Plextalk PTP1 Evaluation

By Paul L. Oberholtzer

 

I have now had the chance to play around with the Plextalk PTP1 for about 2 weeks, and there is a lot of good to say about this product. First and foremost, is that the design is well thought out and “blind friendly.” This device is far more than a book reader like the Victor Stream. The main advantage is that you can download and listen to both Pod Cast and Internet Radio, provided the stream is in a format supported by the device. It should be noted, that the main formats supported are MP3 and WMP, which provides for a great deal of Internet content, but you can not play Flash or AAC formats, which are rapidly becoming more popular than the other 2.

 

The current firmware on the Plextalk PTP1 does not support the AAC format. This is unfortunate, because AAC provides for better audio quality, especially at bit rates of 128 kbps or less. This also means that the Plextalk PTP1 will not play Apple iTunes in the m4a format, so if you want to play your iTunes songs, you will have to convert them to mp3. In addition, many Internet radio stations are now transmitting in the AAC format, and the Plextalk PTP1 will not play these stations. In fact, if you try to play a radio station that is streaming in AAC, the Plextalk PTP1 firmware is likely to hang up in a search mode, continually playing its pleasant tones, until you finally remove the battery. Hopefully, Plextalk will come up with a firmware update, in the future, that will address this issue.

 

As far as it’s book reading capabilities, the Plextalk PTP1 provides a better sounding audio, than the Victor Stream, from it’s built in speaker. However, I much prefer the Victor Stream functions for fast forward and rewind, especially for NLS books that were previously recorded on tape. These books usually do not have the level of access, such as chapter, that full Daisy Books have. Also, as a MP3 player, the Victor Stream allows both bass and treble tone controls, while the Plextalk PTP1 provides only a single tone control. When hooking both units up to my stereo amplifier, I prefer to play music with the Victor Stream, however, they both sound good, provided the MP3 files were recorded with a bit rate higher than 128 kbps. Using headphones, the Victor Stream has more flexibility in adjusting the tone to compensate for the typically poor quality of most ear bugs for portable devices.

 

One area where the Plextalk PTP1 really shines is in its recording capabilities. This is one of the main reasons I wanted one. It is very hard to find a digital recording device that is, high quality, portable, and “blind friendly.” Up until now, if I wanted to record CD quality audio, I have had to use a computer. This is not always convenient. Even a laptop computer can be awkward to set up for portable recording. While the Plextalk PTP1 recording capabilities are primarily designed for either voice memos or audio Daisy books, it can also be used in a recording studio, provided 16 bit PCM (CD quality) is good enough. While many audio engineers might prefer even a higher quality than this, For most recordings, this is more than adequate. I connected the Plextalk PTP1 to the line out of a stereo FM receiver, and recorded for over an hour. To my ears, the recording was every bit as good as the original radio broadcast. I didn’t bother with the lower bit rates for MP3, because these are “lossy” formats, and I can always convert the PCM recording to MP3 if needed. The 16 bit PCM format does use a lot of memory, so the 2GB SD card needs to be replaced with something that has more capacity, if you want to do this sort of recording. I think Santa might bring me a 32 GB SD card if I am good this year. That should allow me to record all of the Christmas music I might ever need.

 

When you do a recording, other than a memo, The Plextalk PTP1 creates a Daisy book structure. Each time you start a new recording, the Plextalk PTP1 will create a new audio file, under the book title. If you are doing a studio recording that you might want to edit, you can easily copy the appropriate file to a computer for editing. The Plextalk PTP1 is much easier and faster than the Victor Stream if you want to copy files to or from the SD card. On the Victor Stream, I generally have to remove the SD card and use it in a card reader. With the Plextalk PTP1, all I need to do is connect up the USB cable and treat it like any other removable media, such as a Thumb Drive. When you connect the Plextalk PTP1 to your computer, using the USB cable, the Plextalk PTP1 shuts down it’s menu software and basically turns into a USB drive. Copying files to and from the Plextalk PTP1 is just as fast as any other USB memory device. You don’t need any special software on your computer, however Plextalk does provide software that allows you to do more than copy files.

 

If you want to download Podcast or listen to Internet radio, you will need this software to set up your wireless Internet connection. In theory you could do this without the software, but since the Plextalk PTP1 does not have a QWERTY keyboard, this can be troublesome. Setting up the wireless connection was the hardest thing I had to do with the Plextalk PTP1. This is primarily because the computer software and JAWS did not seem to function the way the tutorial, I was listening to, did. When I opened the Network menu, I could not seem to use Control+Tab to get to the Wireless Connection tab. I had to turn on the JAWS cursor and use the right arrow to move over to the tab, then use the left mouse click to open the tab. Once I did this, I had to experiment with the different settings until I found the right ones to access my wireless router. Fortunately, it only took me 2 attempts. Once the wireless connection was established, locating and listening to radio stations was fairly easy. Once you determine the URL for the radio station, you can use the included Windows software to add the station, but I found an easier way.

 

The Plextalk PTP1 will play streaming audio in either the MP3 format, or the Windows Media format. Once you locate the station you want, you can use Windows Media or WinAmp to obtain the URL. On Windows Media Player you do this via the File menu and selecting properties. Using WinAmp, you use the bookmark Editor. You can copy the URL to Notepad then save the file with either the M3U or ASX file extension. If the station is streaming in MP3, use the M3U extension. If the station is streaming in Windows Media, use the ASX extension. Once you save the file, you can copy it to the Plextalk “PlexWebRadio” folder. If you want, you can create sub-folders to organize the files the way you want. If you want to use the Windows software to add a station, it will save the station in the PLS format. This is the native WinAmp playlist wrapper. I much prefer the M3U or ASX formats, because these are more universal, so they will work with other portable devices or computer software. I haven’t, as yet, tried to download Podcasts, since I don’t subscribe to any as of this writing. I suspect that downloading Podcast is not any more difficult than listening to radio stations. If I find any problems, I will write about this at another time.

 

In short, I much prefer the Plextalk PTP1 to the Victor Stream, because you can doo more with it. If all you are looking for is a book reader and music player, the Victor Stream is probably a better choice and is easier to operate. If you are familiar with the bulky NLS reader, the Victor Stream is easy to learn, since the firmware was basically created by the same company for both. The Plextalk PTP1 is a better choice if you want to listen to Internet content such as Podcast and Internet radio. In addition it can read HTML documents. Because of that, it seems possible that Plextalk will eventually come up with a version of firmware that includes a full featured Web Browser. I hope they do so soon. If they do, they are sure to give Apple a run for their money, at least in the community of blind and visually impaired users.