There’s one thing our Macs do not do well. Speak. Sure, there’s text-to-speech built in to every Mac. Outside of a few beeps, bongs, squeals, and alerts, our Macs just don’t say much.
We can add a voice to text on our Macs, but so what? It’s not exciting. It’s seldom useful. It annoys people nearby. Why bother? There are two ways a Mac can speak to us. The first is to tell us something. The second is to read to us.
A Narrating Mac Is A Fun Mac
What can your Mac tell you? Frankly, not much. Other than the aforementioned alerts, Mac OS X just isn’t set up to make our Macs a traveling companion worthy of Star Trek’s Majell Barrett or Bicentennial Man.
One day our Macs may become our verbalizing friend, but for now, a Mac talking back is just creepy.
On the other hand, Mac speech synthesis has come a long way since the first Mac said Hello back in 1984. If you have text of any kind, your Mac can read it to you, it sounds pretty good, and it has an actual, useful purpose beyond curiosity.
It’s called narration and it’s both useful and fun.
Reading With Character
Mariner Software’s Narrator is a voice synthesis app that reads your text. Grab something you’ve written, drop it into Narrator, and the voice takes over, literally narrating your text, telling your story, or simply reading back that nasty gram memo to your boss.
Controls let you choose different voices (either those from Apple in your Mac, or others) for the narration, including changes in rate and pitch, adjustments in inflection and volume, and do so on a per-character basis.
Yes. Narrator can be set up to read multiple parts in a script, pitting one voice and character against a different character with a different voice. Narrator has other practical uses. Have it read, narrate, a letter you’re sending out, or a brochure you’ve developed, or an article you’ve written.
Narrator’s recorded speech can be exported to iTunes for sync to iPhone, iPod, or iPad. Audio files can also be dropped into iMovie or Final Cut Studio or used as a soundtrack or screencast voiceover.
Setting up Narrator is drop dead easy. Drag and drop text into Narrator. Open up Preferences to add specific functions to each document. Narrator can be set up to apply different voices to different characters in scripts for movies, commercials, TV shows, or plays.
Narrator is only doing what the Mac has been capable of doing for many years. Reading text and translating into a synthesize, computerized voice.
The voices have improved in recent years, but your Mac comes with only a few English-only voices in OS X.
Open up System Preferences and click the Speech icon.
What you get are options for Speech Recognition, Text to Speech, and six voices—three female, three male (the best voice is Alex).
These voices can be set up to voice specific alerts, or announce an alert that requires your attention. A voice can be set to announce the time every hour. Otherwise, voice control and voice interaction is limited in Mac OS X.
Narrator has many other voices available, with more precise control of each (voice, rate, pitch, effects), including some voices in UK English. The Mac still isn’t ready to challenge stage, movie or TV actors, but this is one more step to add usefulness and productivity to what used to be a fun diversion and not much more.