in full screen mode by clicking on the control marked with the purple arrow below.

How to show Cover Flow in iTunes

Cover Flow looks and feels right and it’s because of the details. For example, the albums are reflected on an imaginary shiny surface to enhance the 3D effect. The albums to either side of the currently album are dimmed slightly so they don’t compete for attention. When you flip through your collection, there is a nice acceleration, deceleration effect that makes the motion seem more natural. You can flip through your collection using a single click per album or you can use the mouse wheel to flip through them at a faster rate. You can also drag the horizontal scroll bar backwards and forwards to rapidly move to a position within your collection, although this is equivalent to scrolling through a normal list, reducing the Cover Flow technology to eye-candy.

Once I’d discovered Cover Flow I couldn’t wait to see how it displayed the artwork that is automatically captured by Text2Go when you convert a web page from text to speech. As part of the conversion process, Text2Go will take a screenshot of the original web page, import it into iTunes and attach it to the Text2Go track. This screenshot will then be used as cover art for the track, both in iTunes and on your iPod. Here is an example of a few Text2Go tracks displayed in iTunes using the Cover Flow view.

Text2Go tracks displayed using iTunes Cover Flow view

Changing the cover art resolution in Text2GoIt’s quite easy to get a good idea of what the original web pages look like. One thing I did do to improve the image quality when displayed in full screen mode was to change the resolution of the screenshot captured by Text2Go. By default it will capture screenshots at a resolution of 300 x 300 pixels, which is fine for display on your iPod or in the other iTunes views. However you can change this in the Text2Go Options. I cranked it up to 900 x 900 which improved the look of the cover art significantly.

Cover Flow is one of those features that seems really cool when first discovered. Only time will tell whether the novelty will wear off and I’ll go back to using plain old text lists.

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