Cool Tools: Alex, Talkr, and Zamzar--Which Now Also Reads
File conversion... that necessary added layer of unwanted complexity. Most computer users are aware of the fact that our computer programs create their own file types (and compatibility issues) when we save documents. Microsoft Word creates the .doc document file type. The newer version of MS Word creates the .docx file type. Adobe Acrobat creates the .pdf file type. Web pages are in the .html file format, and so forth.
When you get into audio and video files, you come into a whole world of file formats: .mp3, .aiff, .mov, .mp4, .m4v, .avi, and on and on and on. Depending on the file format, some users may not be able to even open your file to read it, or listen to it, or watch it on their computer because their computer program may not work with the file type you created.
Creating audio podcasts for the web is a good example that's easy to get our head around: many programs create .wav audio files or .aiff files--like the ones on the older CDs that would only hold a small number of music files. But to stream audio over the internet, .aiff files are much too large. The mp3 file format is typically used for streaming audio over the internet as you can attain a much smaller file size and still maintain good sound quality.
But how would you get your giant audio .aiff file into the smaller .mp3 file format? Naturally, a number of solutions exist. Zamzar is one such solution--an online, web-based solution. You upload your file, choose the new file format you want, and Zamzar does the magic. You then download your new file format.
But the magic doesn't stop there. This month Zamzar added a new twist. Now you can mix and match seemingly unrelated file formats. For example: you can now upload a word processing file and have Zamzar create an audio .mp3 file from it. Yes, you got the idea: Zamzar will read your text out loud and convert that sound file into an .mp3 file format for the internet.
The currently supported text file formats you can convert to spoken audio in the mp3 file format are:
- doc - Microsoft Word Document
- docx - Microsoft Word 2007 Document
- odt - OpenDocument Text Document
- pdf - Portable Document Format
- pub - Microsoft Publisher
- txt - Plain Text document
- wpd - Wordperfect Document
- wps - Microsoft Works Document
Unfortunately .html (web pages) are not currently supported as URLs; so, I can't enter a web link and have that webpage returned as an audio podcast. But, hopefully, that functionality is in the works.
Talkr, however, does that. Sheer awesomeness. Click the "Listen to this article" link at the end of this post for an example of Talkr reading this post to you. Talkr works by generating the speech synthesis "on the fly." You can actually create an audio podcast series of your favorite text blogs if they use Talkr. To subscribe to a Talkr generated audio only podcast of my blog, click on this link. Talkr is free. Set up your own blog to use the Talkr speech engine for free. As you can hear, she sounds rather natural!
But, back to Zamzar... I could cut and paste the text of this post into a text file and upload the file at Zamzar, as I did to get this mp3 file: Click here to listen to Zamzar read this post. For Mac users who have grown accustomed to listening to Alex read text on your Mac, the Zamzar voice is a bit mechanical sounding.
And for those Mac users who aren't yet aware: your Mac can read just about any text you have displayed on your screen. If you can highlight it, your Mac can read it to you. (Windows will do a similar thing.)
On the Mac: Highlight the text you want to hear. Go up to the name of the application in the menu bar. In the "Services" menu, select "Speech" and then "Start Speaking Text." Alex takes a breath and starts reading. Yes, if you listen carefully, you can literally hear Alex breathe between sentences. I think Alex is one of the most realistic computer generated voices I've ever heard!
I use Alex reading text to me a lot while I multitask; for example: having Alex read me a longer blog post while I skim through my RSS feeds. I don't feel like I'm being rude when not paying complete attention to my computer while it talks to me. :o) In fact, I use Alex reading to me so often, I've assigned a keyboard shortcut to the "Start Speaking Text" command. (You can do that under System Preferences, --> Keyboard & Mouse, --> Keyboard Shortcuts.)
You can listen to an mp3 recording of Alex reading this post at this link.
The full list of file types with which Zamzar currently works are listed on the right. Zamzar offers a free service with file size limits and paid plans for larger file sizes along with additional features.