Snow Leopard thaws my Logitech webcam mike!

Speak up... I CAN hear you!

Speak up... I CAN hear you!

While I’ve upgraded my Mac Mini to Snow Leopard 10.6, I haven’t yet taken the plunge on my 2008 Mac Pro. This is mainly because I am bug testing some iPhoto software for someone and it would be unfair to change the underlying OS half way through as it would most likely just confuse matters. However, I do now have my Western Digital Caviar ‘Black’ 1Tb drive and so with an hour or so to spare I removed the existing 4 drives and popped it in, just to see how a fresh install of Snow Leopard would run on a Mac Pro.

The installation recognized my Logitech MX Revolution Mouse and Logitech diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition (both plugged in using a Logitech wireless USB dongle), so it was simply a matter of answering a few questions and waiting. Once installed, a Software Update for Remote Screen installed itself, then I was left to play for a while. The Logitech Control Centre v3.0 software refused to install (there is a workaround), so I was unable to use any of the extended features of my keyboard or mouse, however there was some good news about another of my Logitech peripherals.

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro

My Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro now works with Snow Leopard’s built-in speech recognition!! Under Leopard 10.5.x, the microphone in this webcam simply refused to work with the Mac’s built-in speech recognition software. It would work fine with other apps like Skype, iChat, etc., and your voice would even register in the OS X speech recognition window, but getting the Mac to recognize anything was impossible and it was a widely reported problem. However, under Snow Leopard I decided to give it another go and what do you know – it worked! Off I went, quoting the phrases on the calibration panel… What time is it? Quit this application. Open a document… and so on. Each one registered first time and I was then able to use speech recognition as I’d always wanted. I am now wondering if the mike will work with MacSpeech Dictate under Snow Leopard? Who knows.

Eventually the time came to stop experimenting and put the Mac Pro back to Leopard 10.5.8. Naturally once I’d put all the original drives back I tried out speech recognition with the webcam and it steadfastly refused to play ball. I am wondering if I upgraded from 10.5.8 to 10.6 rather than doing a fresh install, whether or not the webcam mike would still work with the Mac’s speech recognition? Maybe that’s an experiment for next week…

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Microphone for a Mac Pro

For a while now I’ve been wanting to use speech recognition on my Mac, and to be able to tell it to ‘Get my mail’ or to ‘Switch to Firefox’. The problem has been that the Mac Pro doesn’t come with a built-in microphone, and the built-in mike on my Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro, whilst fine for iChat and Skype, flatly refused to work with the Mac’s own speech recognition. So the search was on for a microphone that was guaranteed to work so that I could start talking to my computer, just like Scotty in Star Trek!

Now before we go any further, I must point out that I wasn’t in the market for a headset with a microphone on it. I figured that being attached to my Mac via a cable was going to be too restrictive and besides, I’ve already got a very nice set of speakers hooked up to the machine. Also, any thought of a wireless headset or even a bluetooth headset to perform this role were quickly dismissed, owing to the lack of evidence that they work with OS X.

So, having searched around in Google for a variety of ‘Mac USB Microphone Speech Recognition’ keywords, it became clear that there were no websites that stated categorically “this USB microphone works with the built-in Mac OS X speech recognition”, although I did start to find some likely candidates.

The MacMice MicFlex was mentioned on the MacSpeech Dictate website and I figured that if it was verified to work with their Voice Dictation software, then it would almost certainly work with the OS X feature. Unfortunately, tracking down a UK supplier selling them at a sensible price was another matter (I found one shop wanting £49.95 for it). I also spotted the Samson C01 (£54.99) and the Blue Snowflake USB (£49.98) on the Solutions Inc website, and as these guys are an Apple retailer I figured if they were selling mikes chances are they’d be sure to work on the Mac. I talked to one of their sales reps and while he said these were excellent devices for creating podcasts and working with things like GarageBand, they couldn’t guarantee they’d work with the built-in speech recognition simply because no customers had actually reported back that they did. Fair play to them as they weren’t about to sell me something they couldn’t guarantee would do the job.

Wasteful packaging

Wasteful packaging

In the end I decided to take a punt and just try out a ‘cheap’ Logitech USB microphone that retailed at Amazon UK for just £13.92, and with free delivery it arrived 3 days later. Once I’d disposed of the ridiculously unnecessary packaging, I was left with something that looked like it had escaped from a 1970’s B movie, but at this price what can you expect. Plugging it in, I opened up my System Preferences, found Speech and selected ‘AK5370’ as my input device. (AK5370 refers to the chipset used by the microphone). I then went in to the calibration settings and started talking, and guess what…. IT WORKS!!! Yep there you go Mac Pro owners, if you want a low-cost USB mike that works with the built-in OS X speech recognition feature then I can confirm the Logitech USB Desktop Microphone works.

However as is often the case in the computer world, this little story didn’t end on a high note. Yes, aside from the occassional misunderstanding (the Mac keeps launching FrontRow when I ask it to launch Firefox) the speech recognition is definitely a usable feature, and it’s quite fun to simply ask your Mac to do something and to see it respond. No the problem is that it seems there’s a bug with the speech recognition feature in OSX 10.5.x which is that it simply shuts itself off after a random period of time, and I’ve seen various posts from people complaining that this happens. I’m running OS X 10.5.5. and the only way I’ve found to restart it is to turn the feature off, turn it back on and re-calibrate it, at which point the little speech recognition ‘pad’ reappears on the desktop.

So close…..