Winbond Electronics has produced a sub-$10 chip that is capable of converting text to speech in either American English or Mandarin Chinese without the aid of a microprocessor, the company announced yesterday.

The chip, the WTS701, will allow devices with limited memory and processing power, such as mobile phones, to incorporate text-to-speech functions, it said. This is a another good step forward for translation and other speech/text services, but doesn't yet solve the real problem of turning speech into text.

Among other interest groups these advances should especially help those less able to use new media services, such as the blind. Winbond claims that the WTS701, which relies on recorded human voice samples, offers a more natural-sounding voice than other computer-generated speech systems.

The chip stores basic sound elements which can then be combined into meaningful words and phrases using a concatenation (chaining) algorithm. Doing away with the need for separate processing power lowers the cost and power consumption of the device, making it viable for a wider range of applications.

The chip can be used for a variety of functions, such as reading emails, SMS (short message service) messages, instant messages, web pages, news, weather, sports and stock quotes, the company said.

The WTS701 is expected to ship in volume during the first quarter of 2002 and currently supports American English and Mandarin Chinese, but can be programmed to offer support for any other language, Winbond said in a statement.