Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Assistive technology review: Victor Reader Stream

I wrote here last Friday that I was going to spend some time taking my new
Victor Reader Stream
For a test drive. I’m here today to share my initial thoughts on this powerful, yet very affordable, piece of assistive technology.

What the Stream does

The Stream is a portable, rechargeable media player designed for the blind that is about the size of a deck of cards. It plays a few forms of audio files, most notably MP3, wav, and OGG Vorbis. It has a screen reader that will read the folder and file information, as well as .html and .txt formats. (The .html files will be able to be read using the associated formatting attributes.) It plays DAISY and NISO books. Additionally, in the U.S., it plays books from Bookshare and the NLS. Finally, it is also a mono voice recorder.

The unit will play approximately 15 hours on a charge, according to the manufacturer. It will take about four hours to recharge. While it is recharging, the user can use the unit.

The files can be listened to through the built-in speaker or ear buds, also shipped with the unit. My own experience finds the small speaker has sufficient sound quality for my own liking, despite the volume limitations. The Stream can also play through external speakers via the earphone jack. The unit allows separate volume levels for ear buds and internal speaker and remembers the settings.

As stated, the voice recorder is set to record in mono, not stereo, and has a decent built-in microphone. . An external microphone can also be used if preferred.

Files play on the device from a Secure Digital (SD) card. It is also shipped with a plug that will allow a USB drive to be used. However, the USB drive will be “read only” and, if using the voice recorder, these cannot be save on the USB drive; they must be saved on an SD card.

The Stream will read documents and allow the user to move by many increments, such as headings. However, I think that one of the most usable features of the product is that it has the ability to go to a specific page in a book. Just as sighted students do in class, students who are blind can enter the specific page number that their teacher/professor is discussing.

What the Stream does not do

The device will not play files in Windows Media (.wma) format. If a user rips CDs to the computer using Windows Media Player, it puts the audio files in this .wma format. To listen to these files on the Stream, the user will need to convert them to one of the audio formats the unit supports.

The Stream ships with a USB cable so that it can be connected to a pc. File transfers can be performed using this setup, but the manufacturer instructs users that using an SD card reader will be quicker. When connected to the pc, the user cannot operate the Stream.

It will not read documents with .doc and .rtf file extensions. The solution for reading these files on the Stream is simple; save the file in either .html or .txt and it can then be read by the Stream.

My Thoughts

I am very impressed by the Stream. The learning curve is only slight. Once familiarized with the button configuration, it was just a matter of playing with the device for a little bit before I felt totally comfortable using it.

So far, all I have done on the unit is read over some of the built-in tutorial and listen to music on it. There is so much more to come for me and this nifty, electronic box. I will be doing more with it in coming days, such as reading documents and books, and will write more about those impressions as they occur.

One of the Stream’s most appealing features is its price, only $329 from the manufacturer,
Which also adds on a shipping fee of $20 and sends the product 2-day delivery.
However, the savvy web shopper can find it for less, from vendors such as
Adaptive Information Systems Incorporated,
which sells the device for $299 and sweetens that discounted price by offering free shipping.

Any user of assistive technology will recognize that, whether purchasing from the manufacturer or a vendor, the price is low and affordable to people on fixed incomes. The product for that money appears to be a durable and lasting piece of accessible technology. It gives people who are blind the ability to take documents or book to meetings, just as their sighted counterparts. With the device’s ability to navigate through these, the Stream user can be on an even playing field with their peers.

The price is also friendly to the tight budgets in place at most disability support service offices. The product you get for that investment is a very user-friendly piece of assistive technology that will allow your students to have accessible textbooks at their fingertips.

The Victor Reader Stream is one of the most talked about pieces of assistive technology hardware that has come out in a long while. Add the affordability to the quality design, and you have an appealing product that can be used by many blind people. For a taste of the buzz in the blind community about the Stream, you might want to look at the recent
Ranger Station poll
About the product.

Finally, if interested in reading more information about the product, check out the official
Victor Reader Stream FAQ page.


Wayne said...

FYI: HumanWare says that the Stream will be supporting WMA files, boht protected and not, and electronic Braille files (BRF) in the next few months. I would guess around May or June. Considering you can also read Audible.com books and materials on it, and with the upcoming support for WMA and BRF files, it may be a challenge to find a format that the Stream does not support. From what I remember, in the upcoming version 1.2, the Stream will also support another format commonly used for K-12 textbooks and materials, called something like Nimas, but I'm not sure on the spelling. That should be a great addition for students in school. Happy reading!

Ron Graham said...

Thanks for that updated information, Wayne.

Being that the Stream is so popular, I believe that this gives Humanware that much more incentive to enhance the usability features of the device. What you say just adds to this thought.

I personally know how popular the device is; I had to wait three weeks to get mine. Not only Humanware, but all the vendors I found were sold out of the player.