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article imageOp-Ed: The Hottest tech of the year: Part 4 Special

By Jack Kapica     Dec 7, 2010 in Technology
Printers: There were few new thrills with printers, but manufacturers still seem to be more hung up on awful marketing tactics
Every year I hope for a revolution in printers. I want a change as dramatic as the one I experienced when I moved from an old Underwood upright to the rattley-banging of daisy-wheels, to the eep-eep of dot-matrix printers and finally to the more sophisticated murmurs of lasers. I keep hoping for ink-jet printers that don’t gum up when they’re not used every week, or colour lasers that can do a good job on photos.
Instead of technological advances, I get annoying innovations in marketing. I’ve been told too often to swing at curves thrown at me by printer makers pretending to make my life less expensive while making it just the opposite. For instance, a number of years ago printer manufacturers stopped shipping their products with USB cables, which I’m sure they did just to make their products appear to be cheaper. But that meant I had to buy a separate USB cable (at retail), probably from another manufacturer; I added this cable’s retail price to the price of the printer, and concluded that the price tag on the printer was a con job.
These days, we’re being thrown a spitball: Many inkjet and laser printers are being sold with ink or toner cartridges that are only half full. This is even more insidious than the extra USB cable cost: You can’t buy inkjet or toner cartridges from any manufacturer except the one that made the printer, thanks to U.S. court decisions saying that the cartridges are the intellectual of the manufacturer and no one can compete with them.
The best example of this was a printer I saw a few months ago, a colour laser, which was priced just below $200. Wow! What a bargain. But the shock would come soon enough after buying it. With half-full toner cartridges, you’d have to buy new ones pretty soon. The cost? $50 for each colour cartridge. With three colour cartridges plus one for black, that would mean … another $200. Were they thinking I couldn’t do the math? It wasn’t so long ago that I could buy a colour laser with full cartridges for less than $400.
If I had my druthers, I’d prefer to buy a new USB cable. Even at retail they’re cheaper than toner cartridges.
Why do manufacturers do this? The concept is to market printers at near give-away prices, while turning the buyer into a captive consumer who must buy inks and toners only from the printer maker. The makers (notably Lexmark) were desperately suing third-party cartridge makers a few years ago under the recently toughened U.S. intellectual property laws. It wasn’t any principle of intellectual property they were defending (although that was their legal strategy), but protecting a business model based on putting a ring through consumers’ noses.
I can’t wait to see what new and wonderful marketing pitches they’re going to throw at us in the future.
Sorry about this rant against these tricks. I just had to get it off my chest. What I really want to talk about is new technologies.
Among this year’s printers, I did see two rays of hope, though neither of them went any way to creating a new marketing strategy. One was from Hewlett Packard, which introduced a line of printers based on what HP calls the e-Print platform, which allows users to send images to remote printers using the Web, which is a good idea beyond the obvious (more on this later), and from Epson, which is making serious moves to claim a position as the printer for the art market.
When it unveiled this year’s line of printers and projectors, Epson set aside a special area showing off the sophistication and quality of its printing technology for artists, and decorated the area with large prints of photos by professional digital photographers.
They were stunning.
For the first time I saw that really high-quality prints could be made with relatively straightforward inkjet printer technology. Epson’s point is that you don’t have to spend ferocious amounts of money to get high-quality prints; you’d have to shell out the big bucks for only two features: large-format pictures, meaning 11-by-14 inches and larger, and printers using premium inks. Otherwise, the technology is the same.
The Epson Stylus Photo r1900 offers eight premium colour inks.
The Epson Stylus Photo r1900 offers eight premium colour inks.
Epson
The message was quite clear: Epson’s technology is up to the job of museum-quality printing (if, of course, you’re a museum-quality photographer, which is another issue entirely). I took a very close look at a number of those prints, and they certainly looked like they had been produced by a pale technician reeking of chemicals in an old-school darkroom.
As far as large-format printing is concerned, the prices of mid-level machines aren’t staggering. Epson offers three models capable of handling 13-inch wide prints: The Stylus Photo 1400 ($369.99); the Stylus Photo R1900 (eight-colour premium inks, $599.99) and the Stylus Photo R2880 (stronger premium inks with extra magenta and “Radiance” technology for smoother colour gradations, $869.99). It’s only when you get to the hard-core professional machines that the prices get vertiginous, running from the Stylus Pro 3880 (17-inch-wide format, $1,400) to the Stylus Pro WT7900 (24-inch-wide format, $9,175).
Epson’s Artisan 725 is called an all-in-one  by which it means it can print  scan and copy  but no...
Epson’s Artisan 725 is called an all-in-one, by which it means it can print, scan and copy, but not fax.
Epson
The models introduced this year are more consumer-oriented. Two models both priced at $199.99 include the Epson Artisan 725, which is the black version of the all-white Epson Artisan 725 Arctic Edition. They’re both all-in-one printers, meaning print, scan and copy (not fax) and can connect to the home wireless network. The Artisan 835 ($299.99) offers a 7.8-inch touch panel screen and built-in wireless and Ethernet networking. Another all-in-one, the 835 will print from a mobile device and has software to create photo books, greeting cards, or coloring-book pages.
Epson NX 625 is a family printer intended for multiple users making different demands on it.
Epson NX 625 is a family printer intended for multiple users making different demands on it.
Epson
A family printer, the Stylus NX625 ($149.99) is an all-in-one is intended for multiple users making different demands on it. It will print from mobile devices, automatically do two-sided printing, and has a 2.5-inch colour LCD.
Office printers, for non-photo colour work, include Epson’s WorkForce 60 ($109.99), aimed at small business or home-based business owners who need durable spot-colour output, and offers a high-capacity black ink cartridge for business text uses. The WorkForce 323 ($99.99) is an entry-level all-in-one business product for small offices or home businesses with optical character recognition software.
Up-market small-business printers include Epson’s WorkForce 633 ($199.99), which offers better image quality, and automatic two-sided printing.
Epson’s Brightlink 450W offers an interactive projector-and-pen combination that works without req...
Epson’s Brightlink 450W offers an interactive projector-and-pen combination that works without requiring a special board for whiteboard work.
Epson
The real surprise — to me, at least, though I suspect it’s been around a while before I became aware of it — is a feature in Epson’s digital projectors. It’s called automatic keystone, which automatically corrects the trapezoidal image you get when you project an image at a screen that isn’t at a perfect 90-degree angle to the projector. How this works is beyond me, but the first time you see it in action you’re convinced it’s a small work of magic.
That feature is available in a number of projectors, including the business-oriented three EX-series projectors that offer 3LCD technology and USB Plug-and-Play instant setup for both Windows and Macs. They run between $599.99 and $799.99. Epson’s BrightLink 450Wi ($2,375) projector is another interesting bit of technology, which offers an interactive projector-and-pen combination that works without requiring a special board for whiteboard work. Presenters can capture notes and ideas on a virtual whiteboard that can be distributed via email or saved to a networked drive even before the meeting attendees have left the room.
There are projectors aimed at recreational use — the MovieMate 62 ($649) includes a built-in CD/DVD player and speakers; it’s designed for movies, live TV, video games or photo slide shows. The MovieMate 85HD ($899) is the higher-definition (720P) version of the MovieMate 62, and the PowerLite Home Cinema 8350 ($1, 399) is the 1080p version.
For its part, Hewlett Packard isn’t thinking of the art crowd at all with its new printers, keeping its focus on business users and hobbyists. It has created the e-Print and Share technology, which allows users to blast pictures over the Web, via Ethernet or wireless devices, to its Web-connected printers. Every e-Print printer has been programmed to have has a unique email address for just this purpose.
For consumers, HP promotes e-Print as a way to print a picture, presentation or PDF file by emailing it to a printer, from anywhere in the world; e-Print supports up to 10 attachments to a single email (within a 5MB limit per email). The protocol allows for printing to be done from Blackberry, iPhone and Symbian smartphones, and users can specify print settings, such as duplex, black-and-white printing, orientation and page size. And for security, there is an option to place a printer in “protected” mode, limiting access by creating a “preferred sender” list.
Moreover, HP is taking a leaf from the pages of RIM, Apple and Android by creating downloadable applications, or apps, from partners like Yahoo, Facebook and Disney, that will print coupons, maps, recipes, greeting cards or colouring pages. HP promotes this as adding value by customizing prints with messages, promotions and information. Users can also register to schedule news or content feeds of their choice through the HP ePrintCenter.
HP Photosmart eStation combines full Web browsing with printing  faxing without a phone line  copyin...
HP Photosmart eStation combines full Web browsing with printing, faxing without a phone line, copying and scanning.
Hewlett Packard
Intended as an ideal product for home and small offices, the HP Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One Printer C510a ($399.99 Cdn.) combines full Web browsing with printing (you can download and print directly from the Web), faxing without a phone line, copying, and scanning. It has a detachable, full-color, 7-inch touchscreen that doubles as a wireless digital companion and control panel for remote printing. It has a widget for buying books from the U.S. chain Barnes & Noble and offers templates for calendars and games using HP’s Quick Forms feature.
But concentrating on the appeal for consumers would be underselling the idea.
For instance, HP has embedded e-Print and Share into its large-format T7100 printers ($10,575), which are sold as “collaborative” machines for business efficiency. Both use the ePrint and Share technology to allow design professionals to create, print, share and manage project files online using desktop or mobile devices. The technology was created for medium and large architecture, engineering and construction firms and enterprise businesses to work through the HP ePrint Center, an online hub.
HP Deskjet 3050 all-in-one is a PVC-free product made with 35 per cent recycled plastics  its HP Ori...
HP Deskjet 3050 all-in-one is a PVC-free product made with 35 per cent recycled plastics, its HP Original cartridges contain up to 70 per cent recycled plastic, and even the packaging uses recyclable cardboard.
Hewlett Packard
The ePrint technology isn’t the only thing HP is pushing as new technology. The company insists you know about how “green” the company is, reminding potential buyers that its HP Deskjet 3050 All-in-One is made with 35 per cent recycled plastics, its HP Original cartridges contain up to 70 per cent recycled plastic, that the packaging uses recyclable cardboard, it is PVC free and the printer reduces paper use by up to 50 per cent with double-sided printing.
HP’s Office Deskjet Pro 8500 uses up to 50 per cent less energy than colour laser All-in-One print...
HP’s Office Deskjet Pro 8500 uses up to 50 per cent less energy than colour laser All-in-One printers, generates up to 80 per cent less supplies waste and prints colour documents for up to 50 per cent less cost per page.
Hewlett Packard
About the Officejet Pro 8500A e-All-in-One series, HP says it uses up to 50 per cent less energy than colour laser All-in-One printers, generates up to 80 per cent less supplies waste and prints colour documents for up to 50 per cent less cost per page.
I confess I would never have imagined a printer with apps on it, acting like an iPhone or BlackBerry. Creating such a thing requires imagination, and HP is certainly showing that.
But I will still have to wait for a laser printer that offers great photographs.
Part 1 of The Hottest Tech of the Year: Television
Part 2 of the Hottest Tech of the Year: Smartphones
Part 3 of the Hottest Tech of the Year: Cameras
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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