Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New Voice Writing Software

Well, we took the plunge and bought some new VR software--Eclipse. It should arrive in a few days.

I've been using Dragon 8-Preferred for quite a while and in the process I've learned A LOT about voice writing and VR software. Dragon is definitely an "over the counter" software. It is designed for word processing kinds of duties and it doesn't have the needed functions that are ideal for real-time work.

After using Dragon for a while I discovered two main problems in the real-time setting:
  • It is slow to lay down text on the screen. This is due to it's intellect. Dragon thinks through the context of the sentence and even paragraph to choose the correct words being dictated before it sends the text to the screen.
  • Auto punctuation comes on without being asked (this is just a bug in the system & a BIG pain!).
  • Dragon requires files to be saved after about 40 minutes of dictation (often at very inconvenient times).
My suggestion if you're just getting started and do not want to invest in the higher end, court reporting software, is to purchase Via Voice at about $250. It is less expensive than Dragon so the "bells and whistles" don't get in the way. The text lays down very quickly which is ideal. It's a worthwhile investment and the higher end software can likely be added later without a loss of data or money.

After realizing we were ready for an upgrade, I began evaluating the many products on the market. I narrowed it down to ProCat and Eclipse. I ultimately made the decision to go with Eclipse because the voice model training is done directly from dictation. This saves A LOT of time and is also much more ACCURATE. I've learned that my speech at home and my speech in the setting in which I dictate are very different. I believe the differences are due to speed, pressure, and background noise--differences I can't always duplicate. Why is this so important? Let's say I dictate the word "Jesus" in the church setting and "cheese us" comes up instead. When I go home and make the correction, the processes will differ depending on the software I use. If using Eclipse, I will type the correction and it will use the recording of the word I actually spoke during church. With ProCat, I will be required to speak the word "Jesus" again so that it can be added. When I say it the second time, I may use a very different tone, volume, or intensity than in the church setting. Ultimately, the only way to get good results with ProCat is to speak very much like a robot. I should be able to speak more naturally with a program like Eclipse. Sheesh, that's hard to explain!!

One thing to note: I almost overlooked Eclipse because their customer service & marketing is weak compared to ProCat's. In fact I would consider it to be quite poor. If it weren't for a conversation with a Court Reporter that has used both ProCat and Eclipse, I would have likely purchased ProCat.

BTW, Eclipse happens to be the same software that our stenographer uses. It will be interesting to see what we can learn from each other. We can also upgrade once again if we choose to buy the captioning software. This upgrade would enable us to embed the text onto our live video feed, just as you see on network television. Currently we are using a split screen (PIP) TV. The video is displayed on one side of the screen and the text is displayed on the other.

Captions at last!! Thanks to PIP

Who would have thought that PIP would be the answer to all my research?! PIP, in case you don't know, is Picture-in-Picture - made so you can watch baseball & your favorite movie at the same time. We didn't need to invest thousands of dollars for captioning software after all.

We purchased a large screen plasma TV last week that has PIP capability and connections for our live video feed and voila! we have captions. The TV we purchased is a Viewsonic N2751, 27" HD LCD. It has the ability to have PIP in 4 different sizes. We have chosen the largest window which divides the screen in half vertically. Placing the video feed and the computer screen side by side.

I believe many other TV models would work just as well or better so find the best deal you can. Look for a screen resolution that is 1280x768 or better with built-in dual tuners for picture-in-picture display.

Set up is very simple. I plug in the electricity, the video feed, and connect it to our laptop computer (our tech guy had the cord on-hand), you may need to purchase one at a local Radio Shack. We have placed the TV on a rolling cart so it can be rolled in and out of our auditorium easily.

This set up will work with our stenography set-up or our voice writing set-up. It has been a very cost effective solution to our problem.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Dream Big

God is bigger than anything we can dream up, so dream big! In fact, God generally gives us desires to accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams. We tend to write them off as not attainable, too hard or too expensive to consider.

Instead, consider the fact that power belongs to God:
Paul the apostle declares that nature itself gives evidence of the eternal power of the Godhead (Romans 1:20). From this knowledge we reason to the omnipotence of God this way: God has power. Since God is also infinite, whatever He has must be without limit, therefore God has limitless power, He is omnipotent. We see further that God the self-existent Creator is the source of all the power there is, and since a source must be at least equal to anything that emanates from it, God is of necessity equal to all the power there is, and this is to say again that He is omnipotent.
From The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
We so often limit God to a size that we can understand and grasp. What a mistake! Instead, we should, “boldly go where no man has gone before” and where only God can take us.

God likes this kind of radical trust in Him because when we trust Him, He will do things that can only be done in His power, and when He does things through us that can only be done in His power we cannot boast about it and if we can’t boast, guess who gets all of the credit, attention and glory...God, the one who deserves all the credit, attention and glory.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Who's a Good Candidate for Voice Writing?

I've asked around a bit to find out what kind of person to look for to train for voice writing. I also found a list on a local collage website. Here's a list that combines some of the factors that indicate a good candidate. The prospective voice writer should be able to answer yes to 16 of the 20 questions below(80%):

  • Are you able to focus for extended periods of time?
  • Do you have a good knowledge of the subject with which you will voice write?
  • Do you like traveling to new places
  • Are you willing to learn new technology and methods?
  • Are you willing to take risks?
  • Do you work well independently?
  • Are you self-disciplined?
  • Are you punctual?
  • Are you computer literate?
  • Do you keep up with worldly current events?
  • Do you enjoy research?
  • Are you able to speak clearly and without an accent?
  • Overall, are you confident?
  • Do you have good hearing?
  • Do you have a strong speaking voice?
  • Do you enjoy challenges?
  • Do you enjoy reading?
  • Do you have a high degree of perseverance?
  • Do you have respect for people who are less fortunate than yourself?
  • Do you plan a musical instrument or speak any other languages fluently?

Captioning Software Comparisons (updated regularly)

Note: these are my personal notes. To assure accuracy, please contact representatives from these companies to provide current prices and information since software is continually being updated.
**Indicates a strong pro or con.

Dragon Naturally Speaking 8 – Professional
  • Price: $550 ($5550 to provide captions/no steno)
  • Primary function: Word Processing
  • Accuracy: Reads the context of the words providing more accuracy for documents. Accuracy decreases in real time setting.
  • Speed: Delay in response due to built in intelligence
  • **Requires save after about 40 minutes of dictation, thus miss some of the message
  • If it is to be used for captions, additional software must be purchased ($3000, plus encoder $2000)
  • **Number of users: one

Caption Mic by Ultech (Mark 888-360-0010)

  • Price: $7,695 (no steno)
  • **Required to buy whole system, including their computer & microphone
  • Primary function: Captioning
  • Accuracy: ViaVoice, Likely higher than Dragon in a real time setting
  • Speed: almost immediate
  • No additional software or encoder needed
  • **Used in church setting successfully
  • **Unlimited users allowed


  • Price: $1945 ($3945 to provide captions/no steno)
  • Includes 2 month training class
  • **Is being discontinued, but can be purchased through the Voice Writing Institute if we enroll for their classes
  • Primary function: Court Reporting
  • Accuracy: Higher than Dragon in a real time setting
  • Speed: Almost immediate
  • It can be used for captioning without additional software
  • Some hesitancy with this software do to the Voice Writing Institute representative’s lack of directness when I ask questions.
  • I've heard product is being discontinued -- must be purchased as a student of the Voice Writing Institute
  • Encoder will be needed ($2000-$3000)

Audio Scribe

  • Based on Dragon so I believe it’s not a good match for us.
  • Highest price of all I have researched (so I’ve been told. I was unable to find a price on their website)

ProCat’s CaptiVision (Deby Owens in sales, 800-769-6841 & Tammy Johnson about VR)
  • Price: $7,090 ($9,090 to provide captions/PLUS steno)
  • Primary Function: Court Reporting
  • Accuracy: ViaVoice, Likely higher than Dragon in a real time setting
  • Speed: Almost immediate
  • It can be used for captioning without additional software
  • **Records on more than one track: Voice Writer & original speaker documented.
  • **Speaker identification window & “tokens”
  • **Use of stenography and VR in one system
  • Limited to 2 users (VR & Steno). For Additional VR $495
  • Insurance needed in case of lost “key”
  • **Corrections not based on actual dictation (HUGE negative!!)

Advantage Software's Total Eclipse 800-1759. (For San Diego 858-967-7599, Linda, or Will Wilcox 818-766-7346)

  • Captioning (AccuCap) with Steno & speech (including Speech Gate) $8590
  • Captioning For steno: Add on called AccuCap (used by TV stations, adds captions to line 21 of screen) $6995 with Eclipse S/W, Our Stenographer already has Eclipse (about $3000 off)
  • Captioning for VR only: AccuCap $6995 (speech only)
  • $3000 for AccuCap with our stenographers software ($4000 to buy her out if she moves, etc.-- AccuCap will not function without steno portion of software)
  • Recommend character generator instead of encoder ($500-$1000)
  • Speech Gate – allows voice entry to court reporting software (bridge between dragon and Accu Cap) (need Speech Gate – written by Audio Scribe).
  • Total Eclipse with AccuCap can be used with either Via Voice or Dragon
  • Yearly support cost (more than $500). First year included with purchase of software.
  • VR for Eclipse $3795 voice only, no Captioning.


EEG (Eric 516-293-7472 X102)

  • EN370DT
  • $3090
  • 2 year limited warranty

Link Electronics (Bob Hanson 573-334-4433)

  • VBI Encoder/Decoder Model PDR-885 - $2700
  • **With 25% church discount - $2000
  • **10 year limited warranty
  • This model needed to equal speaker speeds over 250 wpm
  • Shipping $30

Suggestions for Saving Money

I spoke with a representative from Total Eclipse last week and he had two suggestions for us that are options that would ultimately save us a lot of money.

Use a Character Generator instead of an Encoder
. These tend to run around $500 instead of $3000. He says the encoder is only needed for broadcasting on network TV. Though the representative suggested this, I am not certain of whether or not it would work for our purposes. More research...uggh!

Connect to Flat-Panel Displays Instead of Using Captioning Software. He suggests: "Use the Picture-In-Picture portion of the display for the video feed with another portion of the screen displaying the bridge output. Then depending on the connections available they'd be able to have the video on a portion of the screen along with the CART captions running in a resized bridge window at the bottom or top of the screen. After Easter, I will be able to talk with our technical guys about this option. I hope it will work since it will save us thousands of dollars. Here's

Friday, March 31, 2006

Another Option

Will the options never end?!! When I initially started searching for VR software I found only two options. Now that I know some of the terminology of the Voice writing field, I'm finding many many more options. Options are good in that it gives you choice and bad in that it makes the decision making more challenging. I'm still collecting information, but here's another "player" to consider:

ProCat's CaptiVison VR Version - I noticed some benefits right away.

It is capable of recording two tracks, recording both what I speak into the Sylencer and what is spoken in the room (i.e. the pastor).

It allows VR and Steno to run through the same software. Since we use both at our church, we can alternate during a service without having to change over equipment.

There are other features I still need to learn more about and I do not know the cost yet so I still have some information to gather.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

From the Laptop screen to the TV/Monitor

So far, Tim is the only one who has benefited from the captioning that our stenographer has provided. We set up a music stand for the laptop to sit on, our stenographer sets up her steno machine next to it, and Tim reads from the screen in front of him everything she types. On the Sundays that our stenographer has been out of town, I've filled in by voice writing in the same manner (though not nearly with the same quality--given my inexperience). The set-up works fine, but we want all of our deaf and hard of hearing people to benefit, not just Tim.
From what I understand, all we need now are two things in order to get the text from the laptop screen to a TV/monitor screen (we already have video equipment).
  • An encoder

  • Software to translate text from VR software to the encoder (different software for steno than voice recognition – I haven’t checked into the steno side of things.)

Since we already have VR software (i.e. Dragon): CPC Computer Prompting and Captioning is one choice. They sell software called Caption Maker 500 (for translating the text into caption format for the encoder). They also sell encoders. Last time I talked to their representative, they were working on Caption Maker for Dragon, they already have it for Via Voice. See: or call CPC at 800-977-6678
If you have not purchased VR software: Ultech has an all inclusive package called Caption Mic Live Event. It includes everything needed to start captioning to TV screen or monitor (except the TV screen & video equipment). It looks like a reasonable price compared to purchasing everything separately as we have done. See their product information sheet: or call 888-360-0010Before making this final purchase of Caption Maker and the encoder, I’m doing additional research. I’m not certain that staying with Dragon is the best choice. I am checking into Caption Mic as well searching out other possible options (ISIS & ProCat). I’ll let you know when a decision is made.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in this field. I have gathered information and this is what I found so far. Since I may have misunderstood some information or may have incomplete information, I highly recommend you seek out the expertise of others before your final decisions are made.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What Got Me Started Voice Writing

I have been interpreting for years and never even noticed a need for captioning. So why now? Because of my personal connection to Neurofibromatosis type II (NF-2). Here's how House Ear Institute defines this disease on their website.

Neurofibromatosis Type II (NF2) is a genetic disease (autosomal dominant) of the nervous system characterized by tumors (schwannomas) growing on both vestibular nerves that adversely affect the auditory and facial nerves. This disease affects approximately one in 40,000 people in the U.S. Profound hearing loss and some facial paralysis result from the growth of bilateral tumors on these nerves. Because of the location of the tumors, their removal typically necessitates severing the auditory nerve.

My Dad and a gentleman at our church (Tim) both have NF-2. Both of them are now deaf yet have lived most of their lives with the ability to hear. They are experiencing a strange new world (I'll see if I can get them to tell their stories here too). I'm sure many people have gone through this, but it took my Dad going through it to make me sensitive to the radical change that it brings to not only the individual but the entire family. It made me realize how isolating deafness can be without a knowledge of sign. It's not the time to be forced into isolation, but the time one most needs the support and love of a church community.

Our church hired a stenographer from a local organization that provides CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation). As you might expect, this was expensive and quickly depleted our Deaf Ministry budget. Fortunately, the stenographer decided to make our church her own and offered to volunteer her time.

So why voice writing? I was the lone interpreter at our church for many years before God brought a wonderful team of interpreters to work with me. I know that our stenographer will likely, over time, feel the same pressures I experienced of being the only one trained to provide such a unique service . I know that she will need a back-up for times of sickness, vacation or for the occasional break that we all need. My goal is to have two or more voice writers trained and ready to work together with our stenographer as a team.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Did I buy the wrong software?

Today I've been contemplating whether the purchase of Dragon was the right one or not. After spending about an hour making corrections to the voice writing I did this weekend during church, I found that many of the corrections needed were due to mistakes the computer made--not because it didn't understand my speech, but because of the intuitive quality that's been programmed into it. While this may be a helpful quality if one is using written English, it doesn't seem to work as well for captioning spoken English.

Not only that, but it added punctuation where it was not needed (even with auto punctuation turned off--seems to be a software bug) and made changes to my words in attempt to make sense to itself. Unfortunately, the changes it made changed the content of what I've said.

I will try to add an example here upon my next edit session. I wish I had thought of it earlier.

The other very frustrating aspect about Dragon is that it requires me to save files after about 40-50 minutes of voice writing. Since this takes a couple of minutes, some information is always lost.

Via Voice may have been the right choice after all. I've heard that VV doesn't look at the content of the entire sentence, it just takes what you say at face value and translates to text--making it quicker too. I thought this would be a negative. In reality, it may be just what is needed for captioning. Also, there isn't auto punctuation in this software so I wouldn't experience punctuation where I didn't ask for it. I'm going to check and see what my options are...