LGR Oddware: $1,200 DECtalk PC Speech Synthesizer

[jazzy music] Greetings and welcome to LGR Oddware where we’re taking a look at hardware and software that is odd, forgotten, and obsolete! And today we’re looking at the DECtalk PC Well, I’m just gonna let it speak for itself – Greetings, I am the DECtalk PC a card sold in the early ’90s that did all sorts of awesome crap I can say anything you command Yes, even that You should be ashamed of yourself already, silly human – This thing is a delight to use Actually it’s this card right here that does all of the talking This is just the speaker But yeah, the DECtalk PC, I mean, obviously speech synthesis in itself is not an obsolete or outdated concept We still have all sorts of AI assistants and things doing speech nowadays, but this goes directly into a PC of the early 90s and will make everything happen on the board itself It’s got its own CPU and RAM and everything It’s just pretty nuts It’s just fascinating to me, so let’s get to it Okay, so let’s take a closer look at the DECtalk PC here Well it is DEC in general with, that standing for Digital Equipment Corporation They were behind the whole ton of rather serious computing equipment back in the day, including the predecessor to the DECtalk PC, the DTC-01, which could be connected to various computers and terminals with a serial connection and was a device that, on it’s own, sold for $4,000 in 1984 Or about $10,000 adjusted for inflation And that thing certainly saw its share of success, considering how capable it was, but it’s little wonder that the DECtalk PC was even more appealing when it went on sale in 1992 at a cost of $1,195, or around $2,200 today But yeah, both the DTC-01 and the DECtalk PC rely on the same underlying speech system, which is known by many names in its various incarnations over the years, like DECtalk, DECvoice, MITalk, and KlattTalk That last one being named for the creator of the underlying technology, the late Dennis Klatt, a rather brilliant linguist and researcher in speech and hearing science at MIT, especially doing a whole lot of important work on this stuff throughout the 70s and 80s Coming up with ways to break down language into components that can be generated in a completely digital fashion through these speech synthesizers And it really was influenced, it turns out, by his own voice and cadence I guess that should be no surprise, but I never really thought about it So here’s how he sounds, compared to the DECtalk saying the same thing – [Dennis] Demonstration of several milestones in the development of systems for text to speech conversion – [DECtalk] Demonstration of several milestones in the development of systems for text to speech conversion – [LGR] It provided a bit of an accent and vocal quirk that was definitely picked up on by the critics of the time, and especially those in the press often describing its accent as quote a cross between Indian and Swedish, or a drunken Swede, or even a Swede with a speech impediment But nonetheless, it ended up being used by tons of automated touch tone phone systems, in particular Especially the DTC-01, with its built in telephony stuff It’s got a phone jack and everything So it was used by organizations like banks and emergency services, weather radio station, educational institutions and libraries In particular, I just wanna talk about the library one for a moment, because back in the day, there was our local library’s system that would call out whenever you had an overdue book or there was something going on with your account And it was one of these DECtalk systems of some kind, I don’t know which one But it became like this in joke among friends and family, would imitated it every so often, like oh, our records show that your book is now over due, or whatever, and just always cracked me up And it’s kinda need to have some of the actual technology here to mess with now Anyway, it wasn’t just used by governments and businesses and what not, it was also commonly used among those with difficulty seeing text on a computer screen or even difficulty speaking at all Folks that needed this kind of assistance could use it in conjunction with software like JAWS or Outspoken or even as part of something like the AWE32 Text Assist with a partnership between creative labs and DEC And there are even more specialized systems like the Dynovox, where user didn’t have to worry about computer software and keyboards and stuff There was just a specialized interface put together where a user could touch symbols to form sentences and different words of common things that they might wanna do out in public Like, for example, just ordering fast food So yeah, the DECtalk earned quite the positive reputation in the area of increased accessibility And the underlying tech ended up making its way into all kinds of speech synthesizers over the years And not every text to speech thing is based on the same work, but you know, there’s often a common ancestry there

And you may have also heard the DECtalk in particular in certain movies from the 80’s For instance, Short Circuit, where the enemy robots, the ones that are not Number Five do the speaking, which was made to happen behind the scenes using a DECtalk – [Robot] Glass, ice, gin, tonic, a squeeze of lime Your cocktail, Doctor Mariner – Thank you Number Two – Or maybe you remember the robotic voices from Back to the Future II The scenes from the future like when Marty has his self-drying jacket speak to him – [Jacket] Drying mode on Jacket drying [beep] Your jacket is now dry – [LGR] Yeah, that’s a DECtalk And any number of other robotic sounding voices you’ve heard over the years could very well have been based on this tech In fact, one of the most popular things that you’ll hear attributed to DECtalk is the late Stephen Hawking’s iconic voice And yeah, it kind of used DECtalk, but it’s really not quite that simple The truth of it is that he started using a speech system in 1988 from a company called Speech Plus, and that product was the Calltext 5010 And while it was based around the same MITalk speech system that the DECtalk used, it only had a single voice and was modified and improved by Speech Plus over the next 10 years and really became Hawking’s own thing, which is why he continued to use it It became his own iconic voice However, that does bring us to the DECtalk PC from the early 90s here And this really is a cut down version of the original DECtalk machine, except lacking any of the built in telephone jack or anything like, it just has this 3.5 millimeter monospeaker output jack right here and that’s it So that’s the only I/O on this thing You could still use it with a modem I’m not gonna be doing that because I don’t even have a phone line, but you know, the possibility was there And while it does rely on software, the software is not what’s doing the speech synthesis That’s taken care of by all this processing I mean just take a look at some of these chips on here You got an 81 86 CPU That’s a dedicated Intel X86 compatible thing right there on the board You also get one megabyte of RAM for loading in all the stuff it needs from the software itself And there’s an array of Texas Instrument chips in here, like the TMS 320 digital signal processor You can see all of my chips here are dated 1993 I’m assuming it was updated at some point, ’cause these are socketed chips as far as I could tell Most of these exact boards were manufactured in 1991 What all this means, though, is it has nine pre-set voices, with the ability to thoroughly tweak them, and even customize your own voice entirely Which again, was one of the big draws of the DECtalk, creating a voice for yourself that was thoroughly your own Okay, that’s all the history and things I’m gonna talk about here Let’s go ahead and get it set up with a computer and see how it works [jazz music] Okay, so for the hardware side of things, I’ve got the lovely wood grain 46 here An appropriately 90s PC So we’ll just [clanking] Uh This never comes off easily [shlink] For the most part, the board is controlled through software, but we do have one bit of hardware adjustment, that is this little dip switch section right here And that, by default, I think is set to IO address 340 I tried that, that caused a conflict last time, so switch it down here and that should be IO address 240 Ah, ribbon cables [clanking] Here we go Yeah, simple enough All right, and we’ll just get the speaker in here somewhere You can use any speakers, of course, but this is a mono deal here, and it’s made for it May as well use it Looks kinda silly there on the table Let’s, yeah Disk holders, that’s what they’re for Alright, so I’ve got everything installed, except for, of course, the software, which is a pretty darn important bit What do I got on here? Right, so we need to first go into the DECtalk directory, and wow, this has been a journey I’ve actually had the hardware for a long time, but the software, the correct working software for this individual version of the board and everything has been, it’s taken a while I never had original disks with this one I just got the board alone and then I got this separately And like I said, it’s been an ordeal So, whatever At this point, what we can do is run this DT.batch file that I have customized to work with my board It’ll run a self test, and then it’s gonna copy over the sound files – [DECtalk] DECtalk PC version 4.2C is running – [LGR] And there we go, DECtalk version 4.2C is running So what can we actually do with it? Well, if we just go into the edit program,

one thing we can do is have it read text files So I can just have it say [clicking] We’ll just have that as a text file And now what we can do is since this is loaded into RAM, it’s actually a terminate and stay resident program, so that will allow us to send things over to either the COM port or printer port, which is not really a printer port, but kind of So here’s what we do We can say, we can copy over that text file to com4, which is the DECtalk PC – [DECtalk] Greetings, I’m the DECtalk PC board and I have a voice that is a bit bizarre and yet I can’t help it Enjoy saying everything possible Balls and farts and things – [LGR] So there’s that And we can do the same thing with the print command in DOS And that’ll be on LPT3 – [DECtalk] Greetings, I’m the DECtalk PC board and I have a voice that is a bit bizarre and yet I can’t help it Enjoy saying everything possible Balls and farts and things – [LGR] There ya go So about the only other thing that I can do from this selection of software, most of this is just like TSR stuff for DOS It does come with this DT voc executable, which is interesting It kinda works like a covox speech thing, let me turn this down ’cause it’s really loud [marching band music] It’ll play these voc files, which are like sound blaster compatible, essentially like waves But, I’m really not sure what kind of frequency it’s looking for because that sounds really fast In fact if I run something here that I know what it’s supposed to sound like This right here, this is Duke 3D Shake it Baby sound from the game [static sound] It’s really fast It’s a conga file from the sound blaster pro [static sound] It’s not quite right So anyway, one thing that you could do is run third party software, such as JAWS here – [DECtalk] JAWS version 2.31 serial number 009387 registered to JAWS Freeware Ready, C:\JAWS greater – [LGR] So this is a version of JAWS, which is a very popular screen reader application for DOS and later Windows And you know, this is version 2.31, which they actually make freeware at some point in the past And you can still find it online if you know where to look And so yeah, I just installed this on here because it actually comes with support for the DECtalk PC board, as well as a bunch of other speech devices, synthesizers and sound things, many of which, I’ve never heard of But anyway, the fact that it had DECtalk PC support built in was one reason that I wanted to use it and get it installed It lets you do this, essentially, so – [DECtalk] C L S enter, C:\JAWS greater It just reads everything that’s on the screen, which is both very handy and a bit dangerous if you let it get out of control, such as – [DECtalk] Enter volume in drive C is B Volume serial number I 4AAA-AC77 – [LGR] It lists, it’ll read everything – [DECtalk] Backslash JAWS Less DIR greater 03-20-19 9:36a – [LGR] It’s not gonna stop – [DECtalk] Less DIR greater 03-20-10 9:36 – [LGR] Okay, stop, cut it out [DECtalk talking in background] Uh hu, okay, okay So that’s really the idea though The JAWS will read the things on the screen so you can hear what’s going on instead of having to rely on vision In fact, if you were to run a program like WordPerfect 6.0, JAWS came with compatibility for this as well – [DECtalk] Space file open dot dot dot shf, retrieve dot dot dot, close, save, save as dot dot dot, file manager dot dot – [LGR] Anyway, you get the point It will read absolutely everything on here – [DECtalk] L G R space I S space A W S O M E dot, K I N D space O F period period period – [LGR] It’ll do that, but it’s not gonna actually say read this out as a sentence However, if you do wanna control it directly, you can do that using a terminal emulator As you saw earlier, this does actually have COM4 as its own internal serial port, as well as the printer port for LPT3 But COM4, that’s the important part here So if we were to open a program like Kermit I’ve showed this before in the past when I’ve demonstrated various connections to BBSs what not That’s really what it’s made for But, it can also just do terminal emulation And then send direct, I believe, just bios codes or something along those lines to the DECtalk PC, itself So, if we send it to port four, and then go over here, it’s not quite set up yet But now it is directly going to address the DECtalk All right so COM port four 9,600 bod transfer rate That’s just default stuff We’ve got it to echo the local half duplex

And then ANC mode, I don’t really need the ANC terminal emulation It’ll work in other terminals But this is fine And at this point, what we can do is have it directly speak things after we type them in [clicking] – [DECtalk] Sometimes I wonder about the future of humans and crap – [LGR] And yeah, there you go At this point now, this lets us just directly send over ASCII text And this is a bit of an interesting thing to try to figure out because, again, I don’t have the original manual or anything, and the documentation that I found pretty much just pertains to the original DECtalk And that is, apparently it works a little bit different than a DECtalk PC So like say, oops I messed up there or that’s just too bad – [DECtalk] Massive amounts of S R H K 3 S R H S of voice sampling – [LGR] It seriously just takes each character that you type and then automatically starts speaking after, not after you press return, but after you enter some punctuation and then press space after that Doesn’t matter what the punctuation is Like right there I used a comma So you have to be pretty deliberate with what you’re typing in [clicking] – [DECtalk] I am typing deliberately and it is okay – [LGR] There you go Now something else that you could do on here, which is just like the original DECtalk, is you can actually use the square brackets colon and then change the voice to something else We’ve been using Paul If we do nb here, that’s the command, and we’ll do a space and then have Betty say something – [DECtalk] This is DECtalk Betty and I have no soul – [LGR] So there’s DECtalk Betty And now if we want to do nk, this would be the DECtalk kid [clicking] – [DECtalk] I am a messed up 80’s robot kid thing and I will eat your soul – [LGR] Pretty creepy And there’s a whole bunch of these other ones in here, like what is this, Rita, I believe is R here – [DECtalk] My name is Rita Robot something or other and I want to destroy humanity for my own screwed up purposed some day – [LGR] [laughter] So there’s that There’s a whole bunch of voices in here Let me go look at the manual or the PDF So yeah, here is a PDF of the DTC-01 manual and there are the nine pre-built voices You got Paul, Betty, Huge Harry, Frank, Kid, Rita, Ursula, Val Let’s try Harry [clicking] – [DECtalk] This is Harry and I have hairy nipples – [LGR] I love the Harry voice – [DECtalk] Something about this voice makes me think nothing but immature thoughts about making it say stupid junk – [LGR] So we got Frail Frank I guess it’s supposed to be like an old man – [DECtalk] Franks are tasty food, but my name is Frank, so I’m not sure how I feel about this anymore – [LGR] I guess that’s an old man Uppity Ursula, light female voice, okay – [DECtalk] I am light and female and I’m about to float away I guess – [LGR] Variable Val, I believe that’s one that you can just define – [DECtalk] Command A [mumbles] – [LGR] Whoops – [DECtalk] Whatever dude, I’m just here to say things – [LGR] Yeah, I think that one doesn’t actually do anything until you put in your own parameters And so far, I haven’t had a whole lot of luck in translating all of these commands from the other machine to this one That being said, there is a fantastic emulator of the DTC-01 over on archive.org And it’ll emulate the whole set up You know, the hardware, the terminal connection It’ll put the whole thing right at your fingertips On any modern internet browser and it’s a lot of fun to play with Just check this out – [DTC-01] This emulator is fantastic stuff, man! It not only lets you use all the original voices of the classic DECtalk, but it even lets you control the rest of the commands said Balls yeah So this means you can do things like slow down the speech rate and make the voices sound even sillier than usual – [LGR] And yeah, that emulator will also allow you to mess around with things like making the DECtalk sing That’s right, if you do know the proper commands, you can make the thing sing Which, DECtalk singing, that’s a whole ‘nother realm of weirdness I’ll include some links down below the video if you wanna check some of those out But it kinda sounds like this – [DECtalk video] Baby got the diarrhea, spooky, scary skeletons, spooky scary skeletons send shivers down your spine Greetings cause we’ll shock your souls Seal your doom tonight, my little pony – Well, that’s about it for the DECtalk PC, at least for this video It’s something I wouldn’t mind revisiting in the future if I came up with enough reason to, or some additional interesting hardware and software to go along with it, but it’s just one of those devices that’s always fascinated me because I hear it so much going up in various forms and systems, especially over the phone And also just, I don’t know It’s something that was used for so very long and then it really wasn’t until more recent years, the past couple decades I suppose that it was really supplanted

by more convincing text to speech and cheaper text to speech options that all kind of leads back to things like the DECtalk and to a degree the DECtalk PC, which brought that kind of thing down to a slightly more affordable price tag and put it into the homes of a lot of people that really needed it back in the day So yeah, fascinating stuff [jazz music] And if you enjoyed taking a look at the DECtalk PC alongside me then awesome, this is exactly the kind of stuff I love covering on Oddware, and LGR in general There are new videos every week here on the channel, so subscribe if you like, or just check out some of these other videos And as always, thank you very much for watching!