Text to voice software, more commonly known as Text-to-Speech (TTS) is a form of speech synthesis. It is used to create a spoken sound version of the written text. The idea is that the computer or tablet would read the words on the screen out loud to the user.
As you speak words into your device, your phone sends the data to a special server. There it is able to use the appropriate software to analyze your speech.
Text to voice software was first developed to assist the visually impaired. It achieved this by presenting them with a computer-generated spoken voice that would read the computer document to the user.
In this article we are going to discuss the merits and uses of text to voice software. Followed by a list of the most valued text-to-voice programs on the market, both paid and free.
But let’s begin by asking who TTS is made for.
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Who Benefits from Text to Voice software?
Originally it was people who had visual or reading impairments who were the recipients of TTS. Text to voice software made sense of and helped ease the online experience for many people who struggled with text.
1 out of 5 people struggle with literacy or deal with dyslexia or other learning disabilities. These programs help remove the stress of reading and create a much more advantageous format.
Text to Voice software was found particularly beneficial to students. It provided a workaround for reading difficulties and helped create access to classroom material. But it has been shown not to improve reading skills.
In time, more uses for Text to Voice software were discovered and it started to be used far more widely.
The Shift to Voice
One place we saw Voice to Text software blossoming was with phone assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
Siri was released as a voice-activated personal assistant as an app in 2010. It was then a built-in part of the iPhone 4S the following year. Amazon followed suit in 2014 with their version of the AI technology known as Alexa. Google Assistant followed in 2016. The competition to lead the market in this technology has ramped up in recent years. A variety of experiments have been done to try and determine who does it better.
Audio assistants demonstrated to users how audio could be much easier to work with. Thus more and more programs began to incorporate it into their design. As more people required multi-tasking as a skill, the use of audio freed up the user to direct their attention to another physical task.
This has been seen particularly in the rise of audiobooks and other voice-powered software which allows someone to exercise, do housework, drive or otherwise engage in any physical activity that a text would make impractical or dangerous.
Evolution of Text to Voice
The journey from text to voice has come a long way in the last couple of years. But what you might not have known is that speech-synthesized systems have been around for quite a lot longer than that.
There are legends told of machines attempting to sound like humans from back in the early 1000s, believe it or not. But the earliest computer-based speech-synthesis systems came along in the late 1950s. Then Noriko Umeda and his team developed the first-ever general English text-to-speech in 1968, at the Electro-technical Laboratory in Japan.
However, when we are talking about a more generalized use of text to voice we are typically thinking Siri, Alexa, Google translation et al as well as an increasing number of computer programs that are starting to sound more and more like us.
Becoming Second Nature
The truth is that we are becoming a lot more familiar with computer-generated voices. The voices installed in our phones have become humanlike enough that we find ourselves not thinking twice about having simple conversations with them. We might request the weather or ask them to play a particular song while lining up our next email or tweet for us.
Many people find it a lot easier to simply dictate an error-free text on to their phone using their voice rather than poking around with the on-screen keyboard hitting wrong keys with clumsy fingers.
We have gotten used to optimizing programs to use a voice that feels most appropriate for the job. We can use humorous voices such as Homer Simpson or Darth Vader to give us directions when we are driving but might choose to use our own voice or an expert voiceover artist when it comes to something of a more serious nature.
When dealing with eLearning we might for example narrate the work ourselves or choose a voice we can easily understand and relate to so that the process is smooth and effective. Picture a documentary being narrated by the legendary David Attenborough for example or the soothing tones of a Morgan Freeman. Whereas a Fran Drescher from ‘The Nanny’ or Adam Sandler type might prove too distracting.
The Move towards Text to Voice
While text to voice software is not yet at the point of fooling us into believing it is human, it has reached the level where many people are choosing it as a suitable and cheaper alternative. Many people have grown accustomed to the TTS voices then listening to them and prefer to use them in the final product as well. Two of the benefits of this are lower costs upfront but also much easier updates in the future.
There are also so many different programs and apps available now to do this work for you, that you are spoiled for choice.
Five Best FREE Text to Speech Software Recommends
While paid software will typically offer you more in terms of capacity and customizing, there is some really popular free software on the market that you can consider.
These programs can be incredibly helpful for people who might be visually impaired or have a condition [such as dyslexia] that makes reading from a screen tricky. This can also prove helpful to people who are in the process of learning a new language but don’t speak it yet. Learning correct pronunciation and intonation can come really easily through a program.
Looking around on the internet, these five programs tend to score the most highly in terms of praise and recommendation when looking at free software.
- Panopreter Basic
- Natural Reader
- Zabaware Text-to-Speech Reader
Top Five Paid Text to Speech Software Recommends
When it comes to the paid versions, as mentioned above, they will typically overlap on a lot of aspects. The paid version will tend to have additional features that put them ahead of the pack.
We looked around at a number of lists that are promoting the top text to speech software in 2020. These five consistently appeared:
- Amazon Polly
- Voice Reader Home
- Capti Voice
- Natural Reader
- Voice Dream reader
You may have noticed that Natural Reader appears on both of these lists. While there is a free version that is more than capable enough for many of your needs, paying for the software unlocks a number of beneficial features. Those paid features include a wider library of available voices as well as access to Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR works by scanning images of text that can be converted to a form that can then be interpreted and read aloud to you by a speech synthesizer. So if you have the money available it does unlock worthwhile bonuses.
Hopefully, this has helped to give you an overview of what Text to Speech is all about as well as some options to consider depending on your needs.