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Plustek BookReader V100

>> Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Plustek BookReader V100, which comes with a one year parts and labor warranty, is a niche product. Plustek BookReader V100 says it's aimed primarily at libraries and other institutional users that may find it helpful to convert printed books into audiobooks, particularly for the benefit of the visually impaired. It could also see it being of great interest to someone with, say, macular degeneration, which leaves sufferers with peripheral vision only and makes reading difficult or impossible.

But what Plustek BookReader V100 doesn't do is convert printed books to audio so easily that it's worth doing yourself just so you can, say, listen to books while driving. In reality, Plustek BookReader V100 is a conventional book scanner (more on that in a moment) paired with optical character recognition (OCR) software to turn scanned images into text and text to speech (TTS) software to turn the text into audio. None of these technologies are new or even unusual. OCR software comes with most scanners, and TTS software has been around longer than Windows.

As it happens, Plustek BookReader V100 software uses the Nuance speech engine, which has been part of Nuance's OmniPage Pro 16 since the program was released in July 2007. That means the same feats you can perform using the V100 you also can perform using OmniPage Pro 16 with any scanner or using whatever OCR program came with the scanner plus a TTS program, which you can find for about $50. As for Plustek BookReader V100's implied ease of use that you can go from a book to an audiobook with the press of a button or two the description is right as far as it goes, but it leaves out the part where you have to laboriously scan the book, one page at a time.

The one advantage Plustek BookReader V100 gives you is that it's designed for books. Book pages won't lie flat on most scanners. They tend to lift up from the platen near the bound edge, and the scanned image shows the lines of text as curved. The best OCR software today can digitally straighten the lines to improve OCR accuracy, but book scanners avoid the problem altogether. With book scanners, the platen comes out to the edge of the scanner so you can lay the book down with one page flat and the facing side of the book hanging down along the side of the scanner.

This essentially eliminates the curved line issue, but it doesn't make scanning all those pages any less of a chore. Plustek BookReader V100 says that except for some changes in firmware, Plustek BookReader V100 is identical to the Plustek OpticBook 3600, which drives home the fact that it's simply a 1.200 by 1.200 pixel per inch (ppi) conventional book scanner. Plustek BookReader V100 measures 3.7 by 17.6 by 11 inches (HWD), with the front along the width, and the scanner cover lifting from front to back. To scan a book, you position the scanner at the edge of a desk or table, so that the book can hang down from the scanner unimpeded by the table. The platen itself is a bit larger than letter size. An eight button control panel resides on top of the scanner, just to the right of the scanner cover.

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