By David Andrews

Chief Technology Officer

Minnesota State Services for the Blind

2200 University Avenue West, Suite 240

St. Paul, MN  55114-1840

Telephone:  651-642-0513

Fax:  651-649-5927






September, 2004





This paper will provide a review/comparison of both hardware and software players used to play DAISY Digital Talking Books. It is as current as possible, as of early March, 2004. In addition, we are attempting to not duplicate work that has recently been done by others, or work that is in progress and that we are aware of. For example, a recent edition of AccessWorld from the American Foundation for the Blind tested four DAISY hardware players. The DAISY Consortium is conducting tests of DTB players and software (these duels will take place on Friday March 19, 2004.)  This information and this paper will be presented at CSUN's 19th Annual International Conference Technology and Persons with Disabilities.


For this reason, I will emphasize describing and comparing available players, both hardware and software and concentrate on usability and functionality from the user perspective. I have not conducted exhaustive, scientific testing, since others are doing this. I have, however, tried to use all the players extensively. Also, since I am a totally blind person, this will be my major perspective when looking at products. However, I would like to thank Rich Gieschen, a Technology Specialist with Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) for assisting me with visual testing. I would also like to thank Shawn Wallin, another Technology Specialist at SSB, for his assistance with trying to evaluate KatiePlayer on the Macintosh.


This document will be regularly expanded and updated after the CSUN conference. The updated paper will be located on the web site at  It will  also eventually be posted on the Minnesota State Services for the Blind web site:


In preparing for this paper, I started by posing the question to various people interested in digital talking books (DTB’s)—what is it that you want to know about various available products?  I did so by posting a message to various internet discussion lists, primarily the DTB-TALK list which I moderate.


As you can imagine, I got quite a list of requests. Primarily, though, people wanted to know about the availability of specific features. However, the interesting thing to note was that most of the features people asked about are dependent on inclusion by the book’s producer. Subscribers to various listserves seem to be fairly educated as to the potential of the DAISY format. However, primarily because of the difficulty of producing feature-rich books, most producers are only making available a fairly basic product. As the tools get better, people like RFB&D, CNIB, and RNIB will be able to offer more complex books. However in the meantime, there is some danger of frustration on the part of end users. Producers are not yet able to fully deliver on the promise of the complete DAISY digital talking book format. It should be further added that NLS is urged to take the time they have to offer books that are as feature-rich as possible. To do otherwise may cause substantial frustration and dissatisfaction with the program, at least on the part of power users in the future.






To subscribe to the DTB-TALK list, go to either:  or send e-mail to: and put the word subscribe in the subject line of the message.


DAISY digital talking book players can be divided into two main categories, hardware (stand-alone players) and software-based players—that is players that run on an existing computer. Hardware players are independent stand-alone machines that play DAISY DTB’s that are on CD-ROM generally. They can be thought of as being like cassette tape players. Also like cassette players, these machines can either be larger desktop-style units, or smaller portable units. There is also one sub-category of hardware player – represented by the Book Port from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH.)  The Book Port is a small device that uses Compact Flash memory cards for storage. You transfer files or books from your PC to the Book Port for later reading. These files can include text files, MP3 audio files, or DAISY books.


Each kind of system has its strengths and weaknesses. Hardware players offer a relatively easy-to-use solution that is portable. They are, however, more expensive and more difficult to update. Software-based players can offer more features and options, including the display of full or partial text if available, and cost less money. However, you do need a computer and are tied to that computer. Each individual must pick out the best solution that meets his/her needs.


As noted above, hardware players can be broken into two sub-categories—larger desktop machines and smaller portable units. When considering the purchase of such a machine, which general style of machine to choose may be your most important decision. The features and performance of the two types of machines can be quite different.


The larger desktop players are full-featured and generally have much better performance, which is that they respond to commands more quickly. The portable units have to make compromises in performance and features because of their smaller size and need to keep the total price down as well as the need to maximize battery life. They just aren’t able to do most things as quickly as their larger brothers.

PlexTalk Portable Recorder (Model: PTR1)


The PlexTalk PTR1 is manufactured by Plextor, a mainstream maker of CD-ROM’s and other devices from Japan. This is a sophisticated and complex DAISY digital talking book player and recorder with many features and capabilities.

What You Get


With the PTR1 you get the unit itself, a battery, charger/power adapter, manual and recording software on CD, printed manual, carrying case, USB and audio cables, and a blank CD-RW. The machine is 7 inches deep, 5.9 inches wide, 1.5 inches high, and it weighs 1.89 pounds.



The PTR1 is designed to look like a book. It is rectangular in shape and has a metal case. The book metaphor is born out by the size, plus the left side is slightly curved like the spine of a hardcover book. The right side is grooved, feeling somewhat like slightly uneven pages in a closed book might feel. Further, the book metaphor is supported by a lip that goes around and sticks out slightly from the top and bottom surfaces on three sides of the device. This lip represents the cover of a hard cover book by the way it sticks out slightly beyond the pages of the book.


The majority of the machine’s controls are on the top surface, although there are also ports and/or controls on all four edges of the machine. At the top of the front surface of the PTR1 is a grill for the internal speaker. Below it are LED’s which provide status information for various functions. Below that is a 12-key telephone-style keypad in a three-by-four key matrix. To its left is a vertical row of four diamond-shaped keys. Across the bottom of the front surface are a round recessed key and 3 additional keys—left and right pointing arrows and a slightly larger rectangular key between them.


Many buttons on the PTR1 have two functions, the second of which is invoked by holding them down for a longer period of time. The keys and functions on the telephone keypad are as follows:


1  Switch to recording mode

2  Scroll up

3  Switch to playback mode

4  Move back

5  Menu  (hold for help information)

6  Move forward

7  Undo

8  Scroll down

9  Redo

*  Cancel


#  Enter


These keys are round and lay out like a telephone. The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys have raised direction indicators on their edges, and the 5 key has a dot on it.


The four vertical keys from top to bottom are:


  • Sleep timer—hold for time and date information
  • Go to heading—(hold for heading and copyright information)
  • Go to page—(hold for page information)
  • Go to bookmark—(hold for bookmark information)


The round key below these four keys is the record key. To its right, in a horizontal row are the back, play/stop key, and forward key. The back and forward keys are triangular, pointing in the direction they represent, back to the left and forward to the right. Between them is the rectangular play/stop key. The back and forward keys normally move you by phrase. Holding them down will fast-rewind or fast-forward. You do hear a high-pitched chatter, like the sound that a cassette tape makes when being moved in rewind or fast forward with the heads in contact with the tape. The longer you hold one of these keys down the faster the operation, starting with four times normal speed, then increasing to eight, and then 16 times. When released the operation stops, and play or pause resumes depending on what you were doing when you started the rewind or fast forward. All of the players tested state in their manuals that you will hear high-speed noise when you hold down the fast forward or rewind keys, as you would with a cassette tape player. However, the PTR1 is the only machine where this function actually works consistently and sounds like you would expect it to. When I say “works consistently,” I mean from an audio point of view, all the players are able to fast forward or rewind through a CD.


There are a number of controls on the front edge of the PTR1 as it faces you. At the top is the slot for inserting the CD. If you push it partially into the slot, the machine will draw it in and load it automatically. Starting below the slot, on the left are three dials with little nubs sticking out from them. Using the nubs, the dials can be moved to the left or right—they then pop back to the center position. In addition, each of these dials can be pushed in which causes it to control another setting. Moving a dial to the left decrements a setting by one level, moving it to the right increases the setting by one level. Starting from the left, the dials control:


  • Recording level or monitor level
  • Speed or tone
  • Volume or guide volume


The dials cause beeps to be played when they reach the extremes of their ranges. If appropriate, you are also informed when you reach the “normal” setting, such as for speed. Monitor volume is the volume at which you listen to a recording, through head phones, as it is being made. Guide volume is the volume that the player uses to voice its own controls and functions. It is a nice touch to be able to set this independently from the CD volume. In addition, the speed control also changes the speed of the speech for its own controls and functions. With all the other players, it was not possible to change the speed on the machine’s own announcements, buttons and functions. This is probably possible on the PTR1 because it uses synthesized speech for itself. The quality of the text-to-speech on the PTR1 is pretty good, in my opinion. I could understand most things, although I occasionally had difficulty with some words and numbers. The same speech is also used to read the DAISY-formatted manual which comes on the CD provided with the machine.


Next, going across the front edge are the key lock switch and the eject button. The key lock switch disables the keys so accidental presses do nothing. However, if the machine is on and the key lock is engaged, you can get a description of each key and control by holding it down. This “key describer” is a useful feature.


On the right edge of the player, near the front is a PCMCIA card slot. This slot can be used for a memory card or hard drive. On the back edge of the machine are the AC adapter jack and a USB port. Finally, on the left edge are the on/off switch and three jacks, line in, external microphone in, and head phones. When you insert a plug into a jack, its purpose is announced. On the bottom of the machine is the door to the battery compartment. The battery is custom-made, so a replacement would have to be acquired from Plextor or one of their dealers.

Getting Started


As with most of the DAISY players (both hardware and software) getting started can be a problem, particularly for a totally blind person who can’t read a printed manual or quick start reference. The PTR1, as with most of the other systems, includes its manual on CD as a DAISY book, but to get going took some trial and error and experimentation. Eventually, I identified enough of the controls to start reading the manual.


The manual is quite extensive, thorough, and detailed, but also confusing at the same time. The problem is that the CD manual makes references to both the “Voice Guide” and the “Visual Guide.”  It takes some getting used to. The Voice Guide is what you hear when you use the machine and the Visual Guide is what is in the printed manual. The Voice Guide references are actual examples from using the player. You hear, in the manual, what you would hear from using the machine. The manual might explain a function, then talk you through using it by letting you hear what it would sound like.


The problem is twofold. First, all of this can come at you pretty quickly, switching back and forth between the Voice Guide and the Visual Guide; and secondly, the machine as it does things makes a variety of beeps, tones, clicks, and various other sounds as it performs different functions. It sounds a little like Star Wars until you get used to it. So, between the multiplicity of sounds and the switching modes in the manual, it is a bit overwhelming at first. However, persistence pays off. The manual is detailed and systematic, and if you work through it, you will be able to master this machine. The manual and other materials are available in various file types on the web.

Usability and Conclusions


As mentioned earlier, this machine is a rich and complex device. It is much more than a DAISY digital talking book player. It will also function as a CD-R/CD-RW device with your computer. As do other DAISY players, it will play music CD’s and MP3 CD’s. In addition, it will record these things. It can record, either using the built-in internal microphone or an external microphone, lectures and other material in DAISY format. These recordings can then be edited on the machine itself or on a PC using the included PRS software. Other capabilities include a clock, alarm, calculator clipboard, and audio notepad. You can also employ voice bookmarks that you record, instead of simple numbered bookmarks. The machine can store bookmark information for 10,000 bookmarks for each of up to 1000 disks, so there is plenty of capacity. This review, however, will primarily tackle the DTB playback functions of the PTR1. Time does not allow for anything else.


I found the PTR1 to be a full-featured and capable book player. While complex, it is also well designed and well thought out. Most things work as you would expect them to. One function, I particularly liked, is the fact that the forward and back keys always move you by phrase unless you hold them down continuously. They then become fast forward and fast rewind keys. On some players, particularly those with fewer keys, these buttons also move by level depending on what level is chosen. So, if you want to move by phrase, and another level is chosen, you must change a setting, and then change it back if you wish to use another navigation level. With the PTR1, you use the keypad for larger level navigations and you can use the forward and back keys to move by phrase.


One somewhat annoying characteristic of the machine is that as you are reading, the machine must retrieve more data from the CD so there is a pause while the CD spins up to speed. Some of the other players anticipate the need for data better and/or come up to speed and buffer data more quickly, and have little or no pause. The machine powers up and loads a disk relatively quickly. According to AccessWorld, January 2004, it takes the PTR1 an average of 12 seconds to load a disk; the low and high times ranged from 10 to 17 seconds.[1]


The PTR1 does not yet play DAISY3 books as such. It recognizes it as a MP3 disk and will play the MP3 files on the disk. If they are placed on the disk in order and make sense, then it could be a usable experience. However, the files may not be logically ordered or divided, which was the case with the DAISY 3 books I tested. The machine was able to play a music CD. I also tested it with a test CD containing a variety of MP3 files, some of which were located in sub-directories one or two levels down from the root. It calls each sub-directory on the disk an “Album.”  It found most, but not all of the MP3’s on the disk. It did, however, find more of them than any of the other players—it just missed one sub-directory.


As mentioned earlier, I also like the fact that the speed also controls the “Voice Guide.”  In an ideal world, it would be nice to change each speed setting separately but this is better than nothing.


All in all, this is an expensive but nice machine. It does what it was intended to do and it is intended to do a lot.

Contact Information


Product:           Plextalk PTR1

Company:         Plextor Corp.

Address:           48383 Fremont Blvd, Suite 120

                        Fremont, CA 94538

Telephone:        510-440-2000

Fax:                  510-651-9755


Web Site:          

Price:                $895

Scholar Digital Talking Book Player


The Scholar is from Telex Communications. This company makes the audio cassette tape machines used by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and has done so for many years. They also produce analog tape duplication systems, as well as DAISY digital duplication systems, and analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion systems. The Scholar is their first DAISY player.



The machine is essentially circular in its shape, although the back is somewhat squared off and extends back from the circular portion of the machine. This squared-off area is where the hinge for the clamshell door is located. The unit is a portable player powered by four AA batteries. While the Telex website says this is the smallest portable DAISY player in the world, the Victor Vibe is slightly smaller and lighter. This is, in part, because it only holds two batteries as opposed to four for the Scholar.


The Telex Scholar is somewhat difficult to describe succinctly. In part, this is because the control surface contains buttons of five different shapes and sizes. Further, the layout may make sense visually but I found it difficult to become oriented and proficient tactually.


In the center of the player is a large red round rubber button. This is the on/off (power) button as well as the start/stop button. This button is flanked by four rubber triangular buttons, located at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock. The buttons to the right and left or 3 and 9 o’clock are the skip/search forward and skip/search back keys respectively. The buttons at 12 and 6 o’clock are the up-level and down-level keys. You choose the navigation level with the up and down keys, such as phrase, level 1, level 2, page, etc., and move forward or backward by that level with the keys to the right or left of the start key.


These five keys, which are logical in their shape and layout, are surrounded by various smaller oval or round buttons. Above the skip/search back key and to the left of the up-level key, at a 45 degree angle to both, is a small oval key, the 1 key when the player is in “keypad mode.”  The 3 key is located in a similar position between the up-level and skip/search forward keys. Similarly, below the skip/search back key and to the left of the down-level key, is another small oval button, the 7 key. As you might expect, another small oval key is located between the down-level and skip/search forward buttons. This is the 9 key.


Below the down level-key, there are three more oval-shaped buttons in a triangular pattern with one directly below the down-level key and the others located to its left and right. The left most of these keys is the go-to key. The middle key represents the number zero and the right-hand key is the set key.


As you have figured out by now, other keys on the control surface represent the other numbers in the keypad when in keypad mode. The up-level key is the two, the skip/search back key is the four, the start/stop key is five, the skip/search forward is six and the down-level key is the number eight. The confusing aspect of using this machine is because the shape, spacing and size of the different number keys in keypad mode are not the same. However, with repeated use of the player, orientation and ease-of-use did become easier then I first thought it would.


Finally, there are two small round keys, one to the left of the skip/search back key and one to the right of the skip/search forward key. These are the page and bookmark keys respectively. The manual says that when you pick up the player, these keys will be under your thumbs. This, however, depends on where you grip the machine and may not be true for everyone.


At the top center of the machine is a LCD display. It is surrounded by two slightly rounded, flush mounted keys on the left, two of the same kind of keys on the right, and a similar but longer rubber key across the top. The left hand keys are the up and down volume keys. The right hand keys adjust the speed up and down. The key across the top is the “undo” key, taking you back to your last navigation point. If you hold this key down, you also get information about the book, time etc. This is also where the version number of the software in the player is announced. One problem with the speed keys is that they don’t indicate the true speed in any way, as do other players, either with an announcement or tone.


On the edge of the machine, on the squared-off part at the top are the jack for the AC power adapter and an expansion/accessory port. On the right side is an earphone jack and a switch which locks the keys so the machine can be safely transported without turning it on or engaging the other controls.


On the front edge of the machine, as it faces you, is a plastic clamp that snaps over the lid to hold it in place. This clamp does seem like something that might wear out eventually. By unsnapping this clamp and raising the lid, you expose the mounting spindle for the CD. Also here, on the surface which is underneath the CD, is the door for the battery compartment. This is L-shaped and takes two AA batteries in each leg of the L. The manual says that the batteries are placed there to prevent them from popping out if the machine is dropped. It further cautions you not to “touch the lens.”  It doesn’t tell you where the lens is and frankly, putting the battery compartment next to the lens in a machine designed for use by blind people and then cautioning us not to touch it, seems silly at best. Even if we try not to touch it, the mere act of locating and using the battery compartment will probably guarantee that we will come into contact with this mysterious lens at some point. Further, at one point, I was having difficulty getting a book to play. I ultimately discovered that the door to the battery compartment had popped partially open and, because it was then sticking up slightly, it prevented the CD from turning. One further problem with the battery compartment is that there is no tactual way to determine which way the batteries go. Most battery slots have a spring or flexible metal strip at one end. This normally goes against the flat end of a battery. However, the Scholar has a flexible metal strip at each end of each slot. I tried to get it right, but there are too many possible combinations so I had resort to sighted assistance. Telex tells me this design flaw will be fixed in a future machine; however, I am surprised it happened in the first place.

What You Get


The box containing the player also held a power supply not marked in Braille as is the supply with the Victor Vibe. It also held a DAISY-formatted manual on CD and there were spaces in the box for four AA batteries. My package did not actually have any batteries in it, though. I don’t know if they aren’t included, they were not put in my unit, or someone in my agency removed them before the package got to me.


The machine also comes with an adequate pair of headphones, although their design is a little unusual. The band that connects the two ear pieces, which normally goes across the top of your head, instead goes across the back of your head, just above your neck. Further, there are curving places on the headband where they connect to the ear pieces themselves which hook above your ears, between your head and ears. They are initially quite comfortable and this description probably makes the design sound more complicated then it is. Further, I did find the head phones to be somewhat uncomfortable after wearing them for extended periods of times. The curved portion that goes over your ear tended to rub and cause some discomfort. It was nice to get a real pair of head phones instead of ear buds that come with some units.

Getting Started


I found it to be somewhat difficult to get started with this unit. There are no instructions on cassette so you must use the CD. I actually put the CD in a computer and used a software-based player to listen to the beginning of the manual to get my orientation.


The problem is that the Scholar does not give you any kind of audio feedback when a button is pushed. Since the machine takes approximately five seconds after being turned on before speech starts, you don’t know whether or not you have done the right thing when you are unfamiliar with the machine. Once I got started, things progressed fairly well. I did have some trouble getting oriented to the controls, as previously mentioned, and the audio on the CD became garbled at one point. The audio alternated phrases between two sections of the manual. This actually happened twice. I don’t know what caused it or why it cleared up. Fans of A Prairie Home Companion will be interested to note that the voice used for the prompts on the Scholar, as well as the reading of the manual, are that of Tim Russell.


The manual is designed to work somewhat as a tutorial. As you are oriented to the machine and its controls, pauses are inserted to allow you to find the button, switch, or connection in question. You will either find this to be useful or patronizing, depending on your perspective.

Usability and Conclusions


This player has all the standard features that you would expect of a DAISY player. However, I found it to be less usable than the Victor Vibe. It takes a fairly long time to come on and to load a disk. According to tests done by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and published in their on-line magazine AccessWorld in January of 2004, it takes an average of 29 seconds for the Scholar to power up and load the disk to the point where the title is announced. AccessWorld said that it averaged 5 disks to get this figure—the low time being 13 seconds and the high being 54 seconds.[2]  In addition, response to some commands seems slow and the lack of audible

feedback when pushing buttons is a major drawback. I suspect this machine will improve in subsequent versions, but for now it seems like a work in progress. In fact, representatives from Telex, which is headquartered a few miles from our office, came over and updated my player in the middle of the testing. I did see improvements, but problems remain and the update also contained some fairly serious bugs.


On the plus side, the player now handles DAISY/NISO Z39.86 (DAISY 3) books. It is the first hardware player to do so and it does seem to work well. As my organization, the Communication Center of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) will be producing DAISY 3 books when we roll out digital services later this year, this ability is of major importance to us. In an earlier version, the player ponderously announced its version number when powering up. This announcement has been appended to the info key.


Another problem with the current player is that I was unable to find a way to access the second book on a multi-book CD once I had started reading a book. If you load a disk with multiple books, you are told how many books are on the disk and you can move around the list of books with the forward or back keys. However, after choosing a book and starting to read you cannot access this list again. You must reload the entire disk by turning the machine off and on again to get at another book. Further, navigation in the book list was quite slow.


With most players you choose a function, bookmark or page, then enter a number and hit a confirm key. With the Scholar, you choose “Go To” or “Set,” enter a number, then hit the “page” or “Bookmark” key. The number of keystrokes is the same but the logic is slightly different.


The Telex Scholar can play audio (music) CD’s and can even change their speed. While the machine is supposed to be able to play disks of MP3’s, I was unable to get it to work with my test disk. It tried to read the disk for a few seconds and then stopped. I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that this behavior was related to bugs in the firmware I was using, Version 020002. The machine was also unable to read DAISY 2 MP1 books. It attempted to do so for a long period of time and never gave me an error message.


The machine uses a number of “unorthodox” sounds in its operation. The sound that tells you to wait while something is going on is the beat of a steel drum. The sound you hear when the machine powers off is the closing Windows sound. The third beat of the steel drum when the disk is loading is distorted. The voice used in some of the announcements when getting book information is different from the regular voice. This all adds to the “work in progress” impression mentioned above.


Yet another problem with the machine related to using the “Search/Skip Back” key is that sometimes when it is pressed, it jumps you back to the beginning of the element you are currently reading. It should jump you out of the current level to the beginning of the previous element of the same type. It occasionally worked as it should, but generally didn’t, and certainly wasn’t consistent. There were other problems with this key, which Telex said were related to bugs in the current software—bugs they intend to fix. It is unknown, though, if this behavior is a bug or something else. Either way, it is quite annoying. Telex seems to be aware of some of the problems and bugs with this machine and promises another software update by CSUN. I am certainly glad to see the ability to read DAISY 3 books, but overall was disappointed in the performance and functionality of this machine. It, however, should improve with time and the company seems to be committed to making it better. In addition, they are apparently working on other new products, and in general, are committed to the DAISY marketplace.

Contact Information


Product:           Scholar

Company:         Telex Communications

Address:           12000 Portland Ave South

                        Burnsville, MN  55337

Telephone:        952-884-4051

Fax:                  952.884.0043


Web Site:

Price:                $249


Telex Communications has recently introduced the EZDaisy, a less expensive and simplified version of the Scholar. It does not have a numeric keypad, and is priced at $243. It will be reviewed and added to this document in the near future.

Victor Reader Classic +


The Victor Reader Classic Plus replaces the Victor Reader Classic. As I understand it, its goals were to replace the Classic with a machine that would be less expensive to manufacture and sell but still offer as many of the Classic’s features as possible.


While this player can be operated on batteries, does have a handle, and could be carried around, it is probably large enough that most people would consider it to be a desktop player. It is a machine you could move around your house, apartment or dorm room, but probably wouldn’t want to tote on a bus or train on a regular basis. Its performance and features also place it in the desktop player category.



The player is rectangular in shape measuring 9.3 inches by 8.2 inches by 2.1 inches, and weighs 2.42 pounds including batteries. The corners of the machine are rounded and the two sides also have a slight curve to them. The back edge of the machine is slightly thicker than the front edge so the top face of the machine, where all the controls are located, slants downward slightly.

All of the buttons on this machine have distinctive shapes and/or tactile markings on them. They are logical in their layout, well spaced, large enough for most people to use well; and in my view, represent the best design of any of the players I tested.


The majority of the controls are located on a slightly raised surface in the middle of the top of the player. Near the top are six keys in three vertical rows of two. The keys are rounded on one end and straight across on the other end (shaped roughly like your fingertips.)  The top set of keys points up and the bottom set points down. From left to right they are tone up and down, volume up and down, and speed up and down. If you press one of the up keys, its setting goes up by one increment, likewise for down. The tone settings range from 0 to 5, volume 1-10, and speed -3 to 10. If the machine is playing a book and you press one of these buttons, a tone sounds and its function is executed. If the book is paused or not present, the number of the setting is also spoken. The buttons beep when you reach the extremes of their ranges and a different beep sounds when you reach the “normal” setting. For speed, this represents true speed; the book can be slowed down and sped up from there. The player operates well at a high volume without distortion or cabinet rattle.


Below these buttons is a set of 12 oval-shaped buttons laid out in a telephone keypad arrangement. These buttons are numbered, and some have additional functions. In addition, the 5 key has a dot on it. The 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys have shallow v-shaped arrow markings pointing up, left, right, and down respectively.


The numeric keypad is used to enter page numbers and bookmark numbers. In addition, some of the keys have additional functions in addition to their numeric values. They are:


1  Bookshelf

2  Navigation element up

3  History list

4  Move back

5  Where am I

6  Move forward

7  (No additional function)

8  Navigation element down

9  Sleep

*  Cancel

0  Info

#  Confirm


Below the numeric keys are three slightly larger keys. There are arrow-shaped keys pointing left and right with a rectangular key between them. It has an indent for your finger and is the play/stop control. The key on the left is rewind and the one on the right is fast forward.


To the left of the numeric keys are two keys, one above the other. The top square button is go-to page, with the bookmark diamond-shaped key below.


Finally, to the right of the numeric keys are two other vertical keys. The top button, which is round and recessed, is the power on/off button. Below is a five-sided arrow-shaped key which is eject.


The front edge of the machine has a slot where the CD is inserted. If you push it in most of the way, the machine automatically draws it in the rest of the way and loads it. On the left side of the machine facing left is a cut-out which forms a handle. On the right side of the machine, starting near the back are jacks for the AC power adapter, line jack, remote, and headphones.

What You Get


The player comes with an AC power adapter/charger, a CD with getting started and user manuals on it in DAISY format, and a printed user manual. These books are available in three languages, English and two others. They sounded like German and a Scandinavian language to me.

Getting Started


You start the player by holding in the on/off switch until a beep is heard. To turn it off, repeat the process until two beeps are sounded. When the power adapter is successfully connected, ascending tones inform you of this. Descending tones sound when it is disconnected. Loading the manual CD automatically starts play of the Getting Started Session. This is a “quick start” guide. After it plays, the full User’s Manual is played. I found both publications to be clear, useful and understandable. They concisely told me what I needed to know.

Usability and Conclusions


This player has all the features that you would expect of a full-featured DAISY Digital Talking Book player. It navigates the book by whatever levels are present, phrase, heading, page, chapter, etc. You can drop bookmarks, numbering them yourself, or have the player do so. You can then navigate to them by number or via a list.


I found the player loaded disks quickly and responded to commands quickly. According to tests performed by the American Foundation for the Blind in the January, 2004 edition of AccessWorld, when you insert a DAISY CD, the Classic Plus took ten seconds to access the CD and announce the book title. It took seven seconds to access a commercial music CD. Moving to the next track on an audio CD or going to a specified track using the Go To key took two seconds.[3]  Further, the player smoothly accessed the disk and buffered data, unlike the Plextalk PTR1 which paused and even stuttered occasionally.


Like most of the other players, the Classic Plus would not play a DAISY 3 book in its native format, but would access the MP3 files on this disk. If these files are laid out sequentially and logically divided, then this could be a solution; however, with most disks they are not. DAISY books use MP3 files to hold audio, not to convey or contain structural information. Consequently, the production software generally doesn’t particularly care where things are on the disk or how they are divided up. The player only found about half the files on my test MP3 disk. It seemed unable to locate files a couple sub-directories deep. In fact, it located fewer files than its little brother the Victor Vibe. The player was able to play and speed up audio CD’s. It was also able to play DAISY 2 MP1 books, which none of the other players were.


One nice feature is the sleep mode. This is normally turned off, but by pressing the button, you increment the sleep timer by 15 minute increments (i.e.) 15, 30 45, or 60 minutes. The machine will turn off after the preset period of time. If you are listening while you are trying to go to sleep, this will ensure that the book doesn’t play all the way to the end.


The Victor Reader Classic Plus seems to be a well-designed high-quality machine. It has a good and solid feel to it, is easy to use, and most controls and functions operate as you would expect them to. Unless you need a portable player or recording capabilities, this is the player I would choose for myself.

Contact Information


Product:           Victor Reader Classic Plus

Company:         VisuAide

Address:           841, Jean-Paul-Vincent

                        Longueuil (Québec) Canada, J4G 1R3 

Telephone:        (450) 463-1717

Fax:                  (450) 463-0120


Web Site:         

Price:                $375

Victor Reader Vibe


The Victor Reader Vibe is from Visuaide, one of the major players in the DTB field. While this is their first portable player, they have been in this market since the beginning. However, this player differs from their previous hardware offerings in one major way. Its hardware is actually an off-the-shelf CD/MP3 player which has been given a different faceplate and internal software. Their previous machines were designed specifically to play DAISY Digital Talking Books or DTBs.


VisuAide has gone this route to save money, and make a player that is less expensive. At $219, they have certainly done this, previous players sold for $495 or more. However, the controls on the player are not laid out in an intuitively tactile manner, in my opinion.



The Vibe is essentially round in shape and fairly flat. There is, however, a portion of the machine that is squared off and sticks out of the back of the player as it faces you. This is where the hinge for the lid is. The machine measures six inches by 5 1/2 inches by 1 1/4 inches and weighs 9.7 ounces.


The player uses what is called a clam-shell design. The top of the machine, which is also the lid, rises up exposing the area on which the CD is placed. The lid also contains most of the controls. The buttons are laid out in a circle like a clock face or an old dial-type telephone. Visuaide uses the clock analogy assigning each button with a number corresponding to its position on a clock.


In addition, VisuAide for descriptive purposes, groups their controls into four categories. Each grouping is surrounded by a raised line that outlines three sides of a curving rectangle shape. The fourth side of each rectangle is outlined by a raised lip on the lid surrounding all the controls. Unfortunately, the physical buttons are grouped together differently from VisuAide’s categories; and the raised markings outlining the categories are not very prominent, so it takes some time to get used to the layout. In my opinion, this is probably the major drawback to this machine; although, you do become accustomed to the layout with repeated use.


The buttons with their clock numbers and functions are:


  1 Power on, volume, or speed up

  2 Power off, volume, or speed down

  3 Volume or speed selection toggle

  4 Fast forward

  5 Play/stop

  6 Rewind

  7 Go to page

  8 Bookmark

  9 Menu

10 (Also called 0) previous element

11 (Also called #) next element


The buttons 1-3 are grouped together by Visuaide, as are 4-6, 7 and 8, and 9-#. Physically, though, 1-2 are together as are 3-6, and 7-# are equal distance apart. While a better custom layout would have been nice, Telex went this route with its Scholar player and it is even harder to use, in my opinion.


There are also some ports and jacks on the edge of the machine. Starting near the back on the right side are a jack for the AC adapter/charger, a line-out jack, an unused port, a headphone jack and a slide switch which will lock the keyboard, preventing accidental operation. There is also a slide-type button on the front edge of the player, which releases the lid and then springs open slowly. I hit the lid release several times while using the machine. Its spring seems like something that will wear out or break as it doesn’t feel very strong. On the bottom surface of the machine is a battery compartment.

What You Get


The player comes with two rechargeable AA batteries and a power supply that will also charge the batteries when they are in the machine. One nice touch is that the power supply has a Braille label on the cord that says Vibe on it. It is easy to get quite a collection of wall warts and this label helps keep them straight. There is also a DAISY-formatted CD with Quick Start and User Manuals on it, a pair of ear bud type earphones, and a “carrying case.”  While saving money is a good thing, I personally find the ear bud type earphones to be cheap and uncomfortable. Further, the “carrying case” has a belt loop but no handle. It is form fitting so there is no room for headphones or books on CD in their cases. There is room for a few CD’s without jewel boxes or other coverings.

Getting Started

As mentioned earlier, the player comes with Getting Started and User Manuals as DAISY books on CD-ROM. The Quick Start guide gives an experienced user all the information she/he will need to get up and running. However, the problem with this player and others as well, is that it can be difficult for a new or inexperienced user to get started. Since the manual is a DAISY book, you must be able to get the machine up and running and navigate the book to read it. An audio cassette version of the manual would have been very useful to many users. I have used a variety of DAISY players, both hardware and software-based, and was able to get the thing up and running by trial and error; but since you must locate the power on button and hold it in for a couple seconds, this could be tricky for some people.


There is a paper cover inside the lid covering the CD spindle and platform. It must be removed and wasn’t mentioned in either manual. It also takes some dexterity to place and remove CD’s in the player as it also does with the Telex Scholar. There are small cutouts for your fingers but they don’t help much. Unfortunately, this is a by-product of the size and design of the machine; there is probably nothing to be done about it.





Usability and Conclusions


If the default volume of the player is changed, the new setting is retained for the next use of the machine; however, any speed change is discarded and the speed is reset to the default setting. It would be nice if the speed setting, in addition to bookmarks, was saved with each book.


The Victor Vibe responded to disks and commands relatively quickly. In tests published in the January, 2004 Accessworld, the American Foundation for the Blind found that when you insert a DAISY CD, the Vibe takes an average of 25 seconds to access the CD and announce the book title. They used an average of the access times for five CDs. These times varied from a high of 30 seconds to a low of 19 seconds. The Vibe takes 19 seconds to access a commercial music CD and two seconds to move to the next track on an audio CD, according to AccessWorld.[4]


The Victor Vibe does not yet play DAISY 3 books directly. It will access the MP3 files on the disk. It cannot, however, speed up or slow down those files as can some of the other players. It found most, but not all, the MP3 files on my test disk. I was able to play audio CD’s without problems. Interestingly, when you turn on the machine with an audio CD in place, it does not announce “Victor Reader Vibe” as it normally does. It just starts playing the CD. I presume this is because the player is using the default software that came with the player, not the DAISY-reading software that VisuAide has added.


Overall this is a good player and my favorite of the portables. It has a good set of features and adequate performance for a portable unit at a reasonable price.

Contact Information


Product:           Victor Reader Vibe     

Company:         VisuAide

Address:           841, Jean-Paul-Vincent

                        Longueuil (Québec) Canada, J4G 1R3 

Telephone:        (450) 463-1717

Fax:                  (450) 463-0120


Web Site:         

Price:                $219

Book Port


The Book Port comes from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH.) The Book Port is a small device that uses Compact Flash memory cards for storage. You transfer files or books from your PC to the Book Port for later reading. These files can include text files, MP3 audio files, books or DAISY books. The unit employs DoubleTalk synthesized speech to read text, speak its menus etc. While I personally don’t like this speech, some people love it—what speech you like or hate is a very personal and subjective thing.



The Book Port is a small rectangular device measuring 2.75 inches by 4.75 inches by one inch.  The device supports quite a number of file types including TXT--Text, HTM--Web Pages, HTML--Web Pages, BRF--Contracted Formatted Braille, BRL--Contracted Unformatted Braille, MP3--Compressed Audio, WAV--Uncompressed Audio, NCC.HTML--Daisy 2.x Digital Talking Book, OPF--Daisy 3.X Digital Talking Book, DOC--Microsoft Word 97 or later, and RTF--Rich Text Format.  In July of 2004, APH added the ability to read audio books from  These books use human narrators to do the reading.


The front panel of the Book Port contains 18 round rubber buttons in three columns of six buttons.  The top 12 buttons or first four rows represent a telephone keypad layout and are numbered in the same way.  There is a dot on the 5 key as you would expect.  The bottom two rows are labeled A through F going left to right and top to bottom. 


The edges and corners of the machine are slightly rounded.  The top edge contains an earphone jack and a USB connector.  The back has a belt clip and a battery compartment door.  The unit takes two AA batteries.  There is a compact flash slot on the right side of the device where the memory card is inserted.  The manual gives you instructions on the insertion of the batteries; however, I did not find their proper orientation as easy as it implies it will be.  There are small raised marks to denote where the positive ends of the batteries go, but I missed them on the first feel.


The buttons on the front panel of the Book Port control all its functions.  Most functions are accomplished by pushing only one button or by navigating a menu.  However, some lesser-used functions must be accomplished by pushing two or more buttons at the same time. 


The command structure is further complicated by the fact some buttons have one function while the Book Port is “idle,” that is not reading text, and a second function if they are pushed while the unit is reading a file.  Secondly, many buttons have an additional function if they are pushed and held down until they beep.  Finally, the beep function can be present in either idle or reading mode.  Consequently, each button potentially has up to four functions associated with it. 


This actually sounds somewhat more complicated then it is in reality.  Most buttons do not have four functions and the basic operations of the machine are logical.  This is not to say, however, that some memorization won’t be necessary.


There are commands to review text by character, word, sentence, paragraph, page, and/or section.  Some of these commands, of course, don’t apply to audio material such as DAISY books.  In this case, navigation will be based on time or on the structure built into the DAISY DTB.  You can adjust the speed, volume, pitch and voice of the Double Talk synthesizer. 

What You Get


When you receive your Book Port, the package contains the following items:  the Book Port Unit itself, a CD containing software and over 1,700 e-books, a 64 megabyte compact flash card, a USB 2.0 A Plug to 5-Pin Mini-B cable, ear buds, 2 AA batteries, a cassette tape containing the manual, and a printed Quick Start sheet.

Getting Started


It is not possible to use the Book Port without a PC.  The computer uses the Book Port Transfer software to send files, DTB’s, and other materials to the device.  So you start using the device by installing its software on your computer.


The supplied CD has an autorun feature so you only have to put it into your CD drive and the installation process is initiated.  It is a standard install and was completely accessible with a screen reader.  Once the software is installed, you connect the Book Port to your PC with the supplied USB cable.  If Book Port Transfer is not already running, the connection brings it up.


Book Port Transfer allows you to pick the file(s) and/or book(s) you will send to the Book Port.  It is completely accessible and operates like any other standard Windows-based program.  You navigate to the directory you want and select your files.  You can also filter the files that are shown to you by file type (viewing only ncc.html DAISY 2.x files, for example.)  You can send files to the Book Port immediately or cue them for later sending.  DAISY DTB’s, however, cannot be cued.


Usability and Conclusions


Since the Book Port does not have a CD-ROM drive, you do not use it like a conventional DTB player.  You use the Book Port Transfer software on your PC to move a DAISY DTB to the device.  The software converts the book to its own proprietary format and transfers as much of the book to your Book Port as its memory card will hold.  Presumably, if you have a large enough card, you could transfer most DTB’s.  However, the 64 megabyte card that comes with the device will not hold many DTB’s, which are larger than that.  If the entire book will not fit, the software will transfer as much data as the card will hold.  You are given the opportunity to confirm the range the software chooses or you can change it.


The process of converting a DAISY DTB and sending it to the Book Port is quite slow.  While I didn’t time it exactly, it took me approximately nine minutes to convert and transfer a 131 page book—about 3 minutes to do the conversion and six minutes to send the book to the Book Port.  The resulting single file was just about the same size as the source book, which had contained 66 individual files.  The file on the Book Port was approximately 77 megabytes in size.  Presumably, with a faster computer, and more memory, the conversion process would be somewhat faster; however, I used a 2 GHz machine with 512 Megs of RAM, not an under-powered machine by any means.


The software beeps as it is converting and sending files; however, during the sending part of the process the beeps are so infrequent, and the process so long, that you may wonder what is happening.  There is a status line, which can be read, giving you a percentage of completion but more frequent beeps would be reassuring.


Navigation within a DTB is done in much the same way as with other file types, which are text-based.  The Book Port manual says:  “If, on the other hand, you are reading an audio file, you may navigate by sentence, paragraph, section, or a fixed amount of time. If you read Digital Talking Books, you get even more precise control while navigating through the book's structure. The exact navigation you get depends on how the publisher prepared the file, but in general, you may move not only by sentence and paragraph, but by page, sub-section, and section.”


The Book Port Transfer software performs phrase detection on DAISY books, doing its best to detect sentences, paragraphs and pages.  It seemed to do a pretty good job of detecting sentences in my tests; it was more difficult to judge its attempts at paragraphs and pages, since I didn’t have the printed book to check it against. 


There were several problems with navigation.  First, there was a quiet but discernable click in the ear phones whenever a navigation button was pressed.  Secondly, the forward navigation worked much better than the back navigation.  The back sentence usually worked fine, but generally, back paragraph and back page would only go back one unit.  Repeated presses would not go back past this point—a major problem.  While this problem is not unique to the Book Port, it is frustrating nonetheless.


The final problem with navigation concerns itself with the structure that is built into most DAISY books.  The manual says that you can benefit from such structure, but never tells you how to use it.  There is also no way to tell whether movement is based on information in the DAISY book, or phrase detection from the Book Port itself. 


A final major disadvantage to reading DAISY books on the Book Port is that once they are transferred to the device, you can’t adjust the speed.  The Book Port Transfer software has options to increase the speed of the book, up to 3 times the original, and to also “compress” pauses.  You have to decide on the amount of adjustment for one or both of these parameters up front and enter values into a dialog box.  The file is then processed and sent to the Book Port as it normally would be.  You cannot change your adjustments unless you reprocess the file and send it again.  Further, the processing for these steps adds considerably to the conversion process, as the book must be decoded, processed for each change, and then a MP3 file is created.  A fast computer with ample memory would probably be useful here.


The Book Port Transfer software handles both DAISY 2.x and ANSI/NISO Z39-86 (DAISY 3) books.  I found it to be a little picky about books, though, some books caused errors in the Book Wizard software, making conversion and transfer impossible.  It is unknown whether these errors were caused by problems in the DAISY books themselves, which I suspect is the case based on the error messages, or by problems in the conversion software. 


There are also some pluses to using the Book Port.  It is small and light and it remembers your place in a file, no matter what, even if you switch to another file while reading.  You can drop and move to marks within a book.  Battery life is quite good and you can read a wide variety of electronic and audio file types.  You can also mix these file types on the same memory card, taking books and music with you, for example.


The major navigation problems occurred with audio DAISY books.  I transferred a text-based DAISY 3 book from to the device, and it handled it beautifully.  The conversion and send steps were quick, taking only a few seconds.  Navigation both forward and backward also didn’t have problems.  I was able to move by sentence, page, and chapter.  With more and more content becoming available on, this will be a great way to read it on the go for some people.


The Book Port will also automatically back translate Braille files, such as the .brf files found on NLS’s Web Braille.  The process is quick and transparent and yields good results.


On the whole, I found the manual for the Book Port to be concise and clear.  It is placed on your computer hard drive as a text and a HTML file, thus it comes up in Internet Explorer or whatever browser you use.  It is fully linked and easy to navigate.  I, however, found little information on troubleshooting problems and no contact information for obtaining technical assistance.  Further, there was not enough explanation for reading DAISY books.  The manual also says that the Book Port will read DTB’s like those from RFB&D.  It does not actually say whether or not RFB&D books can actually be read.  Those books have copy protection on them to ensure they are only used by eligible individuals and institutions.  Further, the Book Port is not listed on the RFB&D web site as an Audio Plus book reader.  A RFB&D staff member has told me that a “patch” is available for the Book Port that will allow the reading of RFB&D books.  It costs $20 and can be installed by the Book Port user him/herself.  This is an advantage over other DTB players, which if not purchased from RFB&D itself must be sent in to be authorized to play their books.  The cassette version, which was nice to see, was professionally recorded by APH and even had a nice Braille label.  It was not tone indexed though, making navigation more difficult.  The manual was also on the compact flash card that was included with the unit.


In conclusion, the Book Port is an interesting and unique device.  It is not a full-featured DAISY book player, but because of its portability, it would be useful in some situations.  It is relatively easy to load it with a variety of information from your PC and take it away for later reading.  If you need the full features of a DTB player, you will already have a computer which can run a software-based player.  APH has already updated the device and supporting software several times, so I fully expect it to improve in the future.

Contact Information


Product:           Book Port

Company:         American Printing House for the Blind

Address:           1839 Frankfort Avenue

                        P.O. Box 6085

                        Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085

Telephone:        502-895-2405

Fax:                  502-899-2274


Web Site:

Price:                $395



All software players require the use of a computer. Each player has its own requirements; however, most of them will require you to have a recent version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, a multi-channel sound card, a CD-ROM drive, and a relatively up-to-date version of Microsoft Windows. You will also want to have an adequate amount of computer memory installed in your system. Specific players may also have additional requirements such as a specific version of directX or the Microsoft speech API. Often, but not always, these components can be loaded as a part of the installation process. Each developer or vendor should be able to provide you with requirements and other necessary information. There is one player for the Linux operating system and one for the Apple Macintosh, but we did not have the necessary equipment to test either of these packages. We will attempt to do this at a later date.



AMIS, pronounced ahmee, stands for (Adaptive Multimedia Information System.)  This DAISY 2.x book reading software is an “open source” software project sponsored by the Japanese Society for the Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (JSRPD.) DAISY For All (DFA) is funded by the Nippon Foundation and is one of the initiatives of the DAISY Consortium. It includes AMIS as one of its projects.


The software is offered under the provisions of the GNU Public License (GPL.) This essentially means that you are free to download and modify the source code for the software as long as you contribute your improvements back to the project. The software has been created and modified by a variety of persons throughout the world, both disabled and able-bodied, according to the AMIS web site.

What You Get


The software is downloaded from The actual download is from another site, the site. While accessible, this site does look and feel differently from the AMIS site—it uses frames. You are asked to pick a “mirror,” a site near you where the actual software is stored. Interestingly, my nearest mirror was housed at the University of Minnesota just a couple miles away from my office. The download was accomplished without incident. I got an executable file, which once run, performed a standard Windows setup. Once complete, the installation routine then launches the AMIS software.


At this time, early March 2004, AMIS is available in English, Japanese, Thai, and Dutch. The web site says Hindi is in the works. There is also available a “localization tool” which is used to create a version of the software in another language.

Getting Started


When the AMIS installation file is downloaded, you are run through a standard Windows installation. It is not self voicing so a blind or visually impaired person will need a screen review program or screen magnifier. Once the “Finish” button is pressed, you hear human speech that prompts you to press “select a document or section with the arrow keys and press enter. Press H for a list of commands. Press L to return to the Document List.”  Pressing the H key gets you a list of 23 commands. This apparently is the sum total of AMIS documentation at this time with the exception of a few “Tips and Tricks” on the AMIS web site. Pressing L for “Document List” repeats the message heard above.


One of the potential strengths of AMIS is its modular construction. This is also one of the elements which make open source distributed development possible. Different people are working on different parts of the program at the same time. In addition, the program features two additional kinds of modules. The first are called “Skins” and the second are “Plug-Ins.”  Skins control how the screen looks, what commands and features are available, etc. The majority of my testing was done with the “Default Skin.”  A few other skins are available on the AMIS web site. Plug-Ins are modules that do different tasks. These tasks could be related to input, output, or both. There are plug-ins for joystick input, scanning (one button) input for physically disabled persons, speech recognition input, refreshable Braille input/output, large font output, text-to-speech output for commands and controls, and more. The Braille Plug-In only supports the Alva Satellite 544 at this time. I have not tried it. I could find no documentation on installing Skins or Plug-Ins and I was not successful with my experimentation with the “AMIS Config Manager.” 



As mentioned earlier, the program is not self voicing. I used it with JAWS for Windows, version 5.00.812 without any problems. As you press keys to execute commands, these commands are spoken by a recorded woman’s voice. The voice is quite understandable and usable, but not of the professional caliber of the voice used in some machines and software players. It also is somewhat slow in its response to key presses. It takes approximately ¾ of a second for the voice to announce a command. As with most players, the space bar starts and stops reading, it is called “Play/Pause” here. The reading of the DAISY book actually starts before the command is announced. It is possible to turn off command echo with an Alt-C command.


The default skin, the font and color choice, and the screen layout were considered to be quite attractive by a number of people who viewed them. The presentation was simple, clean, and attractive. The layout included a tree-view of the book on the left, an area for text presentation on the right, and commands at the bottom. There are commands to enlarge the font and change the foreground and background colors—they are “A” and “C” respectively. They toggle you through preset choices when pressed repeatedly. There are four font size choices and five color presets. The font size choice, at its largest setting, was somewhat larger then many of the other packages. It was estimated at 30 point; most of the others seemed to max out at around an estimate of 24 point. Overall, we deemed this package to be easy to use by a visually impaired user.


AMIS behaves somewhat differently from other players. When you press the up and down arrows, (they call them “Next” and “Previous Section”) you are actually navigating the NCC (Navigation Control Center.)  This means that as you up and down arrow through the NCC, you hear the structure of the DAISY book you are reading. What you hear depends on how and to what level the book is marked up. You might hear page numbers, and/or chapter numbers and titles, and/or section headings etc. If there are blank lines in the NCC, you will hear nothing as you cross them. Once you reach something you want to hear, you must then press “Enter” to start reading there. This is, of course, the tree-view on the left side of the screen that you are navigating.


Control-Up Arrow and Control-Down Arrow move you up and down by a level. This level move is increased or decreased by Control-Right or Control-Left Arrow. The problem with this system is that you are never told at which level your navigation is taking place so you must use trial and error.

Usability and Conclusions


This is a very basic player. There is no way to increase or decrease the speed of the audio in the Default Profile. There is no way to easily save the settings you change, bookmark anything, or resume reading where you left off. Some initial settings can be changed by editing XML configuration files but this is for the experienced computer user. Instructions for doing this are on the “Tips and Tricks” section of the AMIS project web site under Documentation. While I did locate a Skin that supposedly included audio speed changing, I was unable to get it installed and working.


The opening of a book is accomplished with the “Alt-O” command. This opens up a standard Windows file open dialog box. Under File Types, there are two choices, they are called DAISY NCC and NCC.*. The first will just show you the NCC.HTML files in the directories/CDs you choose—these are the files you need to choose to launch the book.  The second choice will show you all the files in a directory/CD, including all .smil and .MP3 files. The “L” command will list the book/books on a CD but I found it difficult and confusing to use on CD’s with multiple books. I had to leave JFW on to get audio feedback but the speech was confusing. This was in part because you hear both JAWS and book titles in their recorded audio from the disk, and also because the speech generated by JAWS is not neat and clean. Things repeat and it is difficult to tell where you actually are. I was able to choose a book from a CD with multiple books on it by using the standard Alt-O file open dialog box. This command works well with a CD with just one book on it; it lists the title and you hit “Enter” to open the book.


The Open Source nature of AMIS development is certainly an intriguing model. It is something that, at least in principle, most of us would support. The software has a good web site and it looks like they are trying to do everything correctly. In particular, the modular construction and ability to accept Skins and Plug-Ins hold great promise for the future. It would appear that the developers are trying to establish an infrastructure that can ultimately be extended in many directions. Unfortunately, a lot of development is still needed before this package is competitive with other products on the market. I was told that the next version is in the works and that it will offer improved functionality and better documentation. In addition, according to the web site, the developers are working on a “cross-platform” version—what platforms will be supported and when, aren’t mentioned.


This is a product with great promise and potential, but for now, it isn’t quite ready for prime time.

Contact Information


Product:           AMIS (Adaptive Multimedia Information System)

Company:         AMIS Project             

Address:           N/A

Telephone:        N/A

Fax:                  N/A


Web Site:      

Price:                Free



EaseReader is a computer-based software DAISY book reading program. It is from Dolphin Audio Publishing, a division of Dolphin Computer Access LTD., a UK company. Dolphin Computer Access purchased Labyrinten Data AB, a Swedish company involved with the DAISY Consortium since the beginning in mid 1990. Labyrinten with others or by itself has produced various DAISY production, conversion, and playback tools. It would appear that EaseReader is based on LpPlayer, which was previously offered by Labyrinten, but has been discontinued.

What You Get


EaseReader comes on CD-ROM and our copy only included the CD in a plastic case like those which DVD’s come in. Inserting the CD into a PC did auto-run the installation program. In addition to the EaseReader software, the CD contains the manual for the product, as a full text, full audio, synchronized DAISY-formatted book. The audio sounded like the Microsoft text-to-speech Engine, which isn’t my favorite, but was usable. Dolphin should be commended on making a full text, full audio book available. This was, of course, done in part to demonstrate the capabilities of their Audio Publisher software; however, I was glad to see a text/audio manual that could be searched.

Getting Started


The program is self-voicing and uses the Microsoft Speech Engine by default. Personally, I find the Microsoft Speech Engine to be of poor quality and don’t prefer it to something such as Eloquence; however it is usable and can be changed (see below.)


It is possible to either use another speech engine, if present on your computer, or to use JAWS for Windows or Dolphin’s own Super Nova. I found scripts for JFW on the CD and was able to install them. However, I had to recompile them for version 5.0 of JFW. I also had to turn off the voicing of keystrokes in JAWS, so I didn’t get extra speech as I navigated the program. There was also no mention of JFW scripts or Super Nova MAP files in the manual.


You can also use SAM, the Synthesizer Access Manager, which is installed with EaseReader (see below.)  This program allows you to detect and configure different speech synthesizers and/or Braille displays for use with EaseReader. By using the program I was able to reconfigure EaseReader to use a different voice for its self-voicing mode. You cannot do any of this from within EaseReader itself, however. Time did not permit the testing of EaseReader with refreshable Braille displays but this will be done later.


The installation was actually in four parts. Each part installed a different component of the system. These included the Microsoft Speech API, Microsoft Speech Engine, Synthesizer Access Module, and Ease Reader itself. In each installation, you have the option of an automatic installation or custom installation where you can change directories, etc. The completion of each installation automatically triggered the next phase. However, the whole thing was a little clunky and seemed to be more work than necessary. A simplified installation procedure would be nice.



The program is self-voicing as mentioned above. This can also be turned off. In addition, there are options to set text size, font, colors, highlighting etc. Further, if there is text present in a DAISY book, it can be synchronized with the audio. Finally, EaseReader has the ability to automatically skip or include certain elements at the user’s discretion, so-called “skipability.”  These might include footnotes, page numbers, sidebars etc. This ability is covered in the DAISY 2.02 spec, but EaseReader is the only product to implement it so far. Further, it should be noted that for these features to work, they must be incorporated into the book as it is initially produced.


The EaseReader interface is not a standard Windows layout, although, portions of it behave in a manner similar to Windows. You can use the mouse or the keyboard to move from control to control. There are also hotkeys to perform most functions. They are generally cursor keys, control-letter keys, such as Control-O to open a book, and other similar keys and key combinations. In general, they follow many common Windows conventions, such as page down to move down by a page and control-end to move to the end of a book. Because of the use of standard keys, learning to use the program is fairly quick and easy, although, there are a lot of commands. Visually, the top of the screen is devoted to the display of text within a book, somewhat looking like the screen of an old TV set with an arc of control buttons below it. Many of the visual icons used in the program are not standard, so their function isn’t obvious or intuitive until you know the program, i.e., what does a wrench or a hammer icon do?


One command, Shift-Alt-I brings up the “Index” of a book. This lists all the elements that are marked up in the book for navigation and can be a handy way to skim through the structure of a book and jump to any location that catches your attention.


The EaseReader main screen has two possible views, Standard and Compact. The former contains a wide variety of controls for choosing and playing a book, searching and bookmarking etc. The Compact view, on the other hand, features fewer controls which allows for a larger viewing area for on-screen text.

Usability and Conclusions


This program has a complete set of features. In addition to the features you would normally expect in such software, Dolphin has implemented content skipability in this program. So, if your book is coded properly, you can automatically skip or read elements such as footnotes, page numbers and sidebars at your discretion. To my knowledge, this is the first such program to implement this feature.


If text is present in a book, you can change its size and color. There are a number of pre-set styles to make this easy. You can place audio bookmarks in the book and search text, if it is present. If your search yields a result, you can then jump to the correct place in the audio.


The program is relatively easy to learn because of its use of Windows-like keys in most instances. There are a few places where it doesn’t behave as I would have expected. The major one was in the Preferences dialog box. There are a number of tabs here, for General, Highlighting, etc. There are hot keys to get to each tab or you can move to the tab control and use the up and down arrows on the numeric keypad to move to another tab. You must then hit enter to move to that page. If you try to use the regular arrow keys, on the tab control, as you normally would, it will trigger the audio functions of the software.


At times, I found myself being a little overwhelmed with the Ease Reader interface. There are lots of controls, a number of views or modes, and various popup menus, dialog boxes, tabs etc. Further, there are hotkeys for everything. So, until you are familiar with the software, you may do a bit of digging around to find things.


The program has a complete set of display options, more than most. In addition to changing the size of the font and modifying foreground and background colors, you can modify highlight color and other effects such as bold, italic, letter spacing, screen position of highlighted text, and more. Because of the wide range of options in this area, EaseReader would be worth consideration from a visually impaired user. As with most of the other products, text enlargement is not as great as with a screen magnification program; but there is also audio to assist with navigation and text playback. The program also has a “Remote Control” with “Standard” and “Compact” views. This control can be positioned anywhere on your desktop and used to command EaseReader instead of the regular Main interface view.


Overall this is a solid product. It has a good set of features, particularly in the area of display and visual effects. The ability to selectively read or skip content, such as foot notes, page numbers, etc., is good to see implemented and will be useful to some.


If you are a mouse user or learn the hotkeys you need, this is a very good program. If you are an occasional user, like me, you will find yourself fishing around for things. A more standard Windows interface might minimize this problem; however, a more standard Windows interface might also remove one of the considerations that differentiate EaseReader from its competition.

Contact Information


Product:           EaseReader

Company:         Dolphin Audio Publishing

Address:           Dolphin Computer Access Ltd
Technology House
Blackpole Estate West

Telephone:        +44 (0)1905 754577

Fax:                  +44 (0)1905 754559


Web Site:                            

Price:                $45





This product, from Innovative Rehabilitation Technology Inc., (IRTI) was ordered from RFB&D but did not arrive in time for testing. It will be tested at a later date.

Contact Information


Product:           Eclipse Reader

Company:         IRTI

Address:           13465 Colfax Highway

Grass Valley, CA 95945         

Telephone:        800-322-4784

Fax:                  530-274-2093


Web Site:                    

Price:                $84.95



Version 2.0 of gh PLAYER™ was tested. The product is from gh LLC. This company had its origins in a center at Purdue University that produced accessible materials starting in 1995. In 2000 the company was formed. It offers a variety of materials and products all having to do with accessible information whether it is hard copy, electronic, or web-based.

What You Get


We received a demo CD from our local access technology vendor, Freedom of Speech of Edina, Minnesota. The demo runs for 30 days and is fully functional. You are told each time you run the software about how many days you have left.

Getting Started


The CD contains the installation files and a manual in HTML format. The installation auto-runs when you load the CD. The routine is a standard Windows installation. You have the option to install two sample books. This is the default. In addition, there is a Quick Start guide and a Users Guide which are actually full-text full audio text-to-speech DAISY 3 books. The Users Manual says that documentation is available in the two electronic formats mentioned above, as well as in regular and large print, and Braille. Since I worked from a demo disk, I don’t actually know what comes with the software.


The first time you run the program, you are taken to a configuration wizard. There are tabs for General, Colors, Player Voice, Narrator Voice, Braille Display, and Fonts. This is a standard Windows Dialog. You tab from control to control, most of which are check boxes. Some controls are combo boxes and other types of controls, but if you are familiar with Windows programs, it shouldn’t be a problem to you. There is a choice to “Restore Defaults” in the General Tab. Each tab also has an “Apply” button. One quirk is that when you tab to the Tab Control itself, it does not announce which tab you are on. As with any tab control, you right and left arrow to change the choice. As you do this, its setting is announced. This isn’t a fatal flaw, but a little annoying and could cause inexperienced user problems. One other possible area of minor confusion has to do with the “Player” and “Narrator” tabs. The Player Voice is for the menus etc., and the Narrator Voice is for the reading of text-to-speech (text-only) books. Microsoft also has a program called Narrator, which is a very basic application that provides screen reading functions with the operating system and some of its utilities, starting with Windows 2000.


Because it is self-voicing, I configured JFW to shut up when I entered gh PLAYER. This is a one-time action, but you do need to know how to do it. It is necessary to do this with most of the software players. Once this was done, the self-voicing aspects of the player worked very well—it was one of the better players in this respect.


The program uses Microsoft Speech API 5.1 MSAPI 5.1. If you don’t have it, the installation routine installs it for you. In addition, some higher-quality voices from Scansoft are also installed. I appreciated these, as I don’t like the Microsoft speech engine voices.



As mentioned earlier, this program behaves like a standard Windows program. The menus and dialogs are standard Windows controls that self voice. In addition, standard Windows hotkeys are used for things like find, open file, beginning or end of book, and exit. You can, of course, use the mouse or hotkeys, or the menu structure. There are also several toolbars which you can show or hide—accessibility, voice, playback, and status.


As with most of the other packages, the right and left arrow keys move you forward and back by the chosen level. The up and down arrows change the navigation unit. The available units are determined by how the book is marked up. However, gh PLAYER calls some of the levels by different names. They use “Section” and “Segment” and never explain this in the manual. Presumably “Section” is equal to chapter and “Segment” is a smaller level heading. Another unit that they use which is understandable is “Page.”  Finally, in an audio book you can also navigate by a unit of time which can be set for 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, or 5 minutes.

Usability and Conclusions


Like all the other software packages, this one had strengths and weaknesses. As we at SSB expect to be producing DAISY 3 books later this year, I am particularly interested in players that can handle them. The gh PLAYER was able to handle all the DAISY 3 books I had to test, which admittedly, isn’t many. The program is also strong in visual presentation. There is a “Full Screen” mode where all the toolbars, etc., can be taken off the screen. You can change the font and colors and there are good facilities to enlarge the text on the screen. Magnification ranges from 1X all the way up to 16X, larger than any other program I tested. The 16X letters were well formed and smooth without jagged edges. Text could be bolded, italicized or highlighted.


While gh PLAYER seems strong for visually impaired or learning disabled users, it has one major problem for blind people or others who rely on audio books. In an audio book, I could not find a way to speed up the speech. This is a major deficiency. In a text-only book using text-to-speech, things can be speeded up. There is also some support for refreshable Braille displays, two sizes of the Power Braille and the Braille Star. I did not have time to test this support but will do so at a later date and update this paper.


I also had a few stability and reliability problems with gh PLAYER. I tried installing it on two different computers, two Dells and an IBM desktop. It wouldn’t run on the IBM. Each time I executed the program, it immediately rebooted the computer. It ran on the Dell but did lock up a couple of times. My suspicion is that these lock-ups are somehow related to the text-to-speech components.


There is an option to resume reading in the book that you were in when you exited the program. I wasn’t able to get this to work. gh PLAYER, for me at least, always returned to reading the Quick Start guide.


I found the responsiveness of the program to be so-so. It took from one to three words to interrupt speech in a textbook when the right or left arrow was pressed to move to the next element. This was faster in audio books.


This program is off to a very good start. It has some strengths and some good features; particularly, for the visually impaired and for the learning disabled. It, however, needs additional work in some areas—it needs to be more stable and reliable and the ability to speed up audio books is crucial!

Contact Information


Product:           gh PLAYER™

Company:         gh LLC

Address:           gh, LLC

                        Purdue Technology Center

3000 Kent Avenue

West Lafayette, IN 47906                   

Telephone:        (765) 775-3776

Fax:                  (765) 775-2501


Web Site:

Price:                (unknown)[5]



KatiePlayer is from a New Jersey company called Kafka’s DayTime. It would appear from their web site that they have done programming work for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in the DAISY book area and possibly for other clients as well. KatiePlayer is an inexpensive software DAISY book player available for the Macintosh and Windows platforms.

What You Get


It is necessary to download the KatiePlayer files from the web. There are two files—one is the Microsoft speech files necessary to run the player and the second file is the player archive itself. You can also register the program on-line; the cost is $18. Interestingly there were options to register the software in a variety of languages; however, at this time, the player only supports English.

Getting Started


It is first necessary to install the KD speech package. This is a simple installation that went without incident. When you click on the KatiePlayer installation file, you are directed to go to their web site to read information about installing and using the player. If you then press the OK button which is presented to you, the directories and files for the player are extracted to your hard drive. This includes a directory called “katieplayer101” which can be copied anywhere on your hard drive. A shortcut is also placed on your desktop.



The software has two modes for the auditory interface which they call “Talkative” and “nontalkative.” And yes, the “talkative mode” is quite talkative. You can switch between modes with a hotkey “T.”  One annoying thing about using the program is that, as mentioned earlier, Talkative Mode is quite talkative. When you first run the software, you are given some information about global hotkeys. You cannot interrupt this speech by pressing Control or Shift, as with most self-voicing applications. Once in the program, the tab key, which moves you from section to section, will interrupt speech; however, this is an annoying way to have to shut things up.


When you start the player, you are in the Main Screen. This screen has four sections, Source Selection, Information Display Section, Settings, and Play and Navigation Section. You go between sections by using the tab key. Shift-tab does not take you back to the previous section but continues to cycle through the four sections. Most KatiePlayer commands are single letters. For example, in the Source Selection Section you press the letter “S” for Source Selection and it toggles between hard disk and CD-ROM choices. The hard disk choice accesses a “/books” directory in your KatiePlayer directory. You can manually copy books into this directory. Loading a book is a cumbersome process. After moving to that section, it is the default when you run the program. The “S” key toggles between hard disk and CD-ROM sources. You then hit “L” for load, and if you have chosen hard disk, you have to arrow to the book you want. You hit “Enter” and are given some information and prompted if you want to load the book. You answer with “Y” for yes, an unnecessary step, it seems to me.


There are Global Commands available to you in any of the four sections—“G” for command guide, “K” for registration, “L” for load a book, and “X” to exit. In the command guide, you up and down arrow through the available commands to learn and/or review them.


The next section, Information Section, has only one command “R” to read information about the book. The third section is Settings. Here you toggle the talkative and nontalkative modes, turn the auditory interface on or off, delete book data, and work with the synthesized voice.


In the Settings Section, you can change the voice used to navigate KatiePlayer itself. Down arrow to Menu Item 4 Auditory Interface Settings. You hit “Enter” to choose General Settings, and you can choose your speech engine here by using the down or up arrow. Then, you can tab and arrow to set pitch, speed, and volume. Navigation must be done with up and down arrows. There are no standard Windows navigation keys available here such as “pageup” and “pagedown” or “control-home” and “control-end.” 


The final panel of the four Main Window areas is Playback and Navigation. In this area, “space” starts and stops playback. The up and down arrows change navigation level, i.e., level 1, level 2, page, etc. An “other” level was listed, but there is no mention of it in the manual. Also, in some books it seemed to move by page, and in others, we were told “no element present.”    The right and left arrows move by the selected level as with most players. There seems to be no navigation by phrase.

Usability and Conclusions


This is a very basic player. It will load and play DAISY 2.02 books. I was unable to get it to play DAISY 2.0 books recorded in MP1; although, I don’t know if it would have successfully played them if a different compression scheme had been used. It was unable to play DAISY 3 books.


One major shortcoming of this player is that the speed of the audio, as a book was being read, could not be changed. There is one speed and one speed only. You can adjust the speed of synthesized speech in the interface, but it is a fairly cumbersome process.


The manual is only available on line at the KatiePlayer web site. I found this manual to be difficult to use and cumbersome. It was broken up into many small sections so you had to keep clicking on links. Further, some of the sections which should have been links, were not, such as the topics under bookmarks. There is a basic listing of hotkeys in the software itself. It will get you started, but isn’t a manual by any means.


The software crashed on me several times. Page navigation in some books was unreliable. Some pages were skipped entirely; although, if you let the software read the book continuously, it would read the page in question, you just couldn’t jump to some specific pages in some books. Other players were able to navigate to pages that KatiePlayer always skipped when page level navigation was used.

All in all, I cannot recommend KatiePlayer at this time. Its feature set is too basic and it is not reliable. The installation program is bare bones. The manual is inadequate and difficult to use. There are no features to adjust the display and it even lacks the ability to automatically load the book you were previously reading. Thus, you must go through the tedious load process each time you run the software. KatiePlayer is inexpensive, but with some free players on the market, even its low $18 price is probably too much. The availability of a Mac version is certainly a plus, however, it turned out that we were unable to test this version. It doesn’t run under OS X, the latest version of the Mac OS, and that is the version we have.

Contact Information


Product            KatiePlayer

Company         Kafka's Daytime

Address           66 Witherspoon St. Suite 336

Princeton, New Jersey 08542              

Telephone:        Not Shown

Fax:                  Not Shown


Web Site:

Price:                $18

TAB Player


The TAB Player was apparently written by two computer engineering students under the sponsorship of the Thailand Association of the Blind. It is free and can be downloaded from Version 1.0.71 of the software was reviewed.

What You Get


If you go to the web site mentioned above, the program can be downloaded. It is a 21 megabyte download. The data rate was quite slow, so it took a while but the download was successful.


Some of the links on the web site were bad, such as that for the Manual. They resulted in page not found messages. The site also had Thai text on it. It appeared as lines of ??? or seemingly random characters. However, except for the broken links, the site was usable. I contacted the developer who gave me a different web address, but the site I was directed to as an alternate seemed to be the same.

Getting Started


Executing the downloaded file installs the program. There are audio prompts which were actually recorded synthesized speech. I kept my screen reader running during the installation and it didn’t cause any problems. It was a fairly standard installation. It did not, however, read the text of the license as the prompt implied it would. The text was on the screen and I read it with JFW. It would appear that the software is offered under the provisions of the GNU Public License (GPL.) Some of the agreement has been translated into English, which is not very clear, and some of it is in legalese, presumably taken from the GPL.


When you enter the program you are placed in the “Main Screen.”  You can use the tab key to invoke the standard menu bar with menus for File, Edit, Control, Bookmark, Search etc. You can also use the numeric keypad, with the num-lock on, to invoke many commands. One very annoying thing that happened when the program was first run was that it turned my sound card up to 100 percent volume so the audio was blasting. This happened on two different computers so it wasn’t a fluke. It also happens each time you run the program so the only solution is to leave the sound card at 100 percent and adjust the volume knob on your speakers themselves.



The program has a clean Windows-type interface and look. It is possible to change the text size. There are three choices. The text in a full-text book was presented, as is the Navigation Control Center (NCC) in an audio book. It wasn’t clear from the instructions I could read in the on-line help if you can navigate these elements. I was unable to do it in a predictable or reliable way, although I could see parts of them using the JAWS cursor.


When you enter the program, you can search your CD-ROM or hard disk for DAISY books. It did not always find DAISY books in my CD-ROM, even though they were there and other programs could find and read them.


While there are audio prompts, I would not describe the program as self voicing. Everything in the interface wasn’t spoken so I kept my screen reader running, with no ill effect. I did, accidentally switch my prompts to Thai, which was interesting. Luckily I remembered how to switch back (F4.) 

Usability and Conclusions


This player has all the standard features you might need. You can increase or decrease speed or volume, navigate by level, and search. Unlike other players, you move between different levels with different keys, you don’t choose a level of navigation first. For example, right arrow moves forward by phrase, and down arrow moves by chapter. Page-up and page-down keys also navigated by page. All of the navigation keys were accessible from the Alt-C Control menu, although I found their labels a little confusing. I wasn’t quite sure what each choice did when they got into next and previous heading, same level and the like. You can go directly to a level by number with the shift-control H command. There are also bookmark facilities. You can assign up to nine bookmarks for each DAISY book. You can also add an unlimited number of text or audio notes that you record yourself. Then, as you are reading the book, you are notified that there is a text or audio note. You can read the note at that point. This is a nice feature for somebody, such as a student, who might be marking up a book for later study.


The player is relatively easy to use. The text-to-speech, used in prompts, was not of great quality. It had some digital artifacts and I could see no way to change it, i.e., use a different TTS engine. You could speed it up and slow it down, which I like. The player responded to commands quite quickly. However, sometimes it took two presses of the space bar to pause/stop reading. One other quirk, which is different from all the other players tested, is that the reading of a book does not stop automatically when you enter the menu system. It keeps reading. As long as you have a multi-channel sound card, this quirk won’t cause any problems; although, it may be annoying or distracting, or you may like it, depending on your style and familiarity with the program.


The program wouldn’t read DAISY 3 books or DAISY 2.0 books recorded in MP1. It just acted like they didn’t exist.


While you can speed up and slow down the audio, the range of possible change isn’t as great as with other players. I couldn’t speed it up enough for my taste. I could have read faster than the player would go.


The on-line help is a DAISY book. It is full text/audio—the audio is synthesized speech. The help was written by a non-English speaker and isn’t of great quality. Most of the instructions are clear but there are lots of grammatical and usage errors. There is some context-sensitive help in some areas of the program.


In some books, I experienced some navigation errors—skipped pages when moving by page. I tested these same books in another player and they worked fine.


This isn’t a bad player for no cost. It has all the basic things you would need and is relatively easy to use. However, there are some rough edges; it doesn’t always behave consistently and the instructions are minimal and not well written. It also doesn’t read fast enough for my taste but it does respond relatively quickly to commands.

Contact Information


Product:           TAB Player for Thai/English

Company:         Thailand Association of the Blind

Address:           Not available

Telephone:        (+66) 0-2945-0380

Fax:                  Not available

E-mail:     or (developers)

Web Site:

Price:                Free

TPB Reader


TPB Reader was developed by the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille. While they provide support in Sweden, they do not do so outside of Sweden. However, the software is free and easy to use. It is also widely distributed by Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in the U.S. For $50, RFB&D will provide you with the software authorized to decrypt their books and provide you with support.

What You Get


The software must be downloaded from the web site: unless you receive it from RFB&D in the U.S. The web site says that it is housed on the DAISY.ORG site for technical reasons. TPB Reader is not a project of the Consortium nor is it necessarily endorsed by the Consortium. There are some typos on the site and it would appear that it wasn’t originally written in English, but it is quite understandable, usable, and accessible.


After the download, you get a 12 megabyte file which installs the software. It is simple, and self-voicing. Like the software itself, the voice is a Swedish person speaking English. While there is an accent, it is quite understandable. The same is true for the Help File/Manual, which is a DAISY book that is read by a woman. She reads too slow for my taste, but the voice can be sped up because it is a DAISY book.


In addition, there are scripts to use the software with JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific. The scripts are for versions 4.02 and 4.50 of JAWS, though. I had to recompile them for version 5.0 of JFW. This was done without incident.


If you don’t have or choose not to use JFW, TPB Reader is fully self voicing. It is fully functional in this mode which is the default.


If you have books recorded in Daisy ADPCM audio format, you will have to download an additional component. Installation of this component is somewhat more difficult than the initial installation. Instructions are provided on the web site.

Getting Started


As mentioned earlier, the installation is quite easy and most users should be able to perform it without problems. Installing the ADPCM component is a little trickier, however. Once TPB Reader is installed, there is a shortcut on your desktop and an entry in your Start Menu. This entry has choices for the program itself, the “Readme” file, and an entry that takes you to the TPB web site.


When you run the program, if there is a DAISY book in your CD-ROM, you will be presented with its title. You can also search your hard disk with a push of F10. The program would not read DAISY 3 books; however, putting such a disk in the drive did not yield an error either, at least not in the time I waited--five minutes at a minimum. It ground away, making a small noise, which signified that it was doing something but never found anything. I eventually gave up.


Once you have loaded a book, you can start reading. A book is loaded by hitting “Enter” when its title is announced.



The program is easy to use. Like most of its brethren, it uses the up and down arrow keys to choose a level, phrase, heading, page, chapter, etc. If you have placed a bookmark or two in the book, then it is also listed as an available level. It isn’t listed if there are no bookmarks. The right and left arrows move to the level chosen with the up and down arrows. The response to navigation is a little sluggish but adequate. I tested on a very fast PC, 3.2 GHz with a megabyte of memory, so I don’t know how the program would behave on a computer with fewer resources. It was adequate on my machine but not spectacular. One somewhat unusual, but related behavior resulted when I set the navigation level to page and rapidly pressed the right arrow. Most players would immediately cut off the audio and start moving to the new page(s). TPB Reader continued to play audio until I stopped pressing the arrow. There was a pause while it jumped ahead a bunch of pages, then the audio resumed. In addition to this sluggishness, the recorded voice that provides prompts is also a bit slow in its response to keystrokes. Further, the program has four “Styles” for presentation of text and other visual elements. Different “Styles” seemed to have a slight effect on the responsiveness of the program.


In addition to the arrow keys, there are the standard Windows-style menus, “Alt-F” for File, “Alt-C” for Control, “Alt-N” for Navigation, etc. You can also just press Alt and arrow around across the Menu Bar and down the drop-down menus as you can with any standard Windows program. In addition to the menu commands, many operations use function or other keys as hotkeys. For example, “F1” is Help, “F2” brings up the Bookshelf, “F3” is for Find, “F4” is Go to Page, etc. In addition, the keys in the “six-pack” above the cursor cross on a standard keyboard also have functions. “Insert” drops a bookmark at the current location; “Delete” removes it; “Home” and “End” increase and decrease reading speed; and “Page-up” and “Pagedown” increase and decrease volume. All in all, the program is simple to use and has the basic features that are needed.

Usability and Conclusions


I found this program easy to comprehend and use. Most functions behave as you would expect them. You can have the program self voice or use your screen reader. Because of the sluggishness, I preferred to use my screen reader but it may be different for you. Also, the volume on some of the announcement files did not match the volume on others, so the loudness of announcements varied some. Some people may also not like the Swedish accent, I personally enjoyed it. The visual appearance of the program, fonts, graphics, layout, etc. evokes a printed book when the NCC View is chosen. Apparently, when text in a book is changing, etc., it looks somewhat like it would when you are flipping through a book. Most of the other packages visually use a more standard Windows-like layout. Visually and auditorially, TPB Reader was clean and simple and behaved like any standard Windows program which made it quick and easy to learn. There are four preset “Styles” which control color, contrast, etc. In addition, you can choose NCC View, which shows you book structure, and no text even if it is available, or Text View, which gives you the text, when available. Since everything is reachable via the menus or hotkeys, these views and styles will have little effect on the blind user with the exception of the slight performance differences caused by Styles, mentioned earlier.


This program does have some rough edges but the price is right. Some non-computer people may be put off by having to download the software and installing the ADPCM module. I didn’t install it and didn’t encounter anything TPB Reader wouldn’t read. It would be nice to have a manual; however, I had less trouble getting up to speed with this package than with many others. It can be made to handle RFB&D authorizations, not all the packages can.


One annoying quirk is that at least one setting (screen reader support) is not saved from session to session. So, if you turn it on and exit the program, it is not turned on the next time you run TPB Reader.


Book information, which is obtained by pressing F9, while complete, is a bit slow and ponderous in its presentation. This is, in part, because some information, title, chapter, heading, etc., are played from the book itself and must be retrieved. Secondly, the pre-recorded announcements that are strung together to form the messages, particularly numbers, are recorded slowly and ponderously. I have personally recorded these kinds of announcements for a telephone-accessed newspaper reading service, so I know that they are difficult to do well. However, TPB Reader could benefit from improved announcements.

Contact Information

Product:           TPB Reader

Company:         TPB

Address:           N/A

Telephone:        N/A

Fax:                  N/A

E-mail:              N/A

Web site:

Price:                Free ($50 from RFB&D)

Victor Reader Soft


Victor Reader Soft is a computer-based software package for reading DAISY books. It is from VisuAide who has been involved in the DTB field for quite some time. We tested versions 1.5.8 and 1.7.7, a beta version produced for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and used in their digital magazine pilot test program.  You can download a 30-day demo from the VisuAide web site.

What You Get


The package includes the CD-ROM containing software and manuals, a printed manual, and print/Braille installation instructions all in a plastic case about the size of a hard cover book. The Braille on the installation instructions was Grade 1 Braille. The demo software download includes the Victor Soft software, Quick Start, and Reference manuals, both of which are DAISY books. The demo download is 54 megabytes so you had better have a high speed Internet connection.

Getting Started


The program uses a standard Windows installation routine (Install Shield.)  It is completely self-voicing but gives you an opportunity to use your screen reader instead of its pre-recorded voice. It all works well especially if you have done this kind of installation previously.


When you start the software for the first time, you are placed in the Quick Start guide. This is a full-text, full-audio DAISY 2.02 book. There is also a Reference Manual available in the same format. You can get to the Quick Start book at any time with a press of F2. F1 brings up the Reference Guide.


If you enter the program with JFW running, you are instructed as to how you can turn off JFW’s voice; there is a keystroke “Control+shift+m”, which I presume is part of a JFW script. The Reference Manual also has an Appendix that uses the program with a screen reader, covering JFW and Window-Eyes. This attention to detail and support of other software is nice to see. Few of the other self-voicing programs proactively deal with the situation of running in a complex environment.



Victor Reader Soft has a number of ways of accomplishing things. You can, of course, use the mouse if you have some vision. There is a standard Windows menu system, which most people are going to use, invoked with the Alt key, or Alt key combinations—“Alt-K” open, “Alt-E” edit, “Alt-O” Annotations, “Alt-S” settings, etc. Each of these headings, plus others, has drop-down menus that you can reach with a letter or by pressing the down-arrow or up-arrow keys. In addition, some functions can be invoked with simple presses of keys on the keyboard, “v” for volume, “s” for speed, “f” for fast forward, “r” for rewind, “w” for where am I, etc. If you use some of these keys with the shift key, such as “shift-S” the speed is decreased. Without the shift key, of course, the speed is increased. Finally, other keys on the numeric keypad, as well as the number keys across the top of the keyboard, also do things such as bookshelf, go to page, scroll up or down, history list, etc. There is one last command which will help with all of this; it is “d” for Key Describer. This is an on/off toggle and when on, it will tell you what any key does when you press it. This is a good way to explore the keyboard and/or to test yourself.


As with most of the others, you navigate the book primarily with the arrow keys. The right and left arrows move forward or back by chosen level; the up and down arrows choose your increment of movement. What is available depends on the book. You can also invoke these commands through the menu system.


The default for Victor Reader Soft is to have menus, prompts, etc., spoken by prerecorded human speech. The voice quality and responsiveness are good. You can change this setting and use synthesized speech. The program will allow you to choose from whatever speech engines you have on your computer and it does install the appropriate API’s and TTS engines if you don’t have them present. You can also choose text-to-speech for playback of book content, if you have full-text books. If you set it up this way, though, and try to listen to a book that has audio, not full text, all you hear is the book structure since there isn’t any text available.


There is a Navigation Window, “Control-N”, which allows you to explore the structure of a book. You navigate the tree of headings with your arrow keys and can jump to any section you choose.

Usability and Conclusions


I liked this program very much. It is my overall favorite of all the computer-based packages. It has a good set of features, is relatively easy to use, has a good manual, and is generally stable and reliable. It is a well thought-out and mature product that does what it is intended to do. It is smooth in its operation, logical, and has multiple ways to accomplish most things so you can pick the keystrokes that fit your style.


In particular, Victor Reader Soft does a good job of presenting both audio and text information. Some of its competitors are strong in one area and not the other. Victor Reader Soft has a good combination of features and a good balance between modes. I liked the Navigation Window, which works better then some other systems. I could speed up audio enough to satisfy my impatience and overall performance was quite good. Interestingly, performance of the 1.7.7 version was much better than that in the 1.5.8 version. In particular, the earlier version was quite sluggish when accessing a CD with multiple books on it. The later version was noticeably quicker at this task and also seemed to load books faster. It also sounded to me like the prerecorded audio prompts, menus, etc, in Version 1.5.8 were not of as high an audio quality as those used in the 1.7.7 version. There were some slight but noticeable digital artifacts in the announcements in Version 1.5.8. Version 1.7.7 also seemed to navigate within a book much faster. I can only hope that an updated version is offered to customers in the near future.


As mentioned earlier, I also appreciated Victor Reader Soft’s support of screen reading programs, namely JAWS for Windows and Window-Eyes. Most users have these things running; and while self-voicing programs can be nice, most of us compute in a more complex environment.


I did find one area in which the program did have some stability problems. That is when using text-to-speech for playback of a full-text book, I didn’t have enough time to isolate the problem and I don’t know if it is caused by a particular speech engine, or voice. I did lock up the program and see other errors on multiple occasions. I must also add that this happened on my test PC, which has multiple speech engines, various versions of Microsoft’s speech API, and multiple DAISY book reading programs, all installed, so I can’t rule out one of these factors as a cause of instability. The problem does need more investigation, however.


In conclusion, if I could only use one DTB book reading program on my computer, I would choose Victor Reader Soft. While other programs have some good features and individual strengths, this one has a good combination of features, performance, and ease of use.

Contact Information


Product:           Victor Reader Soft

Company:         VisuAide                     

841, Jean-Paul-Vincent

Longueuil (Québec) Canada, J4G 1R3

Telephone:        (450) 463-1717

Fax:                  (450) 463-0120


Web Site:

Price:                $109



As mentioned elsewhere, this document will be updated and posted on the Minnesota State Services for the Blind web site: We will be reviewing additional hardware and software players in the upcoming months; and generally, updating things as new versions of products are released.


The $64,000 question of course is what should I buy/download?  And, of course, the answer is, it depends!  No one machine or software package is right for everybody. Each of us will have different needs, resources, learning styles, and more. Hopefully, I have been able to provide you with enough description, as well as the strengths and weaknesses for each product to help you with your decision-making process. I can, of course, answer questions, particularly from SSB customers but will do my best to help others. I can be reached at (651) 642-0513 or


[1] The information is copyright 2004 by the American Foundation for the Blind.

   All rights reserved.


[2] The information is copyright 2004 by the American Foundation for the Blind.

   All rights reserved.


[3] The information is copyright 2004 by the American Foundation for the Blind.

   All rights reserved.


[4] The information is copyright 2004 by the American Foundation for the Blind.

   All rights reserved.

[5] We attempted to contact gh LLC via e-mail and never received a response.