Omnimaga => News => Topic started by: critor on September 08, 2013, 04:31:20 pm

Title: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on September 08, 2013, 04:31:20 pm

Hi everyone,

We've received our new TI-84 Plus Orion talking calculator. It's coming with OS 2.55/ORk, and one of the first things we tried was to install it on other TI-84 Plus. It works perfectly, even on TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, revealing us a correctly displayed new model name, "Orion TI-84 Plus Silver Edition" instead of "Orion TI-84 Plus", an hypothetic future upgrade.
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But of course without the talking module the OS brings nothing more than 2.55MP, and so that's why we're going to test it on a real TI-84 Plus Orion for you.

Table of contents
We've already talked about the Orion TI-84+ in several previous  ( news ( when it's been seen at the 2013 T3 conference and when it got released, but here's an overview :
The TI-84 Plus Orion is actually a standard TI-84 Plus, installed with a modified OS 2.55 MP: In addition to standard functions, it communicates with the module that is physically attached (screwed) to the top of the calculator.
The Orion 84+ is destined to be used by blind or visually impaired people as it opens the doors to graphing calculators: speech synthesis for each key pressed, the ability to "read" what is displayed on the screen, "hearing" the graphs (see below for details), to vibrate in some cases (haptic feedback) ...
We had the chance to get a unit (thank you TI !), and here are some more info now :-)

The calculator comes in its package alongside many accessories / additional content (or at least the one we received, we're not sure if it's a prototype ?) :
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The Orion TI-84 Plus calculator consists of a TI-84 Plus on top of which resides the actual Orion module. A dedicated, longer than usual slidecase (with APH / Orbit Research logos) protects both the calculator and its module, quite useful against unwanted keypresses when moving etc.

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The 84 Plus Orion weighs of course a bit heavier than a standard 84
Dimensions : 9.3"x3.5"x1", or 23.62x8.9x2.54 cm.

Here are the main features we've explored so far ::

First, the module annouces (rate/voice changeable), in English of course, the keys you press. But in context, it is not necessarily a simple reading of the current key, it can detect that you are writing a number and will thus read the number itself and not the last digit typed (it also applies to the results of a calculation). If you are in the list editor or the table of a graph, it reads the values ??according to the coordinates of the current point, etc.. It is also able to read the words that are written or returned by a program. Iit is actually a real text-to-speech ("sonograph technology") that does the job :-)
And the reading speed, or rather we should say the ability to quickly speak the keys pressed is impressive, there is no delay (it would have been annoying...).

We can't forget to talk about graphs ;-) :
When the calculator is in the process of graphing something like a function, the user knows it thanks to the audio feedback based on the ends of the curve (or at least, it's a easily reconizable noise that happens to fit what we was pltting at that time), and when the tracing is completed, the module describes the graph with a sound whose pitch fluctuates according to the variations of the curve (and a particular sound is produced when the x-axis is crossed). It's very well done !
You can see/hear it in the video below.

Let’s also note that the module reminds the user that the calculator will turn off soon (APD - automatic power down annoucement)

We almost forgot : the module does also make the whole calculator vibrate, under certain conditions.

We still couldn’t explore all the Orion features, but it’s currently a very powerful and versatile module :)

The module itself has several keys (sound level, preferences , repeat, "Manual" screen reading, etc.), which make it even more useful.

The mini-USB port on the voice module allows recharging, as well as updating its firmware when connected to a computer. It is apparently not possible to exchange data with other calculators or a computer using this port, suggesting that the module is presenting itself to the calculator as an USB device and does not include an USB hub. To exchange data, you will therefore need to use the 2.5mm mini-jack cable (not provided), or remove the voice module (although this is not supposed to be done), so in both cases, it isn't very convenient...

The micro-USB port on the voice module, not mentioned in the documentation is still a mystery. The computer doesn’t detect the module when this port is used. However, the website states it's in order to connect other devices, but with no further details (or maybe it’s to connect the Braille printer that's talked about ? ). Anyway, no micro-USB adapter or cable is included.

And as mentioned above, the 3.5mm jack port is used to connect stereo headphones or speakers.

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Compatibility with peripherals
We now propose you to test the compatibility of the TI-84 Plus Orion equipped with its module with some devices or accessories. As implied above, unless you remove the voice module (operation not originally planned as the module is screwed), you can exclude a priori all devices requiring the USB. But we still have some choice .

Let's start for example with the TI-Kickstand ( :

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As you can see, this is a special cover/slidecase designed for the TI-84 Plus case types (which therefore also includes the TI-89 Titanium and TI-83 USB Black 2013), putting them in an inclined position, which is very comfortable. Normally two inclinations are possible thanks to a flap which is housed in one of two parallel slots in the back of the calc. Here, the voice module completely blocks the access to the top slot (because it's used to receive the screws attaching the module), but not the bottom slot, which allows to use the TI-kickstand, but only in its maximum angle position.

As a device which doesn’t require the USB and uses the mini-Jack, we’ve got the TI-Keyboard. Are such key presses going to be handled the same way by the system and announced by the voice module like the calculator keys? Discover it in the video ;)

In summary : the keyboard itself works very well through the 2.5mm jack port on the module, which is a good thing, but the module reactions are strange and depend upon what we are doing. The main (maybe unintended) advantage is that the keyboard typed keys aren’t annonced, which would have made a great commotion if that was the case. But some texts tend to be read twice (two times in a row) by the module. We’re going to report the bug and hope for an update

- The calculator is on sale for just $599 from its official website:
Too bad it's so expensive : ( But hey, for the visually impaired , we guess it's a good investment :-)

- For the ones interested, it's possible to follow the evolution of the module versions :

- Full online documentation :

- A small downside that we noticed during my few experiments: it happens, probably very rarely in standard use, though : the module gets "out of sync" and thus the connection with the calculator is lost. It does not crash the calculator nor module, but it will no longer work with the calculator as expected. We simply have to reset it, then (keystroke calculator + restart) to make them function again :) we think some ASM programs can cause this more easily / often than during standard use.
But after all, these programs are not "made ??for" Orion and the frequency of use of such programs for a typical Orion user is probably zero.

- The calculator has a modified 2.55MP operating system (the changes adding the code dealing with the voice module), dubbed 2.55/ORk as already mentionned in a previous news ( We also discover that it’s including the old Boot Code 1.02. But nothing unusual a priori , since it's obviously an old hardware revision, P, while 1.03 Boot Code was introduced with hardware revision Q.
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Co-writen by Adriweb and Critor

Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on September 09, 2013, 08:30:05 am
As discoverted in the first post (, the Orion TI-84 Plus voice module has a text to speech technology which lets it announce the characters present on the screen, but also numbers and even words!
It would be nice to export new 2.55/ORk OS additional routines, and to use them in programs and games to announce menus or events for a greater user experience.

But did you also notice about the SonoGraph technology, which describes graphs variations by fluctuating the sound pitch?
This could easily be exploited to play music within games, if the appropriate routines are exported.

Just check what we've already achieved:

As you probably noticed, the calculator doesn't freeze while the sound is being played, meaning that the voice module has its own cpu.
Just imagine what could be achieved for games with the Orion talking module...

Read more in the news:
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Sorunome on September 09, 2013, 09:12:32 am
Ha, nice news!
I like how they managed to get the audio output on the graphs :) Is there some way to repeat the audio output while the graph is already drawn?
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on September 09, 2013, 10:38:10 am
Yes, with the Trace key I think.
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Adriweb on September 09, 2013, 12:13:52 pm
Also the buttons on the module itself.
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Sorunome on September 09, 2013, 02:02:14 pm
oh, nice! :D
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: DJ Omnimaga on September 10, 2013, 04:26:59 am
To be honest I'm glad this is a separate module in some ways, because if the calc ever breaks then you can get a replacement one and upgrade the OS without spending $500 again. Also seeing what TI did with the 84+CSE, they would most likely have stuck with a 15 MHz CPU, so if it had to run Orion's sound processing, it would have slowed the calc down greatly.
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on September 22, 2013, 10:03:40 am
By the way, once the correct OS is installed, the Orion TI-84 Plus Silver Edition does perfectly work:

And remember to help! :P

More informations: (not available in english yet)
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Sorunome on September 22, 2013, 12:22:34 pm
I like how it reads the whole about screen :P
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Streetwalrus on September 22, 2013, 12:30:13 pm
LOL yeah. :P
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on September 24, 2013, 08:22:21 pm
The Orion voice module hardware - is it worth the price?

Content not available in english yet, but you might be interested into having a look at the photos already.

Motherboard connectivity:
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Motherboard chips:
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Yes... Two ARM processors... Far more powerful than the calculator itself! :P
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Juju on September 24, 2013, 08:56:52 pm
No wonder why it costs way more than the calculator itself.
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Lionel Debroux on September 25, 2013, 02:00:28 am
I'd be surprised if the manufacturing costs of the Orion voice module hardware exceeded $70, probably even $50, in production volume ;)
It would be interesting to see where the price tag is being inflated by an order of magnitude (Orion itself selling the product with high margin ? Distributors making their usual abusive price inflation ? Something else ?).

The three chips, namely a CS43L22-CNZ (Cirrus Logic Portable Audio DAC with Integrated Class D Speaker Driver), a STM32F405VGT6 (ST Microelectronics Cortex-M4 with embedded RAM and Flash) and a STM32F205RET6 (ST Microelectronics Cortex-M3 with embedded RAM and Flash), cost less than $20 overall. Add the screen and PCB... probably still under $30 overall. USB, jack connectors, speakers, vibrators... probably still under $40 overall.
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: Sorunome on September 25, 2013, 02:12:28 am
would it be possible to make asm progs do orion the calculation and have the calculator act as a slave, only to send keypresses and output to screen?
Better prozessor -> better games! :D
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on September 25, 2013, 07:04:50 am
For the moment, the Orion module does identify itself as a ViewScreen panel.
So communication is only one way: calculator to module.

Supposing the hardware is capable of that, we would probably need a custom firmware.
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on November 22, 2013, 07:26:18 pm
Great news - the Orion talking module for the TI-84 Plus does include 9 differente voices (4 male, and 5 female) associated with common first names.

Discover them in my latest video:
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: critor on November 23, 2013, 11:30:57 am
The TI-84 Plus Orion module has a complete setup menu, except that it's an audio menu.
Now discover its full retranscription:
Title: Re: Orion TI-84 Plus Hands-on review
Post by: DJ Omnimaga on November 25, 2013, 07:34:23 pm
Seems pretty nice. That might be helpful if some people understand certain voices better or if some voices annoys the hell ouf of them for any reason. I wonder how much space does the entire audio data take?