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The Future Is Here
Time to Stop Dreaming and Start Streaming
by Nolan Crabb
Imagine having a quiet weekend gathering with a few friends. A relatively recent bestseller is part of the conversation, and although you have not read the book, it sounds fascinating. At the conclusion of the party, you go home, fire up the computer and search the Web pages of the National Library Service to discover whether the book has been recorded. It is there, just as you had hoped. Of course, now you must wait until Monday to call your regional library and order the book ... unless you own HumanWare's VictorReader Stream and are part of the NLS beta program that allows you to download digital talking books to your computer and from there to your VictorReader Stream. If you participate in the NLS beta, you simply download the digital book to your PC, extract the files from the zipped archive to your VictorReader Stream's SD card, insert the card into the VictorReader Stream and begin to enjoy the book.
The VictorReader Stream is a portable reading machine that is capable of playing a variety of file types. In addition to playing NLS digital audio books, the Stream can play MP3 files, text files, Ogg Vorbis files and DAISY 2.x books. You will soon be able to purchase a key from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, which will enable you to play RFB&D books on the Stream as well. At this writing, the machine will not handle Web-Braille files. Support for Audible.com has just been added.
You may download NLS or DAISY books from your computer to the VictorReader Stream either by connecting the Stream to your computer's USB port or by downloading the material directly to the Stream's SD card using a card reader. The Stream works best if it is connected to a computer running Windows XP or Vista.
About the size of a deck of cards, the VictorReader Stream includes a rechargeable battery that lasts roughly 15 hours between charges. You will likely have to charge the battery for four hours in order to reach an optimum charge. The unit weighs six ounces, including its battery, and it includes a small external speaker and built-in microphone for voice recording.
NLS digital audio books differ significantly from their cassette counterparts in that you can navigate through them almost instantaneously using buttons on the VictorReader Stream. Depending on how the book is marked, you can navigate by chapter or magazine article or by paragraph or subheading. You no longer have to rely on indexing tones to help you figure out where you are in the book or magazine. The Stream handles NLS books and DAISY books with a kind of speed and grace that belies the complexity of the inner-workings of the machine.
The unit features a bookmark key that enables you to set bookmarks anywhere in a book while you are listening. You can even create special starting and ending bookmarks, a perfect solution for a student who needs to identify very specific passages of a book or magazine. You can also create bookmarks that include your own audio narrations or explanations. If the book is appropriately marked, a go-to-page feature is available. If you are prone to falling asleep to the mellifluous tones of NLS narrators, the Stream includes a sleep timer key that can turn the Stream off automatically after 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes. Of course, you can also set it to zero for continuous play.
For those who enjoy listening to their NLS books or other MP3 audio such as podcasts at fast speeds, the Stream includes speed settings that allow you to increase the reading speed without changing the pitch. The Stream offers a huge advantage over the BookPort in this area. The BookPort also has the ability to play audio material at rapid rates without changing the pitch of the material, but doing so requires some processing using the BookPort's companion software program. The Stream's speech compression is all onboard the Stream--no special software is necessary to prepare the book before listening to it at higher speeds.
The unit also includes volume and tone control settings that enable you to create the listening environment you like best. The volume settings for the external speaker and for headphones differ to some degree, and the unit remembers which setting you like best in both cases.
There is a jack for an external microphone, and the voice notes you can record have truly excellent sound quality. They aren't stereo, but they are very listenable. Your voice notes are stored on the SD card, so the length of your recording depends on your card's storage capacity and how full it is when you start the recording. A single record button toggles recording on and off. The built-in microphone does an excellent job of recording, but I have not tried it in a lecture hall.
If you hold down the zero button, you will enter a key describer mode--a nice feature for those new to the Stream who just want to push buttons and find out what they do without affecting the operation of the unit. The user manual is also built-in. Holding down the one key as opposed to pressing and releasing it quickly will open the user's manual. The zero key, when pressed and released quickly, provides information about the player--how much charge remains on the battery, the length of the book you are currently reading, how much of the book you have read (expressed in hours and minutes), and how much of the book remains to be read.
The Stream also includes the Vocalizer speech synthesizer for reading text files. It is not terrible as speech synthesizers go, but it is not as good as the NeoSpeech voices Kate and Paul, for example. Any time the Stream needs to give you instructions as the operator, it does so using pre-recorded human speech. So the instructions or confirmation messages you get from the unit are high in quality.
You can navigate through a book in a variety of ways. If the book is properly formatted, you can navigate by page, paragraph and sentence. You can also move in units of time--a minute or more at a time forward and backward. If you are reading something other than NLS or DAISY books, you can even navigate by phrase, although this is obviously less accurate in terms of movement through a file. If you are listening to a text file, you can move by screen and paragraph as well as by line. The Stream also has fast-forward and rewind buttons that move forward or backward in five-second segments. The time jumps will increase as you hold the buttons down.
When you first buy the Stream, you need to get it authorized to read NLS digital audio books. Visit the NLS Web site listed in the resources at the end of this article and fill out the registration form. You must be a library patron in good standing in order to qualify to download the digital books. Once NLS has determined that you are indeed an active borrower, it will send your information to HumanWare Canada, the company handling the VictorReader Stream authorizations. You will get an e-mail from Canada instructing you on how to complete another short form. Once that is done, you will receive an e-mail attachment that includes an authorization key. Simply move the attached file to the VictorReader Stream's SD card, and you are all set. Once the authorization has been completed, you can delete the file from the card's root directory. The Stream sells for $329, and it can be purchased from a variety of sources, including access technology dealers who sell HumanWare equipment.
The long-awaited day is finally here when those who read NLS audio books need no longer be at the mercy of the mail system. The next time a book comes up in conversation, chances are you may be able to download it almost instantly into your VictorReader Stream and avoid that seemingly interminable wait between the call to your library and the day that book in its ubiquitous green container finally arrives at your door. At this writing, there are more than 8,000 digital books in the NLS digital audio collection, and new books are being added every weekday.
Read the product brochure and learn more about the internal speech synthesizer:
Learn about the NLS Downloadable Audio Book and Magazine Service:
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