With the ever-decreasing prices of computer hardware, devices such as video cameras, scanners and high-quality laser printers are becoming increasingly popular in the home and small/home office. Having used and worked with a fair number of scanners over the years, I quickly became interested in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, but more often than not came away highly disappointed.
After trying a number of OCR applications, I soon realised that they were usually very slow and often highly inaccurate, leaving very little reason to use them, at least in any productive way. The basic idea behind OCR software is to save time, so when the process of transferring a page of text from paper to word processor involved a few minutes scanning followed by many minutes re-editing, it was often easier to type in the page manually.
When ExperVision submitted their product for review, I was somewhat cynical, having already wasted many hours on this sort of application before, but I was actually in for a rather pleasant surprise. TypeReader Professional not only scans pages of text far faster than any application I have ever seen, but does so with an uncanny accuracy; I myself am likely to make in the region of double the number of errors that this software produces. Read on…
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What is OCR, and what can I do with it? When a page of text is scanned, your computer will not see text, but images. Where we see letters, numbers and symbols, the computer will only recognise areas of light and darkness; in effect only seeing a drawing of the page. So why bother converting it into recognised text? Well, if you were to scan in a document, and want to edit it, you would have to use some sort of image processing, graphics or paint-type software to do so. As for loading it into a word processor or spreadsheet; impossible. This is where OCR steps in - recognising each graphic image as text, and converting it into a format of your choice, such as a text file, word-processing document, spreadsheet etc.
We tested the software with two different scanners, two operating systems and a variety of different saved and imported files. One of the most challenging tests was a faxed document containing a mixture of images, text, and some thirteen different fonts and sizes. Faxes are notoriously difficult for OCR software to process, due to their low image quality. With the majority of the test-fonts, the software achieved 100% accuracy, falling to between around 90% on some of the more obscure variations. With Arial, Century Gothic, Verdana, and Times New Roman it managed to get 100% recognition on a variety of different sizes. It even managed to recognise single words with mixed font sizes - particularly impressive. Surprisingly, it failed to recognise the Courier New font (pitch 12) - here it only achieved a 15-20% recognition rate. It also failed to acknowledge a paragraph in Times New Roman pitch 8, and saw it only as a graphic image.
TypeReader 5.0 recognises English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese. It is capable of recognising more than 2000 English fonts, can read directly from the scanner as well as importing TIFF, PCX and DCX files.
TypeReader has several features that really set it apart from other OCR software. First of all, its speed. We tested a variety of different pages, and found that most simple, ‘standard’ pages took around five seconds to scan; even the more complex pages were usually processed within ten seconds - far faster than anything I have seen before.
Another quite unique feature is the programs ability to maintain the documents layout and structure - including columns, different fonts, position on page and more. This allows you to retain the design of the scanned information, as well as the actual content itself. In addition to this, we found the software to be excellent at ‘receiving’ information from poorer-quality images such as faxes sent directly to our test PC.
The software can also export some thirteen different text formats, including Plain Text, RTF, WordPerfect and even HTML and PDF.
As hard as we tried, we were unable to find any justifiable criticism of this software. The only thing that we found to be a little below-standard was the help file; although it contained all the necessary information, and is informative and well explained, we found it a little awkward to navigate. It would seem to be more of a reference file than anything else. However the full version also comes with a printed manual that more than compensates for this.
OCR software has come a long way in a fairly short time, and this product proves it. We tested it on a large number of different documents, styles, fonts, formats and even faxes, and it passed with flying colours. For any user wishing to transfer documents and/or faxes from paper to their PC, this software surely has to be the best way of doing so. It is also one of the highest-standards of software that we have ever come across.