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NextUp Text Aloud MP3
Advanced text to speech with output to MP3 files finally makes it to market.

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Tuesday, October 7, 2003; 3:00pm EST

We all get inundated with information every day. Figuring out how to get through it all is not a simple task. NextUp, which produces a family of text to speech software products has a solution to this information overload called Text Aloud MP3. This amazingly simple to use program lets you bring any text based document (such as emails, Word documents, plain text files, HTML pages and more) to life by simply cutting and pasting the text into Text Aloud MP3 and pressing a button!

The program converts the text into clear audible speech - either instantly aloud, or saved to an MP3 audio file. Having instant playback is valuable for listening to documents in the background while you do other things, since you are not having to dedicate yourself to reading the text. But where the potential of this program really comes through is its ability to save the text to speech translations to MP3 files. You can take those files, "burn" (copy) them to CD's and play them back anywhere a conventional audio CD player is! Whether in your car, living room or out jogging with your portable CD player, you can go through all the documents you didn't have time for before!

Installation of the program was a "no-brainer". The main program, and additional voice "fonts" are separate installations which are all done through a simple to navigate installation menu. Once installed, there is no configuring needed with exception to entering your licensing information to activate the full program. Inside the program you are presented with a very simple and intuitive interface design, with familiar Play, Pause and Stop buttons for voice playback.

To use the program, you simply paste text into the main text window, and press "Aloud" or "File" depending on whether you want to immediately play back the document or save it for later use. The program can be configured in a number of ways, and doing so is straight forward. An options window lets you configure features like being able to automatically add to the Text Aloud main window any text being copied to the systems clipboard; change the file output quality and format; miscellaneous settings; and what voice you would like to use in the translation. The program can run in full size window, floating toolbar or system tray modes depending on what you desire at the time.

The different voices, and the technologies they are based on that are included with the package, range in quality from "lacking" to astounding. People who download the program from the web site rather then opt for the delivered CD version which includes AT&T's Natural Voice technology will be missing what we think makes the program practical. While some of the voices that come with the program are alright, many of them are somewhat "jerky", unnatural and sometimes irritating to listen to for complex documents. The AT&T Natural Voice speech fonts on the other hand will blow you off your seat with their "close to real" translation of even traditionally difficult words and pronunciations. We were quite amazed at how the included "Mike" and "Crystal" voices almost seemed to have their own personal traits and styles of saying words, like a real person. It is the AT&T voices that make listening to 30 minutes of a computer reading you your latest email newsletter a joy rather then a sometimes exercise in careful listening.

So how practical is Text Aloud MP3 for regular use? After goofing around with the program seeing how well it pronounced strings of less then polite words and phrases, we moved on to more productive uses. And there proved to be many uses for it. Scores of lengthy emails that looked pretty boring to read, became much more easily absorbed when read aloud. Text Aloud MP3 was noted as an excellent proof reader - by reading back to you what you have just read, it made spotting errors somewhat easier and more accurate then going through it in your mind. Rather then reading the latest news or editorials on our favorite web sites, it was much more easy to have Text Aloud MP3 read them to us. And finally, we were delighted that our long put off learning of some new computer technologies we needed to know, were helped along by our friend Text Aloud MP3 who told us all about them.

Text Aloud MP3 runs on any sound card equipped Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000/XP desktop with at least a Pentium 200MHz, 64MB memory and 10MB of free disk space. If installing AT&T Natural Voice speech fonts, the minimum requirements increase to a Pentium 300MHz Windows based system with 128MB memory and 500MB of available disk space. The base program is a bargain at $24.95, but presents a significantly better value at $39.90 (including shipping) for shipped version that includes the AT&T Natural Voice technology. Overall, we found Text Aloud MP3 is a straight forward to use program that offers real relief from the deluge of reading we need to do to keep current these days.

About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.


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