Digital Talking Book Players (Hardware)
Traditionally, Talking Books were played on records, and then, as the technology changed, on cassette tapes on specially adapted machines. Moving into the future, Talking Books are in the process of becoming digital files on CDs or another device. These books allow users to skip directly to specific places in the book, insert bookmarks, and more.
There are two types of players for reading digital Talking Books—stand-alone players and software players that are used on computers. The stand-alone machines are the easiest to learn to use, and they can be small and portable. They are also the most affordable players for people who do not own a computer. MP3 files and commercial music CDs can also be played on these players.
Digital Talking Books are not really things that you can hold, although they usually come on a CD-ROM today. Rather, they are files, which may also be available on the Web. To put it technically, digital Talking Books are well-organized collections of computer files produced according to specifications that are published in the standards that define them. They are a medium-independent information access-and-delivery technology—the files can be stored on CD, in a directory, or on a memory card—that is based on open standards, primarily the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) XML (Extensible Markup Language) and SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language), pronounced “smile.”
A fully coded book in the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format can have many levels of navigation, accessed by using the player’s keypad or buttons. For example, Level 1 could be chapters, Level 2 could be subheadings within a chapter, and Level 3 could be paragraphs. Using the appropriate keys, the user can navigate forward or backward through the book using these levels. The user can also go to a particular page, navigate by phrase (as defined by the book’s coding), or place a bookmark at a memorable passage or at the beginning of a section to be studied. Digital Talking Books can include both text and audio files.
When digital Talking Books contain text, it is possible to send the text to a braille embosser or display it on a refreshable braille display or on a screen—in any font and font size. It is also possible to check spelling and search for text the way one can now search on the web.
No longer does one have to wait for that long rewind or fast forward; digital Talking Book players take one forward or backward almost instantaneously. They also allow users to increase or decrease the speed of the reading using speech compression—they cut the pauses between words rather than just increasing the speed at which the book is played. So, a favorite narrator will seem to be reading very quickly in his or her own human voice, instead of sounding high-pitched like a mouse.
Digital Talking Books are a particular kind of electronic book—the kind defined by and for people who are blind or otherwise print disabled to best meet their particular information access and reading needs. Digital Talking Books will not work on players that are not designed to play them.
Questions to ask when purchasing digital talking book players:
• Do you want a portable player or a software player that runs on your computer?
• Do you want a player that plays CDs or a player that plays files transferred directly from your computer?
• Do you want a full-featured player or is a player with some features enough?