Plustek's V100 BookReader device has just hit the computer peripherals scene, and though it's innovative, it's certainly some strange fruit. It's an advanced optical scanner device that has optical character recognition built in to the unit's hardware: Pop a document on its platen, and it'll image it and translate what it sees on the page into text directly.
But that's not all it does. Here's how Plustek's PR describes its capabilities: The V100 "transforms printed words into audio output, that can be saved in MP3 format for future access. With the press of one button, the Plustek BookReader will convert printed text into high quality speech with a lifelike voice." And that's a very dry way of saying that the V100 will image any text, convert it and save it so your MP3 player can then read it aloud to you.
And that means it's basically a parent-replacing auto-bedtime reader for your kids. Or, if your office work-style is unusual, it's a way of absorbing data from a report that you're either too tired or too busy to read the old-fashioned way. And particularly for the visually challenged, it actually sounds like a pretty handy device.
Much research has been going on to improve the "lifelike" quality of synthetic voices, and Plustek makes a point that the V100 has "the highest quality of lifelike voices making every listening experience enjoyable." But my MacBook has an advanced voice from Cepstral installed, and though she now sounds far less robotic than the voice Apple chose, she does stumble with words that aren't included in the dictionary. Without all the cleverness of OS X behind it, it's easy to wonder how well the V100 will cope with the unusual names in Harry Potter books, or tricky terminology in medical documents.
There's also the matter of the Authors Guild to consider. It's been making threatening noises recently about the Amazon Kindle 2 e-book's "read aloud" function, claiming it's a de facto performance of written content, like an audiobook, and thus a copyright violation. Considering that the main purpose of the BookReader is to do exactly the same thing, it's easy to imagine the Guild getting riled up about this device as well.
Still, it's innovative—and that's probably why its cost is a steep $700. For that you do get an English and Spanish bilingual package, however.