The 64-Cell Question: A Review of the Brailliant Braille Display
The Brailliant braille displays are slim-line, sleek braille displays that are distributed in the United States by HumanWare. They are offered in 24-, 64-, and 80-cell models. I had the opportunity to work with and test a Brailliant 64. The hardware and software included Brailliant 64, a Belkin USB Bluetooth 1.1 Class 1 adapter, a Dell Dimension 4550 computer (Pentium 4, 2.6 GHZ, 1 GB RAM), Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2, JAWS for Windows version 7.0, and Window-Eyes 5.5.
The Brailliant Hardware
The Brailliant is a slender, sleek-feeling display that is about three-quarters of an inch high and 3 inches deep. It has a power button in the upper left corner, three buttons on each side of the display, and a routing button above each braille cell. Three connector ports along the left edge are for the AC adapter, the USB connection (mini-type A), and the proprietary serial connection cable. The braille dots have a good, firm feel to them and are easy to read.
Caption: The Brailliant 24-cell braille display.
The Brailliant displays support connection through a USB port or through Bluetooth, a wireless protocol that provides connectivity within a range of 10 to 100 meters. The Brailliant also includes a proprietary adapter cable that allows for connection to a serial port.
The Brailliant displays can be powered through an AC adapter and include a built-in battery. The battery can be charged via the AC adapter or through a USB connection. The documentation lists the estimated battery life as 100 hours when connected through USB and 25 to 30 hours when connected through Bluetooth.
The Brailliant did not include a keyboard stand, but one is not required. The Brailliant is small and does not stand as high as the keys on the standard Dell keyboard used during the test. It is easy to reach the keyboard over the display without unintentionally pressing buttons on the display.
The Brailliant 64 did not come with a carrying case. This display is lightweight and portable, and a case would be a useful addition.
Powering on the Brailliant display when it is not connected to a computer provides access to the menus. The menus provide options to choose how the display will connect, set power-save options, enable or disable sounds, specify if the battery will charge through a USB connection (turning this option off saves the life of the battery on a laptop), and even an option to reverse the display so the braille cells are closer to the computer keyboard.
Connecting the Brailliant
The Brailliant display is supported in Window-Eyes 5.5, but is not directly supported in JAWS 7.0. The Brailliant can be installed for use with JAWS, but additional steps must be taken, and Brailliant documentation is not incorporated into the JAWS help system. The Brailliant documentation that comes with the display includes JAWS and Window-Eyes command assignments in electronic format and in braille. The Window-Eyes command assignments are also included in the Window-Eyes 5.5 manual.
Because of the differences in support, there are a few differences in how the Brailliant is installed with JAWS and Window-Eyes.
When I initially received the Brailliant display, several months before I wrote this article, the included CD did not have USB drivers on it. When I began working with the display, I had to contact HumanWare technical support to obtain the drivers. I spoke with "Chris," who went above and beyond the normal procedures to ensure that I had the correct drivers and the latest documentation in a timely fashion.
Once I had the correct drivers and documentation, I found that there are two steps to connecting the Brailliant via the USB port:
- Install the Brailliant USB driver.
- Set up the screen readers to work with the Brailliant.
Installing the USB driver was fairly standard, except that the driver maps the USB port to a communications port. Thus, you need to check in Windows Device Manager to determine the assigned communications port, which is needed to set up the display with the screen readers.
Installing JAWS support required that I run a second installation program and then restart the computer. With Window-Eyes, I just needed to select the Brailliant and the correct communications port in the Window-Eyes Control Panel.
Configuring the Brailliant to connect via Bluetooth involved three steps:
- Setting the connection type to Bluetooth in the Brailliant menu.
- Pairing with the Bluetooth adapter on the computer.
- Setting up the screen readers.
I obtained a Belkin USB Bluetooth 1.1 Class 1 adapter to test the Brailliant with Bluetooth. As soon as I plugged the adapter into a USB port on my computer, Windows XP recognized it and installed the drivers. A Bluetooth Devices item was added to the control panel. A system tray item indicated that it was ready to search for and pair with any Bluetooth devices in range.
Since I had previously connected via USB, I had to change the communication channel in the Brailliant menu. After I did so, I selected the Bluetooth option in the Windows Notification area (system tray) and provided the Brailliant's "pairing code," which I found in the Brailliant documentation. (Bluetooth connections use pairing with device-specific codes to ensure that the wireless connections are secure.)
The screen-reader installations were the same as they were for the USB port. For JAWS, I had to run an installation program, select the correct options, and restart the computer. For Window-Eyes, I just had to select the communication port to which the Bluetooth connection was mapped. The information on the communications port was available within the Bluetooth utility in the system tray.
I found that both the USB and Bluetooth installations were fairly standard and that the process was well documented. The primary difference was with the process for configuring the screen readers to recognize the Brailliant. This process was much easier with Window-Eyes.
The commands assigned to the Brailliant display within JAWS and Window-Eyes are comprehensive and well considered. Many commands are the same with both screen readers. Brailliant commands to open the start menu; to move to the desktop; to say and display the time; and to issue common keyboard commands, such as Tab, Shift-Tab, Enter, and Escape, are the same in JAWS and in Window-Eyes.
The Brailliant is very responsive. I found no noticeable difference in responsiveness between the USB and Bluetooth connections. I also found no noticeable difference between responsiveness in JAWS and Window-Eyes.
The main difficulty that I found with the Brailliant is the Auto Poweroff feature. This feature turns off the Brailliant even when it is running with the AC adapter connected. If no display activity occurs, the display powers off after the specified time. Display activity consists of a change in the displayed information or the blinking of the cursor-location dots. The Auto Poweroff period can be extended from five minutes to two hours, but this feature cannot be disabled.
When the display powers off, JAWS must be restarted after the display is powered on again. You do not have to restart Window-Eyes, but you have to open the Window-Eyes control panel and press I to re-initialize the display.
The Bottom Line
The Brailliant displays range in price from $3,795 for the 24-cell model to $10,995 for the 80-cell model. Certainly, more affordable displays are available. The Brailliant that I tested worked well, was designed with obvious quality, and was a pleasure to use. Even so, the main advantage it held over the other displays I have used is the ability to connect via Bluetooth. I do not believe that feature is worth the extra expense of these displays. I did find the quality of the display to be excellent. The braille dots, routing buttons, and controls on the display all have a solid feel to them. The display was consistently responsive and easy to use.
"HumanWare appreciates AccessWorld's review of the Brailliant display. We feel that one of the key advantages that Brailliant has is that it is slim and highly portable. This makes it ideal for use with a laptop. Furthermore, the fact that it offers Bluetooth means that once it is configured, you can take the Brailliant home in the evenings, place it in front of your home PC, and use the display without wires. This makes it a convenient and versatile product.
"As the review points out, at present, it is necessary to install JAWS for Windows drivers for the Brailliant from our CD or web site. While GW Micro has agreed to include Brailliant drivers as part of Window-Eyes, Freedom Scientific has declined to offer the Brailliant as part of the JAWS for Windows selection of braille displays with which it ships. While we regret this decision, we have made the installation of the drivers straightforward. As the Brailliant becomes more popular, we hope that Freedom Scientific will review its position on the inclusion of Brailliant."
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Brailliant Braille Display.
Manufacturer: HumanWare, 1 Expo Place, P.O. Box 3044, Christchurch, New Zealand; phone: +64-3-384-4555; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; web site: <www.humanware.com>.
U.S. Office: 175 Mason Circle, Concord, CA 94520; phone: 800-722-3393; e-mail: <email@example.com>.
Price: 24-cell model, $3,795; 64-cell model, $8,595; 80-cell model, $10,995.
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The 40th Cell: A Review of the Focus Braille Display by Jim Denham and Heather McComas
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