An Interview with Joel Harband
Interviewed By: Geetesh Bajaj
Date Created: April 1st 2008
Last Updated: March 3rd 2009
Joel Harband heads Tuval Software Industries, based in Israel. Their best known product is Speech-Over Studio, a PowerPoint add-in that enables PowerPoint slides to incorporate narrations using automated voices.
Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself, Tuval Software, and Speech-Over Studio.
Joel: I was born in San Francisco, studied engineering at UC Berkeley, got a PhD in applied mathematics from NYU and moved to Israel in 1970. After teaching in the university and working in software, I founded Tuval Software Industries in 1990 to develop Seela, a tool for software developers. Speech-Over Studio is Tuval's second-generation product -- my second-generation Israeli son Uzi joined me to develop it.
Speech-Over Studio is a PowerPoint plug-in that makes it simple to add speech to presentations, so that you hear a presenter even when he or she isn't there. Speech-Over Studio replaces the recording studio with text-to-speech (TTS) on the desktop. You type in narration text for a screen object and an artificial voice 'speaks' it in the slide show when the screen object animates. TTS technology has substantially improved over the past decade, and voices now sound quite real.
Speech-Over Studio has been chosen by Microsoft to participate in their "early adopter" program for Office 2007.
Geetesh: What are typical usage scenarios for Speech-Over Studio?
Joel: Speech-Over Studio lets you archive an important one-time presentation as a narrated stand-alone for people who did not attend (and can't get the message from the slides alone) and you can use it to computerize recurrent presentations, such as a plant safety orientation. You can add a verbal dimension to marketing presentations for Web distribution or trade shows and you can create on-line audio/visual educational and training courses easily. Finally, adding a verbal explanation to PowerPoint-based corporate communications makes your ideas and plans clearer to colleagues. We also envision applications in assistive technology.
Geetesh: Tell us about the new improvements in the product.
Joel: The product has come a long way since it was first reviewed in Indezine back in November 2005. The user interface is now a lot simpler and intuitive. You add speech to a PowerPoint screen item with only three clicks and it's ready to play. A Speech-Over tool bar is now available as well as a streamlined speech panel for displaying and manipulating the speech items on the slide. The product is robust and has a crash recovery feature that saves speech data. We've also learned how to convert speech-empowered presentations to flash and mp4 for web delivery and podcasting.
Geetesh: What sort of support infrastructure do you provide?
Joel: Support is by e-mail within one business day.
Geetesh: Can you share some trivia with Indezine readers -- an unusual use of Speech-Over Studio, a funny incident, or just a tip?
Joel: I recently met with the top sales people of a major Israeli company to propose that they use Speech-Over Studio for their sales presentations. Mistakenly assuming that they exported their product, I prepared a sample PowerPoint speech-empowered sales presentation with the American-accented Paul TTS voice doing the selling. After a couple of minutes, they looked at each other and said to me: "Very nice, but we don't need English, can Paul speak Hebrew?