SAN FRANCISCO (05/23/2000) - The rising behemoth in speech technology, Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products Inc., is upgrading its Voice Xpress software suite with a host of Web-centric features, broader support for office applications, and a claim of "dramatic" improvements in speech recognition accuracy.
Voice Xpress 5.0 is scheduled to hit retail shelves this June.
Its primary improvements focus on continuous speech dictation. Still, the company says it has worked hard to advance its flagship product's usability.
Much of what distinguishes Voice Xpress 5.0 from earlier versions is its attention to getting you started quickly and making voice control over your PC more intuitive.
Voice Xpress 5.0 will ship in four versions, starting with the $49.99 Standard.
The high-end Voice Xpress Mobile Professional costs $229.99 and comes with a handheld voice recorder.
Lernout & Hauspie recommends the software run on at least a 266-MHz PC running Microsoft Windows 95, 98, or 2000 with at least 64MB of memory and 250MB of available hard disk space.
A Digital Audition
I briefly examined a preproduction version of the software and agree: Voice Xpress 5.0 is easier to get started with and use. I liked best an application-specific cheat sheet that loads automatically when you use common programs like WordPerfect. The so-called Sample Commands load tailored for your application and are chock-full of typical voice commands for common tasks.
If you're familiar with earlier versions of Voice Xpress, you will notice the update has a shorter training program. It takes about 15 minutes, half the previous time, to accustom the program to your voice.
With additional voice training, Voice Xpress 5.0 can reach accuracy levels of 96 percent, a slight boost over previous versions, according to Lernout & Hauspie.
The update also supports e-mail, Internet browsing, and chat. To use America Online's Instant Messenger service, for example, you launch a chat window and place your cursor, dictate, and say "send."
You can navigate Web links by speaking numbers that are embedded in hyperlinks in both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator.
Besides Web applications, Voice Xpress now supports a variety of e-mail programs plus Microsoft Money, Quicken, and WordPerfect. Its support for Microsoft Office 97 and 2000 is expanded.
An "aaa and umm" filter is added, along with a new text-to-speech application called RealSpeak that, as its name suggests, reads back text.
Voice Choice Dwindles
Choosing among available voice recognition software suites can be difficult.
Lernout & Hauspie Voice Xpress 5.0 competes with Dragon Systems' NaturallySpeaking, IBM's ViaVoice, and FreeSpeech 2000 from Philips Speech Processing.
But the choice may get smaller. In March, Lernout & Hauspie announced plans to acquire rival Dragon Systems. The deal, estimated then at $593 million, will make it a speech recognition powerhouse.
Lernout & Hauspie expects to produce and support both companies' product lines initially, but "in the long term the goal is to ultimately have a single product," says Jo Lernout, the company's cochair.