Recently, Microsoft announced limited access to its neural text-to-speech AI called Custom Neural Voice. The service allows developers to create custom synthetic voices.
The Custom Neural Voice is a Text-to-Speech (TTS) feature of Speech in Azure Cognitive Services that allows users to create a one-of-a-kind customized synthetic voice for their brand. Since the preview last year in September, the feature helped several customers such as AT&T, Duolingo, Progressive, and Swisscom to develop branded speech solutions for their customers. The feature is generally available (GA), yet access for customers to Custom Neural Voice includes technical controls to prevent misuse of the service – they have to apply for it.
Microsoft’s underlying Neural TTS technology for Custom Neural Voice consists of three major components: Text Analyzer, Neural Acoustic Model, and Neural Vocoder. The first component, Text Analyzer, is responsible for generating natural, synthetic speech from text. The text is first input into Text Analyzer, which provides output in the form of phoneme (a basic unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language) sequence. Next, the phonemes sequence defines the pronunciations of the words provided in the text, which goes into the Neural Acoustic Model to predict acoustic features that define speech signals, such as the timbre, speaking style, speed, intonations, and stress patterns. And finally, the Neural Vocoder converts the acoustic features into audible waves to generate synthetic speech.
Neural TTS voice models are trained using deep neural networks based on real voice recording samples. With Custom Neural Voice’s customization capability, customers can adapt the Neural TTS engine to fit their user scenarios better. To leverage custom neural voice, customers will need an Azure account and subscription. Subsequently, after approval for using the feature, they can start a custom voice project, upload data, train, test, and deploy the voice model.
There are various use cases possible for customers to benefit from the Custom Neural Voice, such as customer service chatbots, voice assistants, online learning, audiobooks, public service announcements, and real-time translations. One earlier adopter, Swiss.com, wanted to create more engaging customer experiences by building a voice assistant that uniquely represents its brand. In a Microsoft Switzerland news item, the author wrote:
Using the Speech service, Swisscom has given its customers access to an intelligent, multilingual voice assistant, helping improve the customer experience and accelerate its own digital transformation.
Qinying Liao, principal program manager at Microsoft, described in an Azure AI blog post the benefit of leveraging Custom Neural Voice:
Empowered with this technology, Custom Neural Voice enables users to build highly-realistic voices with just a small number of training audios. This new technology allows companies to spend a tenth of the effort traditionally needed to prepare training data while at the same time significantly increasing the naturalness of the synthetic speech output when compared to traditional training methods.
In addition, Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research Inc., told InfoQ:
In order to make computers more human, speech is a crucial ingredient, and in 2020 enterprises need to depart from the robotic and standardized voices, accents of synthetic speech in the past. The cloud enables this level of personalized creation of personalized voice experience – with availability, cheap compute, and operational capacity. So it is a widespread use case across the IaaS / PaaS players – and suitable for enterprises and their customers, and even employees as they get a more human experience.
Lastly, besides the capability to customize TTS voice models, Microsoft offers over 200 neural and standard voices covering 54 languages and locales.
PlayStation 5 storage upgrades coming this summer: report – MobileSyrup
Per the outlet’s sources, Sony will enable storage upgrades through a firmware update that unlocks higher cooling fan speeds to ensure the console doesn’t overheat.
Should this happen in the summer, it would alleviate one of the PS5’s major shortcomings. As it stands, both the standard PS5 and its all-digital variant feature 825GB of storage, but only 667GB is actually usable since the remaining 158GB is taken up by the operating system, updates and other console features.
However, the PS5 only supports external hard drives for storing PS4 games, so there’s currently no viable storage solution outside of deleting games to clear up space.
Meanwhile, PS5 games routinely take up more than 40GB, with some, like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, well exceeding 100GB. Therefore, PS5 owners often are only able to have a small number of games on their consoles at a given time.
Since the PS5 launch in November, Sony has promised that it will eventually support SSD storage expansion, but no timeline has yet been given. At launch, Sony said it needs to run compatibility tests on the various SSDs on the market before it could offer support for them.
“As previously announced, we are working to enable M.2 SSD storage expansion for PlayStation 5. The timing has not been announced and details will be shared later,” a Sony spokesman told Bloomberg.
Once storage expansion is enabled, PS5 owners will be able to remove the front plate of the console to insert a compatible SSD.
Pokémon Legends Arceus gives the series the Zelda: Breath of the Wild open-world treatment – MobileSyrup
During the series’ 25th anniversary presentation, The Pokémon Company revealed a few new games, including Pokémon Diamond and Pearl remakes and more footage of Pokémon Snap, but Pokémon Legends Arceus stole the show.
The new game looks to modernize the classic Pokémon gameplay formula by making it more of an open-world game with a tighter focus on collecting Pocket Monsters.
The brief presentation showed off how players can crouch and sneak up on Pokémon to surprise them with Poké Balls.
Legends Arceus’ plot sets your player on a mission to create the world’s first Pokédex, suggesting that Arceus is set so far in the past that it could be ripe for sequels.
Pokémon Legends Arceus is slated to release in early 2022 for the Nintendo Switch. If you want to scratch your Pokémon itch in 2021, you’ll be stuck with Pokémon Snap and Brillant Diamond and Shiny Pearl.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake with a free PS5 upgrade is $30 – The Verge
Yesterday, Square Enix announced that it plans to release an enhanced version of Final Fantasy VII Remake for PS5, and there is a free next-gen upgrade available if you own the game digitally or physically. You can purchase a physical copy of the game right now for $30 at Amazon. Note that if you plan to take advantage of this deal, you will need to own a PS5 with a disc drive to claim your free PS5 copy.
Although the game will be free on PlayStation Plus beginning March 2nd, Sony confirmed that the PS Plus version will not be eligible to receive a free upgrade. So, you’ll either need to buy the next-gen version, which starts at $70, or buy the PS4 version, the latter of which I think is the better deal.
While on the topic of next-gen, if you are in the market for a new TV that takes advantage of next-gen, LG’s CX OLED line is one of the best options at the moment. Right now, the 65-inch model is on sale at a couple of places, most notably Newegg, where you can buy it for $1,997 and also receive a free $200 Newegg gift card. The TV is also on sale at Amazon for $1,950 (when you apply a coupon), but it does not come with a $200 gift card.
Last November, AMD released its new line of desktop CPUs. The Ryzen 5000 line includes the first chips from the company that carry its next-gen Zen 3 architecture. Like most highly anticipated gadgets released at the tail end of 2020, these processors at first were a bit difficult to find. But, if you are looking to buy the midrange $449 Ryzen 7 5800X, it’s available now at Antonline, B&H Photo, and Best Buy.
Lastly, Amazon is currently running a promotion where you can save $40 when you purchase two eligible Surface accessories. Some items eligible for the promotion include the Surface Pen and the Surface Arc mouse, a nice pairing if you’re picking up a new Surface device at the same time.
PlayStation 5 storage upgrades coming this summer: report – MobileSyrup
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