[access-uk] Re: Orion Webbox review - clarification

  • From: "Jackie Cairns" <cairnsplace@xxxxxxx>
  • To: <access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 17:49:18 -0000

Hi Jamie

Thanks for clarifying RNIB's position, both privately and on this list.

I would add that when I asked SoundTalking if I could write a review of the Orion Web Box, they agreed on the condition that I sought permission from Ted Davis before any such article could be published.

So, having written the review this week, I indeed sent it to Ted for his approval. He "specifically" asked me not to send it to RNIB for publication at this stage, which I haven't, and that I could distribute it among Email lists, which I have done.

So, as far as I personally am concerned, I tried out the Orion Web Box to solve my own curiosity to see if it was the path I wanted to take, and to write a fair and balanced review to let others know of its existence and features.

Ted gave me all the information regarding the participants involved, so if this is incorrect, then he must be responsible for that as he sanctioned the review after it was written.

Personally, I think everyone wants their heads banging together over this. It's a bloody tool for the end user, and why politics have to come into play I honestly don't know and don't care. I wouldn't buy it anyway, and I haven't been paid so much as a peanut for writing the review. I did it because I wanted to. (smiles.)

Thanks Jamie for clarifying. I have sent a good number of reviews privately, so hope it has proved useful, which was always my intention.


Email: cairnsplace@xxxxxxx
Skype Name: Cairnsplace
----- Original Message ----- From: "Jamie Cuthbertson" <jamie.cuthbertson@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2008 5:20 PM
Subject: [access-uk] Orion Webbox review - clarification

Hi list,

I read Jackie's review of the Orion Webbox with interest and would like to
clarify a little of the detail.  First a bit of background to explain my
link with the Orion Webbox.  I apologise in advance for the length of this

Last year I was asked to run a trial of the Orion Webbox on RNIB's behalf
and this started around April/May.  We trialled the unit with around 90
participants, living mainly in  the Glasgow and Gloucestershire areas.  A
thorough evaluation of the system was conducted in October. The evaluation
report was finished earlier this year.

For the purposes of the trial, RNIB made available a selection of internet
radio stations, talking books, magazines and newspapers and podcasts, on
each of the playlists. This playlist is different from, though similar to,
that offered by Sound Talking.

Although the official trial period is over, some of our trialists still have
their webboxes and can access the playlist that was provided.

As yet, however, there has been no decision taken about how long this will
be the case.

For clarification, in Jackie's article, she says "In addition, both RNIB and
Calibre have included talking books which they say they will update at
regular intervals."

I cannot comment on behalf of Calibre, however, I think it is only fair to
point out that the RNIB Talking Books that are currently available on the
Sound Talking playlist are only sample titles that were made available to
the Sound Talking trialists, who participated in a similar trial at the end
of 2007 and into early 2008.  There is no plan at present to change, amend
or add to this list of books - they are only samples to show what can be

The general feedback from our trialists was that this kind of technology
provides very exciting possibilities, but there is a great deal of
discussion still to be had around issues such as content, how multiple
organisations can participate, standards, features, user control of
playlists and so on. In the next few weeks there are due to be meetings to
take forward this discussion and these will bring together many of the
organisations which currently have a vested interested in the subject.

Having completed the evaluation process reasonably recently, it is entirely
right and proper that all organisations that wish to investigate a future
service of this type, take an appropriate amount of time to thoroughly
investigate all the issues in order to ensure that, if a service is to be
established, that it meets all the needs of the end users.  This is the
approach that RNIB is currently taking and I'm sure that you will agree that
this is sensible.

I hope this clarifies the existing situation. If anyone wishes to be sent a
copy of the RNIB trial evaluation of the Orion Webbox, please feel free to
contact me at my RNIB email address:




mentions that both RNIB and Calibre content is available and that

From: access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of
Jackie Cairns
Sent: 27 March 2008 17:33
To: Access UK Mailing List
Subject: [access-uk] Solutions In A Box? - Orion Web Box Internet Radio

Due to popular demand, I have been asked to post the below review to the
list. Draw your own conclusions from its contents, and I'm happy to answer
any questions that I can.





There are now thousands of radio stations worldwide that one may tune into
over the Internet.  And this way of accessing radio has become so popular
that several manufacturers such as Intempo and Roberts have brought out
stand-alone devices that allow you to listen to your favourite programmes
without using a PC.

But while Internet radio, as it is known, is commercially available and
affordable, it isn't accessible for those with little or no sight. With so much material to choose from, operating an Internet radio if you don't have enough vision to read the display is a daunting prospect. But thanks to the collaboration of Dutch company Solutions Radio, and UK charity SoundTalking
- which is the commercial outlet of the popular Talking Newspaper
Association of the United Kingdom (TNAUK) - an Internet radio with speech
feedback is now available.

This piece reviews a trial Orion Web Box, supplied by SoundTalking, and
outlines what users may expect from the service in the coming months.


The Orion Web Box is a sturdy rectangular-shaped device in contrasting black and grey colours. It is slightly sloped so that the back is higher than the front, with a speaker, all its controls, and small display positioned on the

When the Web Box is facing you, the speaker grill occupies the portion
towards the back of the machine, with small display, five buttons and rotary
volume control/mute/pause/bookmark facility  nearer to the front.  A mains
outlet, RJ45 ethernet connection, two phono sockets and phone connectors are
at the rear of the unit.

The five round buttons are arranged in a sighted L-shape further to the
front of the unit. The first one is up, below which is down, below which is
the OK or Accept button.  To the right of the OK is Back, followed by
On/Off.  The rotary volume/mute/pause/bookmark control is in the middle of
the L-shape, and is very distinctive to feel and turn.  To mute or pause
what you are listening to, simply press down the rotary control, and press
again to continue. The control, when pressed down and held, also acts as a
bookmark facility.

The small display comprises black text on a yellow background.  But as a
totally blind person, I could not say how easy this would be to use for
those with limited sight.

In the middle of the front edge of the Web Box is a small round sensor which
detects the accompanying remote control.  This small hand-held control
allows the same functionality as the Web Box itself.

Before turning on the Web Box, it needs to be mains powered and connected to
the accompanying ethernet cable to provide access to the Internet.  Once
this is done, press the bottom right button to switch on the device. A few
short beeps indicates that the Web Box has power, and is proceeded by the
following: "Hello and welcome to SoundTalking Internet radio. Press the OK
button when you hear the subject of your choice.  You can choose from:
Announcements; Bookmark Facility; National Radio Stations; Local Radio
Stations; Local Talking Newspapers; National Talking Newspapers and
Magazines; SoundTalking Publications; Soundings Magazine; Info Sound; Music
for Blind; Calibre Books; RNIB Talking Books; Podcasts; Useful Information
on the Orion Web Box." You may intercept this list of choices at any point
by pressing the OK button to enter a sub-menu with further choices.
Alternatively, if you know the choices off by heart, you can quickly go up
and down to find the item you want more rapidly using the buttons described
above.  At the end of the list read out, the voice continues with: "As you
have made no choice, this menu will be repeated."

As you have now discovered, the Orion Web Box is more than just an Internet
radio.  It has been designed to accept the entire range of TNAUK
publications which is an annual subscription service.  In addition, both
RNIB and Calibre have included talking books which they say they will update at regular intervals. These publications may be bookmarked, with a current
limit of up to 10.

As an avid radio listener, and most anxious to access this aspect of the
Orion Web Box, I discovered that the trial unit contains only 25 national
and 14 local stations which may be increased on request to SoundTalking.
These stations are all easily accessed by choosing either the national or
local radio stations list from the main menu, and then selecting the
preferred station from the sub-menu.  Again, the list will be repeated if
you make no selection, and just pressing the OK button allows you to make
your choice.  A series of beeps ensues while you wait for your selected
radio station to commence.

The speech menus are clear and straightforward to follow. No prior computer
knowledge is required to operate the Web Box, apart from the fact you must
have an Internet connection so that the radio can find the necessary

For those who prefer to use Wi-Fi, or wireless connectivity, a model of the
Web Box supporting this capability is available for an extra charge.

I was disappointed to discover that the Orion Web Box is only a mono radio, both from its external speaker and through headphone listening. A supplied lead with two phono jacks at one end can be connected to the rear of the Web
Box, with a 3.5MM socket at the other that allows attachment to your own
headphones. It looks like a stereo device because of its two phono sockets,
but it is, in fact, mono.

The Orion Web Box is available in two flavours from SoundTalking.  The
standard ethernet version costs £279, and the wireless option £315. This is in stark contrast to commercially available Internet radios which cost from
£99 to £200.  The commercial alternatives also support approximately 6,000
stations worldwide, and update automatically when new channels are added.
You can choose from country or genre when browsing these radios, and some
even offer the facility to allow you to listen to your own music collections
from your PC.

But, as already stated, such an appetising prospect is impossible without
sufficient sight. At present, therefore, we are faced with a limited option
in the form of the Orion Web Box.  It is limited because all stations need
to be added by SoundTalking. All stations are also tagged, which means that
they have to be voice labelled so that the user may identify them.  When a
station therefore goes out of date, or changes its name, the original speech
label, or tag, doesn't automatically update, and needs to be altered
manually. This is costly for the suppliers to upkeep, and is dependent upon
regular maintenance.

Both partners in this project have assured me that anyone wishing to have a
radio station of their choice added to the Orion Web Box can do so by
contacting SoundTalking.  They also insist the unit will be updated
regularly with a variety of books and information from other sources.  And
they have stated that they will support anyone who purchases an Orion Web
Box regardless of whether or not they take out a Talking Newspapers


This is a compact device with a lot of practicability for those who are not
particularly computer literate, yet want to listen to a variety of radio
stations, or TNAUK/RNIB/Calibre publications in one solution. It is easy to
use, and contains a straightforward set of print and audio instructions.
There is clearly enormous potential for the unit to be developed further,
particularly the radio aspect.

I do have concerns, however, about long term support for the Web Box. While
trials and user feedback have been positive, I cannot help wondering what
sort of shelf life such a device will have if it needs constant speech
tagging and manual maintenance to ensure everything is kept up-to-date.

For further information, contact SoundTalking on 01435 862737, send an Email
to info@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, or visit


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