I think that’s got to be the ugliest picture I’ve ever posted on this site (see left). Anyway, I recently experimented with some free voice-changing software offered by Screaming Bee. It’s called MorphVOX Jr. 2.0.3 and it basically allows you to alter your voice to better suit your online 3-D persona. I personally wound up disappointed.
I haven’t fiddled with it to any great extent to see if there is any further tweaking or customization that can be done to make what I’m listening to more palatable and convincing. As of now, the results are pretty lame, and I doubt any amount of fiddling would yield any significant difference. Eh — it’s the free version. What can you expect?
A couple of flaws/shortcomings I noted while using the MorphVOX Jr. (And keep in mind, this is based on my brief experience with the free download. Also remember that these points are most relevant from the perspective of using an environment like Second Life as a virtual world in a pure sense, rather than as a platform or online 3-D venue for the purposes of meetings, mixed-reality events, or other types of endeavors and activities that rely less on anonymity, immersion and role play.)
Where does the MorphVOX Jr. fall short?
** Firstly, there’s a speech delay of about one second, give or take. And there’s also an echo, whereby when you utter a word, for example, you’ll hear it four times, (diminishing in volume, of course, with each repetition.) Given these two factors, if you plan to speak for any length of time lasting more than a few seconds, in sentences that include more than a mere few words, chances are you are going to stumble over your own speech and literally become unable to verbalize your thoughts, due to the fact that the echo and the delay are so disorienting.
** If you have bad diction, you are going to sound like a complete dork. I repeat: if you have bad diction, you are going to sound like a complete dork. (And this point isn’t specific to Screaming Bee — it’s relevant in the broader context of voice in MMOs and other virtual environments.) Getting back to the issue of poor diction, it will be accentuated even more in intimate settings, since to begin with, voice takes such command of the virtual experience, that it almost becomes central. It’s so pervasive and prominent, in fact, that it can even rival your avatar in terms of where the attention is directed, as well as overshadow whatever other visual components are incorporated on-screen. On the flip side, in a setting where there is other audio accompaniment/ambience (a DJ speaking over music inside a virtual dance club is a prime example), you might be able to get away with a lot more in terms of lacking speech proficiency, because there is more going on to divert attention.
** The male voice that Screaming Bee uses for the Man-to-Woman audio sample provided on this page via QuickTime has a rather high tone; he sounds like a tenor. This enhances the modification to female — which suggests that the results won’t be as good for males who speak with deeper tonality. In fact, (FYI: I am genetically male) when I used the Man-to-Woman option and I purposely spoke in a lower tone, I sounded more like a young boy than I did a woman. This shortcoming also is demonstrated when you listen to the Man-to-Woman sample and compare it with the Man-to-Child modification (sample available here.) They sound very similar.
** What also bugs me a bit about voice in virtual space (and this isn’t specific to Screaming Bee’s product) is the fact that your avatar can’t lip-synch along with the speech, adding to the diminishment of immersion.
Maybe the paid version has more to offer
At any rate, I’ve yet to try the Voice Changer 2.9.1, the paid version of the voice-changing software that Screaming Bee offers, which has a price tag of $28.95. It might be worth the money, since it allows users to create their own unique voices (so you’re not stuck with the three default/generic options of Man-to-Woman, Woman-to-Man and Tiny Folks (which basically makes you sound like you’ve just inhaled helium.) Perhaps I’d be able to custom-tailor a decent female voice with the paid version.
Here’s an easy-to-read chart displaying the differences between the paid and free versions of the Screaming Bee software. I also posted a photo on Flickr with some notes describing some of the MorphVOX Jr. features. For those unfamiliar with Flickr, you can read the notes by hovering your mouse arrow over the image. Additionally, here are related Apogeevr posts: When Grunts Become Audible; Courting Vivox for a Demo.
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