Digital TV equipment manufacturer Bush Australia has shared details on its 'talking' set top box for digital TV, which is currently in development and testing in conjunction with the Federal Government and low vision services provider Vision Australia. The talking set top box has been trialled by the Government as part of the digital TV roll-out currently underway around Australia, and may be one of the devices chosen to be part of the $308.8million Household Assistance Scheme announced in the 2011 Federal Budget.
Bush Australia purchasing manager Carl Robertson told GoodGearGuide that the talking set top box used an existing design pioneered by Bush's UK parent company called the Goodman Smart Talk. The Smart Talk was designed and tested in the UK by Bush in conjunction with the Royal National Institute for Blind People. Bush's Australian version has been significantly altered to suit Australian users, with several upgrades and extra features over the existing UK model.
According to Robertson, the Bush talking set top box came about after a Government tender for a digital TV set top box with accessibility features. "[They] wanted products that assisted people with a disability." The set top box has been refined with the help of testing through Vision Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that provides services to people with blindness or vision impairment. "We worked very closely with Vision Australia, and [their] feedback helped us design it for Australia."
Bush has added extra features to its Australian talking set top box including comprehensive help screens, adjustment for the speed of the talking voice, and a key learning mode that explains each remote control button when pressed. Bush's set top box is the only model in Australia to feature an Australian accent for the synthesised voice. The talking set top box also supports audio description — a service that is not currently running in Australia, but is scheduled for trials with the ABC later in 2011.
It is not yet known whether the Bush talking set top box will be chosen for distribution to blind and low vision pensioners as part of the Government's Household Assistance Scheme — according to Robertson, "the Government is undergoing [its] process" and a report will be tabled to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in late June. Hills TechLife and Skybridge also have prototype talking set top boxes that were trialled as part of the regional Victorian digital TV switchover. The Bush talking set top box will be available to purchase in retail stores and through Bush's Web site at the end of next month.