Highlights of 2013: Talking TVs released in Australia

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Friday, 6 December 2013 09:20am

Over the past few years, the increasing availability of text-to-speech technology in PCs, tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices has made them much more accessible for blind and vision impaired consumers. In April this year, the technology reached the Australian television market with the release of several models in Panasonic’s Viera smart TV range which have a text-to-speech function called Voice Guidance.

Voice Guidance was originally developed by Panasonic’s UK division, in conjunction with the Royal National Institute of the Blind, and the first TVs with it went on sale there in 2012. When activated by the user, it reads out onscreen text including channel names and program information. Prior to the release of these models, the only TV receivers available in Australia with a text-to-speech function were two set top boxes manufactured by Hills and Bush.

Media Access Australia reviewed one of the Australian Veira models, and found that once it is set up, Voice Guidance generally worked very well, although there was some onscreen text which it did not read out, such as the full set-up menu. However, Panasonic in the UK has said that the functionality of Voice Guidance will eventually be extended to cover these. Panasonic has also released a YouTube video which demonstrates Voice Guidance.

The Panasonic TVs with Voice Guidance are at the more expensive end of the TV price range, with the recommended retail price for the initial models released ranging from $1,149.99 to $3,599.99. However, as text-to-speech becomes more common, the prices of TVs which have it can be expected to decrease. In October, the US adopted new rules which make it mandatory for all devices that receive and play digital video to have audible on-screen text menus and program guides. This can only add to the impetus to make text-to-speech a regular feature on TVs throughout the world.

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