Review: Transcriva 2 – Automatic Transmission

When I was in college and while my fellow students were waiting tables at Bennigan’s, I took a part-time job at a temp agency doing medical transcription. It was mind-numbingly dull work, but the pay was decent and at the end of my shift I didn’t smell of stale beer and potato skins. Back then, doing transcription was a very low-tech affair. You had a micro-cassette player hooked up to a foot pedal. You’d play the tape, type what you heard and use the foot pedal to rewind the tape when necessary to pick up the missing bits. Well, times have changed, but in today’s world of video conferences and satellite interviews there is still the need to create an accurate record of what was said and by whom. Transcriva 2 by Bartas Technologies is a program designed to do just that and after kicking the tires, I can say that it works really well, once you get the hang of how it does what it does.

Launching the program brings up a single window that serves as your workspace. Media controls and a time slider sit at the top and some basic controls for volume, playback speed and program options are at the bottom. The center is composed of 2 panes, the left one shows a list of transcripts either finished or in progress while the left hand pane is your main transcription workspace.

Creating a new transcription is easy since the button to do so sits in the very center of the workspace. Clicking “create transcription” brings up a dialog box with several options to associate your transcript with a media file. This is an important step because once an association is made between a media clip and a transcript, they will be linked, appearing together whenever the transcript is open. Transcriva will support any QuickTime compatible media either stored locally on your mac, remotely on a network or even on the web. Additionally, it can record live video and audio from both internal sources like a built-in webcam or microphone or external sources like a video camera or external microphone.

Once a media clip has been associated to a new transcript, it will appear in a separate viewer windows and you’re given the choice either to beginning playing the file or go into “transcript properties” where you can set up user-defined colored tabs for the various people speaking inside your clip. This makes it easy to reference a speaker without going through the repetitive task of spelling out their name. Transcriva also assigns each speaker with a a unique number. Hitting the command key plus the number assigned to that speaker calls up a new blank entry into the transcription tagged with the speaker’s name and chosen color. For conferences where several people are interacting, this is a very useful way to keep track of who is saying what.

At this point, it’s time to begin transcribing, so you hit the play button, your media clip begins to play  and you begin to type. Unless you’re a professional typist, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep up with what is being said. Luckily, Transcriva has several controls to assist you. The first is the ability to control the speed of playback without altering voice pitch. This is a very helpful feature because slowing down speech even a moderate amount helps in recognition. Transcriva has a slider control that ranges from “turtle” slow to “rabbit” fast with a central position indicating normal speed. I found that choosing a moderate slowdown was the most helpful to me, but I’m sure this will vary depending on the individual and most importantly, their typing speed.

“Backtrack on pause”

The second helpful feature is one that you set up in the user preferences, and it’s called “Backtrack on pause”. Every time you hit pause, the software actually rewinds the media by a user-defined increment of anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds. This overlap allows you to catch something you’ve missed as well as helps you find your place in the transcription again. I found that a backtrack setting of a second or two was all that was needed to catch a missed word or find your place again. It should also be noted that Transcriva 2 supports several models of USB foot pedals as well, although I didn’t get a chance to try one for this review. Those interested in doing larger amounts of transcription might want to consider this option.

Once you’re through transcribing your material, it can be exported as an Rich Text File, a Microsoft Word document or a plain text file. You also have the option to include not only your color coding for each speaker, but also a time marker for each section of dialog. Additionally, you can also play back your multimedia clip with the transcription in a “follow along” mode where application will highlight each section of text in sequence as the transcript unfolds. Transcripts can also be searched for specific words, which can be very helpful when looking through longer transcripts.

There are a few things about Transcriva that take some getting used to. The first is that the application stores your transcripts internally. There is no external file created when a transcript is saved and while this is certainly convenient, the lack of a traditional file saving option can be a bit disconcerting. This also means that there is no easy way to make a copy of your transcripts, which is a feature I’d really like to see in future versions of the app. Given how many hours can go into creating a transcript, having the software do an auto-backup seems like a good idea.

Media Clip Management

The other thing I found is that not surprisingly, typing a transcript means a great deal of pausing and replaying of the original media clip. If you use the prominent QuickTime transport controls at the top of the main work area, it’s going to be a slow and somewhat frustrating process because each time you need to rewind or advance the media clip, your hands have to leave the keyboard and return to the mouse to click the appropriate button. A far better way to control playback is through the use of keyboard shortcuts. Unfortunately, the controls that define these shortcuts live inside the application’s preferences panel and are far too easy to overlook. In fact, I had transcribed about a third of my test scene before I noticed they were there. Once I realized that I could play/pause my clip from the keybaord, my speed increased and my overall workflow was much improved. In fact, it’s such an essential function of Transcriva that I wish it were more prominent, to ensure that new users know about the feature and don’t rely on the far less convenient playback buttons while transcribing.

Lastly, when entering the Follow-Along mode where Transcriva highlights the text of your transcript in sync with the associated media file, I found myself wishing that the highlight around the text was a bit more pronounced to make it easier to pick out the current section of text. The subtle blue color simply doesn’t stand out enough against the light grey of the main window. Until you notice the color change, it’s hard to see that the feature is working as it should, which might frustrate first time users.

In the final analysis, Transcriva 2 is a well-executed and thoughtful application that gives users a variety of specialized tools for creating good-looking transcripts with a minimum of hassle, provided that you use the keyboard shortcuts.  The price is a very reasonable $29.99 and it’s definitely worth a test drive if you need this kind of functionality. Transcriva 2 is $29.99 and requires OS X 10.5. An intel processor is also recommended.