Talk Fast: New Speech Recognition Software

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - To date, though voice recognition software has been a godsend to many disabled users and for specialized applications, most home and business users have found it to be an acquired taste. Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products Inc.'s Voice Xpress Professional Version 5, however, shows how rapidly the technology is improving. The newest version of this popular program sets up faster than ever, works more accurately, and is easier to use.

I tested a prerelease version tuned for use with Microsoft Office 2000.

(Versions for Windows 97 and 98 are available, too; all three use the same core speech recognition technology, and all come with a Plantronics headset.)The company claims that you can be up and running in about 15 minutes. Based on my trial, that's accurate. The most time-consuming part of the process involves reading a 5-minute voice training script.

I definitely noticed fewer mistakes than with previous versions I've used. As with all speech programs, the more you use Voice Xpress, the more precisely it attunes itself to your voice and vocabulary. The manufacturer claims an overall recognition accuracy level of about 96 percent.

One useful new feature is a filter to automatically eliminate "ums" and "ahs" that clutter dictation. L&H has also done an excellent job of matching Voice Xpress to Office 2000. I particularly liked the context-sensitive help bar, which offers hints about specific voice commands that can be used with an open application. This update supports e-mail, Internet browsing, and chat, too. You can navigate Web links by speaking numbers (called SayLinks) embedded in hyperlinks.

Though L&H claims Voice Xpress will work with any Pentium II system (128MB of RAM is recommended), I found that performance was sluggish on a PII-333 with 128MB of RAM. On a PIII- 600 system with the same amount of main memory, however, I enjoyed virtually instantaneous recognition.

--Stan Miastkowski

L&H Voice Xpress Professional Version 5

PRO: New version sets up fast, has good accuracy, and is easy to use.

CON: Must use for several weeks to enjoy maximum accuracy; sluggish performance on some systems.

VALUE: Pricey, but can make work with Office 2000 more productive.

List price: $150 (Advanced $80, Standard $50)Lernout & Hauspie888/537-6688www.lhsl.com.

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