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Re: Emacs and Festival



From: David_Picón_Álvarez <david@miradoiro.com>
Subject: Emacs and Festival
Date: Sun, 31 Dec 2006 00:56:21 +0100

> I see there is a very old speech server for festival. Is it prudent to use
> it with emacspeak or should I use eflite necessarily? I hear festival can do
> more (adapt different voices, etc). Also, what's the link between emacspeak
> speech servers, speech dispatcher, et al, if any? Sorry, but as a Newbie
> it's hard to make sense of it all.
> 
> Thanks in advance,
> --David.
> 
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> 
Hi David,

I'm not sure what the current status of the festival speech server for
emacspeak is. Last time I looked, it required modifications to the
emacspeak base code and consequently, did not stay up-to-date with the
most recent emacspeak version. 

You are correct that festival offers more sophisticated speech
services, but I believe one of the biggest criticisms of festival was
that it was not as responsive/fast as other systems, in particular
flite, which is a light weight version. 

There is no direct relationship between speech dispatcher and
emacspeak. They both address similar functionality, but from different
philosophical stand points. Speech dispatcher offers the potential of
an application independent speech service for GNU Linux. The
speechd.el library is an emacs add on that communicates with speech
dispatcher and provides some similar functionality to emacspeak.
However, speechd's approach is to be a minimalistic speech interface
which attempts to have as little impact on the way emacs operates as
possible. For this reason, there are aspects of speechd which I've
found less convenient to use than emacspeak. To some extent, speechd
attempts to just "voicify" what the sighted user would see. Emacspeak
on the other hand tries to provide a rich "eyes free" environment. For
example, you might have an emacs app which displays lots of useful
information in a summary line within a window. Speech dispatcher would
simply send the summary line to the TTS server "as is". Emacspeak on
the other hand might look at this information and modify it to
add/change/remove components to make the spoken feedback more
informative or easier to understand from a spoken/auditory
perspective. 

On one hand, I like the idea of an application (and TTS engine)
independent speech server such as speech dispatcher. Conceptually, I
also like the minimalist approach of speechd. However, from a
practicle perspective, I find emacspeak provides a more rounded and
complete environment for anyone who can't read the screen. I do think
it would be good to see a speech-dispatcher interface for emacspeak as
this would provide a wider range of TTS engines. However, this is not
a trivial task if you want to also have full support for things like
emacspeak's voice locking. 

With respect to TTS engines for emacspeak, I think by far the best is
IBM's ViaVoice. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get runtime licenses
for the software. There has been promises of individual runtime
licenses being made available, but as far as I know, this has not yet
occured. Therefore, the only way to easily get a runtime is to buy the
SDK, which is around $300US. I was lucky enough to convince my
employer to purchase it for me and its worked really well. 

My second choice for a speech server would be the software dectalk
from fonix. This one only costs about $90US. However, it does have
some stability problems. I found it regularly died and I'd have to
keep restarting it with C-e C-s. I used it for a couple of years and
got use to this. However, since I've been using ViaVoice, which is
very stable, I've wondered how I put up with the constant restarts. I
liked the software dectalk because it supports multiple voices and
because I find the speech is clear at high speaking rates. 

The next most popular would appear to be flite. A number of people
have reported good success with flite. However, I've not looked at it
for a long time. When I did, I really didn't like the way it had been
integrated into emacspeak - to some extent, it was a bit of a cludge
as it used the "drivers" for (I think) the dectalk express and the
perl script which provided the interface would simply strip out the
dectalk specific commands, leaving you with a basic speech interface.
However, don't let this discourage you from trying it. Its been a
while since I looked at it and maybe the interface is a bit more
emacspeak "native" than it was. There are certainly a few people using
it and they have reported they really like it. However, if the
interface is still as it was, it means you will never get the added
benefits of emacspeak that you will get with other speech servers,
like ViaVoice (such as voice locking etc). 

HTH

Tim

P.S. Yes, a lot of this is quite confusing when your starting. Can I
suggest you keep detailed notes of what you go through. It might then
be worth cleaning them up and adding them to the emacspeak
documentation to make life for others starting out a bit easier. Once
you ahve been using the system for a while, its hard to do this
because you forget exactly what you found confusing/difficult when you
first started etc. 

 
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