Olympus digital recorder: a good idea that gets lost in translation

TEST DRIVE


Pros and cons:
+    Clever use of flash card as voice recorder
-    Voice recognition quality not yet
    acceptable


Real-life requirements:
Windows 9x, Pentium-class PC or notebook, 32M of RAM, CD-ROM drive, 125M free
storage, sound card, PC Card slot


What a great idea: Put a flash memory card into a tape recorder and use it like a
miniature cassette to digitize and transfer spoken words to a computer.


Olympus America was the first to bring all this together in the D1000 handheld
recorder.


Unfortunately, the D1000’s voice recognition software fell short of acceptable
performance.


The unit uses IBM Corp.’s ViaVoice speech package, which has performed fairly well
in the GCN Lab [GCN, Oct. 20, 1997, Page 1]. But the D1000’s implementation of
ViaVoice did not interpret my speech well even after the maximum training period. Despite
working from a recording, it interpreted the same words in different ways.


ViaVoice trains itself on Mark Twain’s “A Ghost Story.” In my testing, I
recorded the first paragraph of the story, which begins, “I took a large room, far up
Broadway, in a huge old building whose upper stories had been wholly unoccupied for years,
until I came.”


ViaVoice heard it three ways, none very close to the original:


Only a few words came through intact in any of the three interpretations. Blame it on
fuzzy logic, syntax or whatever—a recording is a recording, and ViaVoice should have
interpreted the message identically each time.


ViaVoice also displayed a penchant for proper names instead of common words. In the
example above, “wholly” become “Holyoke.” If I said, “I
don’t understand,” ViaVoice would hear “Afghanistan.” If I mentioned
stopping by the grocery store to pick up “milk and cheese,” ViaVoice thought I
said “Milken and cheese.”


The words stored on the miniature 2M flash memory card can transfer to a notebook or
desktop computer via an included PC Card adapter.


Usually when you plug in a PC Card, Microsoft Windows 9x notices and tries to load the
driver software. But Olympus’ drivers invariably crashed the operating system.


I discovered I had to edit a line in the system.ini file—a tip located deep in a
readme file—and even after the correction, the OS still crashed if I inserted the
card after boot-up.


Moreover, the application that managed the file transfer from flash memory to hard
drive said the file was saved in one location when it wound up elsewhere.


The 2M flash memory card recorded at most 30 minutes in long-play mode. ViaVoice can
recognize only one voice at a time, so recording a conversation and transcribing it later
would be impossible.


Because the recorder’s base isn’t flat, setting it on end takes delicate
balancing. The buttons and controls—except for record, play, fast forward, rewind and
stop—are complex and hard to figure out.


Olympus had a great idea but fell short in the execution.  

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