The highly-anticipated next generation of Humanware's Victor Reader Stream is now shipping and includes several new features including wireless capabilities, USB charging, and a smaller size. In this podcast, we speak with Victor Reader Product Manager Matthew Janusauskas to get a hands-on demonstration of some of the new features including the new built-in voices. We also discuss some of the potential features planned for the free firmware updates including expanded use of the wireless chip and an update on Audible support. Blind Bargains audio coverage of CSUN 2013 is generously sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind.
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In the April 2013 issue of AccessWorld, an article reviewed the New Generation Victor Reader Stream. Now that I own one, I've written some follow-up comments below: I am both pleased and somewhat disappointed with the Next Generation Stream. Let me cover a few things not mentioned in your article. I did not find the muffling in the speaker as annoying as I thought I would. The speaker on my model at least sounds fine when the volume is turned down slightly and only distorts at the highest volume. I own several battery-powered speakers that sound similar when volume is cranked up high. The Ryan and Heather voices do sound better when not speeded up, and they pause in strange places, perhaps at the ends of lines. However you can always prepare MP3 files of a text or Daisy-based book using a favorite voice. Kurzweil 1000, Open Book, Balabolka and TextAloud are among the many accessible possibilities. For reading technical books, since the Stream ignores most punctuation, I still keep my old Book Courrier around. The smaller size is welcome in my overstuffed purse, but the silicon case is nothing more than a fashion accessory. My previous Stream failed because the keypad wore out, or perhaps got dirty and this new case, though it gives the Stream a non-slip grip, does nothing to protect the buttons on the front of the Stream. It has no carry strap, so I immediately knitted up a secure little carrying pouch with sturdy neck and belt straps, and a secure flap in case it gets turned up-side-down. My wireless access point uses a hexidecimal key. I tried entering it numerous times, first with the multi-tap texting method, and later using the ability to create a network profile within the humanware companion. I tried both upper and lower-case. I tried separating the hex codes with colons and I tried without. The Stream failed to connect, implying I'd entered the code incorrectly. As for using the companion software, I got a network configuration error. Because it was such a vague error, I couldn't figure out if the firmware couldn't cope with hexidecimal, or if I was simply entering it wrong. What worked was updating the firmware using the USB cable. When I updated at first using the companion, it switched me from the Heather voice to the Louise French voice, but the configuration I'd created previously on the SD card, which had previously given an error now worked just fine. So I was now connected to wi-fi but I had lost my English voice. Pressing and holding menu key 7, after I'd exited the online bookshelf, did let me toggle away from Louise and back to Heather. I ended up having to finally update the firmware the manual way, downloading it from Humanware's site, then moving it to the SD card. I had to use the Graham and Rachel brittish voices, because the firmware version for Heather and Ryan was a lower number. By the way, the USB cable which now comes with the Stream is non-standard; you no longercan substitute any old cable with a similar mini-connector because this one has extra pins, probably for charging. The metaphor of the online bookshelf seems clumsy now, with its only ability being to update the device and install user authorization keys, but I'm sure Humanware marketing intends it to do much much more. And no doubt, Humanware engineering is frantically trying to implement those features. I don't mind waiting patiently for the wi-fi feature to be expanded, but I do hope they won't be so busy adding features that they forget to fix the awkwardness I've documented above. A final gripe about the new generation Stream is worth noting if you plan to recommend it for the user who is less computer savvy. My old Stream came with an SD card and a CD chock-full of music, sample Daisy books and tutorials. Later, when I assisted a new user, I found her Stream came with updated tutorial material including a raft of podcasts from the CBC. And still later, I noted, for the older Stream a wealth of updated audio tutorials were available to download and transfer to the device. By contrast, the SD card that came with my new generation Stream was absolutely empty except for containing the requisit $VR folders for storing future content. Had I been a novice, unsure of how to transfer or navigate content, I would have had no tutorials or sample files to work with. Also if a user followed the directions in the FAQ on the Humanware site for obtaining a user authorization key from Learning Ally, they would have been confused. Learning Ally has completely changed their site, so a User Authorization key is obtained from following a wizard on the My Bookshelf portion of the site and not My Account, as the FAQ incorrectly documents. I don't regret at all the money spent on my new Stream. It does a superb job playing books from Bookshare, NLS, Learning Ally and Daisy I created myself. It plays music and podcasts with the expected facility, including correctly reading file names and ID3 tags. The companion software also does afine job of extracting ASCII from text-based PDF files so I can peruse product documentation away from my PC. Though I enjoyed the adventure of exercising my troubleshooting skills, I do hope Humanware will fix some of its early glitches in the future. --Deborah Armstrong, Milpitas, California.
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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.