Category: Computer Hardware

Product Review–Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction colour inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction colour inkjet printer which is part of Brother’s newest generation of colour business inkjet printers that follows on from the MFC-J5720DW that I previously reviewed.

There is a cheaper model in this lineup, known as the MFC-J5330DW that has a single A4/A3 tray, a paper bypass feed that only handles one sheet, doesn’t come with the single-pass duplex scan, and has a smaller user-interface screen But this printer uses the same high-capacity ink cartridges and is able to print to A3 using that same landscape-printing technique.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour 2 x A3 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-Jet 1200×2400 dpi resolution (platen) ID Copy
Book Copy
100 sheet A3 Ethernet
Wi-Fi
Own-access-point Wi-Fi
Auto-Duplex Single-Pass Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Colour Fax via phone
Email-based T.37 IP Fax
Scan-to-email
Print-from-email
TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Printing USB – PictBridge PDF
JPG
TIFF
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
Windows Mobile printing
MoPria support
Brother iPrint&Scan native app
Online Services Print From Scan To
Dropbox
OneDrive
Box.com
Facebook
Evernote
Flickr
SMB NAS
Dropbox
OneDrive
Box.com
Multiple Users for Online Services Yes
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services No

 

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$369

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$46.45 550 AUD$68.95 3000
Cyan AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500
Magenta AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500
Yellow AUD$30.50 550 AUD$44.95 1500

The printer itself

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer control panel

Control panel with touchscreen and traditional keyboard

Unlike the Brother MFC-J5720DW, the Brother MFC-J5730 doesn’t convey the sleek looks that make printers of this class attractive. Here, the unit is styled in a more conventional approach that is very similar to Brother’s laser multifunction printers with the control panel keyboard that you use for entering numbers very similar to most other office-grade printers. This may be more user-friendly for those of us who are confused with touch-panel keyboards that light up on an “as-required” basis.

Connectivity and Setup

The printer can connect directly to your computer via a USB cable. But it can connect to your home or small business network using Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless that supports most connection setups. It can even create its own Wi-Fi access point which just exists for printing and scanning, but I personally would like to see the ability to be its own access point to “extend” coverage of a wireless network with this feature able to be disabled by management IT along with supporting “business” access point requirements. The network functionality is future-proof in that it supports IPv6 addressing, a real requirement as we run out of public IPv4 network addresses.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer detailed function display

Black-on-white detailed function display

Like all of the recent Brother inkjet printer generations, the cables for the USB or Ethernet connections is snaked in under the scanner rather than being connected to a socket on the back of the printer. The same holds true for the phone and line connections that you would need to use if this machine is being used as a fax.

The setup experience is very similar to the previous Brother printers but this is improved thanks to the larger LCD display that the printer is equipped with. Some of you may find that the black-on-white display which is implemented in this generation of printers  may be a bit awkward to use when working the menus.

Paper Handling

The Brother MFC-J5730DW implements the same paper-feed options as its predecessor model that is: to use two paper drawers up front as well as a bypass feed slot on the back of the printer capable of handling many sheets of paper. These drawers can be extended out so you can load A3 or Ledger paper in the machine, but they leave the paper exposed, which can cause it to attract dust, thus leading to unreliable operation. Here, Brother could answer this problem by integrating a larger slide-out flap in each of these trays which comes out whenever you load the tray with larger paper sizes.

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer output tray

Output shelf separate from the upper paper tray

Printed documents end up on a separate output shelf rather than one that is integrated in one of the paper drawers. This makes the job of topping up the paper supply in that drawer easier because you are not having to extend or collapse the output shelf.

The ability for the Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer to print to A3 or Ledger paper from either the bypass feed or any of the paper trays. This has been due to Brother implementing the “landscape” paper feed for the standard document sizes. This means that the print head works along the long edge of the paper and has allowed for documents to be printed very quickly while allowing for a relatively-compact printer design.

The scanner’s automatic document feeder doesn’t share that same compact look as the previous generation of A4 business inkjet printers that Brother issued. Here, it looks like the automatic document feeder installed on Brother’s “full-A3” inkjet multifunction printers or their laser/LED-based multifunction printers. The other missing feature for this model is that the glass platen for manual scanning is still only able to handle A4 or Letter document sizes, where I would prefer these units to have a Legal-sized glass platen for documents that are on Legal or foolscap paper sizes.

The automatic document feeder in this model implements single-pass duplex scanning but the paper path is still the “U-shaped” path which can be of concern when you are dealing with brittle paper like thin letter-writing paper. Here, it is a design limitation associated with scanners that are required to support manual and sheet-fed scanning, but could be improved upon by supporting a “two-way” feed setup.

Like with the previous models, the scanner lid on the Brother MFC-J5730DW can be pulled up at the rear so you can scan or copy thicker documents but I would like to see this improved upon by allowing you to lay the multipurpose feed tray flat so you can easily position thicker originals further up the back.

Walk-up functions

The Brother MFC-J5730DW only supports USB-connected media like USB thumbdrives or SD card readers for local data storage. This can be a limitation if you deal frequently with digital photos, where I would like to see it support PictBridge “direct-from-camera” printing or printing from SD and CompactFlash cards.

You also have the Brother MFC-J5730DW able to work as a capable up-to-date colour fax machine with T.37-compliant email-based Internet fax functionality.

This includes the fact that Brother MFC-J5730DW offers a “fax-to-cloud” feature for standard faxes where incoming documents can be forwarded to a folder on an online storage service as soon as they arrive. This offers an Internet-based “fax-vault” functionality so that the machine isn’t printing out every fax that comes in, making it easy for others who have access to your office like contract cleaners or night-shift workers to be snooping on your confidential incoming faxes when you are not there. This is also in conjunction to being able to have faxes forwarded to a fax number or email address or sent to your regular Windows computer, functions that Brother had offered for handling incoming faxes.

Speaking of cloud services, Brother offers access to the common online services for scanning and printing. This means that you could print a photo from Facebook, a document from Dropbox or scan a document to OneDrive for you to work with on your laptop.  The cloud services also include the ability to print notepaper, graph paper, music manuscript paper and similar form documents, a feature that competing printer vendors have been offering for a while. But these documents can be improved upon such as simply providing the music paper without any clef markings so you could write manuscript for different instruments and ensembles.

Computer functions

At the moment, Brother still supplies model-specific drivers for their printers rather than offering a monolithic driver that can cover a product range. This applies to the desktop operating systems although they offer a single piece of software for the mobile operating systems. A single piece of software that covers one or more product ranges could make it easier for those of us who standardise on a particular manufacturer’s devices to set a computer up for newer printers.

But these drivers installed properly on my Windows 10 computer without throwing any error messages. They also provide the same “at-a-glance” dashboard that Brother uses for their printers. The print jobs had come through properly and reliably as would be expected.

The scan software that Brother provides hasn’t been improved upon for a long time and could be worked on, especially in the context of “editing” multiple-page scans. Here, it could support the ability to do things like re-scanning a single page so as to correct scanning mistakes like skewed pages or “splitting” a scan job to two or more documents. The latter situation may be of benefit if you are using the machine’s automatic document feeder to expedite the scanning of multiple documents and would earn its keep with the Brother MFC-J5730 and other machines equipped with a single-pass duplex scanner.

I have used this printer with my Android phone and it worked properly when I wanted it to print out an email attachment. This was using the Brother-supplied Android Print Services plug-in for the Android platform, but the printer can work with Mopria-compliant print-service plug-ins.

Print / scan speed and quality

Like most inkjet printers, the Brother took a similar amount of time to get going with the first page of the print job.

Pigment-based inks and pipe-based ink-distribution are part of this generation of Brother inkjet printers

But I have focused the print-quality tests in a way to show up the print quality offered by the new pigment-based ink setup that Brother implemented in this generation of inkjet printers compared to the previous generation machines. Here, this generation of business inkjet printers integrates the pipe-based ink-flow system, piezo-based printhead design and the pigment-based ink chemistry in to equipment designed to offer value for money at a price most people and businesses can consider.

As well, I have allowed for a firmware update to take place to assess the print quality for these newer machines.

The Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction printer was able to turn out regular office documents very clearly and there wasn’t much difference in the quality of these standard print jobs.

But when it comes to presentation-grade printing, be it a poster to put up on that noticeboard, a presentation handout to give to your attendees or a photo to put in your album, this is where the real tests show up. This also applies to those of us who use these printers to turn out inkjet proofs of documents we intend to have printed by someone else before we engage the printing service to have them printed.

You may have to use the “vivid” setting in the printer driver to make sure that presentation-grade work doesn’t look dull, as I have tried with a noticeboard “tear-off” poster to promote this Website.

But I have compared output quality for photo printing against the MFC-J5720DW which represents Brother’s previous generation of printers. Here, the photos came across with slightly more saturated with flesh tones coming across slightly more red compared to the previous model. This is a very similar look to what comes across with magazines or with most TV broadcasts where there is that stronger colour effect.

What is happening is that Brother is pushing their business inkjet printers towards the same standard as the HP OfficeJet 8600a which was a printer of this class that was known for sharp vibrant presentation-grade image quality.

As for scanning and copying, the Brother MFC-J5730DW had yielded a clear sharp image for the documents that were scanned. But it needed to be configured for the standard A4 paper size when you set up the scan software for working with most office documents if you are in Europe, Asia, Oceania and other areas where these sizes are normally used. This was because it was set up by default for the US Letter paper size, normally used in North America.

Brother hasn’t yet rectified a problem that I find with copying or scanning from the glass platen. This is where the document edge is clipped by a few millimetres and can affect jobs where you deal with documents are printed “to the edge” like credit and ID cards or news clippings, but you want to align the document against the platen’s edge to avoid skewing.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Brother could equip this printer with a Legal-size scan platen rather than the standard A4 / Letter platen. Here, it could cater towards situations where you are dealing with documents written on Legal-size or foolscap-size notepads which can be a reality when you are digitally archiving very old material. As well, they could support “to-the-edge” scanning so that documents that are placed against the edge of the glass aren’t clipped.

Brother could make better use of the network connection on these printers so people can benefit from these connections especially where there is on-premises network-storage options available to that network. This is more so for small businesses and community organisations who may prefer to use a small desktop network-attached-storage system or file server in addition or in lieu of an online service for this purpose.

For example, they could provide a walk-up print option that allows you to print documents that exist in a folder shared via your network or an Internet location using SMB, FTP or HTTP protocols using the machine’s LCD control panel. This feature could allow an organisation to create a “document library” or “stationery library” shared using an on-site server or NAS that has documents or pro-forma stationery which can be printed as required. This idea can extend to public Websites or organisation-specific intranet sites that host a collection of “download-to-print” resources.

These “print from network” setups could be configured through the printer’s Web-based admin dashboard or through the printer’s control panel. There could be the ability to remember resource-specific passwords for network shares or Web pages that are protected with passwords or require the user to supply them each time they print documents from these resources while allowing for SSL encryption where applicable. Here, it avoids the need just to rely on Dropbox & co to provide these resources.

To the same extent, the Brother “MFC-series” fax-capable multifunction printers could use a network-shared folder to hold incoming or outgoing faxes for later printing or sending. Here, this can capitalise on the idea of a “fax-vault” used to assure confidentiality when it comes to inbound documents, or to allow an organisation who does a lot of overseas business to hold the overseas faxes to be delivered to the partners according to their “local morning” time.

Similarly, Brother could support PictBridge camera-based digital printing for their business printers. This is where you can print pictures from your digital camera using a suitably-equipped printer just by connecting the camera to that printer and using the camera’s control surface to print the pictures. Such a feature can come in very handy if you need to turn out “proof-quality” prints of the photos you had taken in order to show them to others.

Brother can also use some of the neat-looking design aspects from the previous generation of business inkjet multifunction printers along with the new print-engine design to develop a range of consumer-focused A4/Photo inkjet multifunction printers that use the same consumables as these business printers. Here, these machines could be positioned as a secondary printer for the home network or as an entry-level printer for one’s home-computing setup.

Similarly, they could offer a single-function A3/Ledger printer based on these printer designs to allow people to add large-sheet printing to their document-handling needs without having to replace their existing A4 multifunction that has served them well.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Brother has just about achieved its goal in yielding a business inkjet printer that can excel with presentation printing as well as regular office-document printing tasks. This was more important for me where the goal was to see something answer HP’s well-known OfficeJet 8600 series of business inkjet printers when it comes to this task. As well, I placed importance on this feature with these printers due to the fact that the Brother MFC-J5730DW and its peers can print on A3 or Ledger paper, a size that yields very strongly with presentation-grade printing jobs.

What the printer manufacturers need to do is to keep themselves interested in maintaining their business inkjet printer lineup as something that is about high-quality presentation-grade printing especially on A3 paper as well as turning out ordinary office documents. It can encourage everyone else in the small-business desktop printer game to compete against each other when it comes to presentation-level output quality as well as their equipment’s functionality. What it can lead to is companies like HP, Brother, Epson, Canon and others to keep a viable product class for machines that can satisfy small-businesses’ and community organisations’ small-run printing needs without losing the quality aspect.

Here, I would recommend the use of the Brother MFC-J5730DW as an all-round small-run workhorse printer for a home office or other small office. This is more so if you expect to doe a significant amount of A3 printing such as to place posters on that noticeboard. You may be able to get away with saving money and buying the cheaper MFC-J5330DW if you rarely do A3 print jobs or don’t place value on double-sided scanning.

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What’s inside your computer (INFOGRAPHIC)

Some of you who have a traditional “three-piece” desktop computer system where there is a separate box where all the activity takes place, may refer to this box of your computer setup as the “hard disk” even though it is known as a “system unit”. This is because the hard disk, amongst the other key computing subsystems like the CPU processor and the RAM exists in that box.

This infographic shows what the key parts of your computer are and is based on one of the newer small-form-factor designs that are common in the office and home.

Desktop computer system unit - inside view

What’s inside your computer

 

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Consumer Electronics Show 2017–Accessories and the Home Network

In this article about the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 that occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada, I will be covering the trends affecting computer peripherals and accessories and the home network.

1: Computer Trends

2: Accessories And The Home Network

Peripherals and Accessories

A very dominant usage case being highlighted for laptops and 2-in-1 computers is the creation of a fully-fledged workstation at your main workspace or game-playing space. This involves connecting the portable computer to at least one larger-sized screen along with a desktop-grade full-size keyboard and mouse. Such workstations may even be the place where you connect extra non-portable storage devices like USB hard disks or optical drives or connect to your network via a blue Ethernet cable rather than the Wi-Fi wireless connection for improved reliability.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon USB-C Thunderbolt-3 detail image - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports will be seen as the way to connect expansion docks, peripherals and the like to your laptop

The USB-C connector and its higher-speed variant, the Thunderbolt 3 connector have been valued as a way to provide a single-cable connection option between your laptop and the normally-sessile peripherals once you used an expansion module, commonly known as a docking station or dock. Here, you would connect all the peripherals to this expansion module then connect your laptop computer to that same device via USB-C or Thunderbolt. This is also underscored by a significant number of these devices being equipped with USB Power Delivery to power the portable computer from that same device, underscoring that “one cable to connect” goal.

Let’s not forget that some manufacturers are integrating this “dock” functionality in to some of their display monitors so that these screens are where you can connect your keyboard, mouse and external hard disk.

Lenovo had pitched the ThinkVision P24h and P27h monitors which have a qHD (2560×1440) display resolution and an sRGB high colour gamut “out of the box”. These monitors, with the super-narrow bezel, implement a USB-C connection to the host computer facilitating a DisplayPort 1.2 connection, the data connection, and a Power Delivery connection with a power budget of 45W, along with a four-port self-powered USB hub.

LG's 32" 4K monitor with HDR10 - press picture courtesy of LG USA

LG’s 32″ 4K monitor with HDR10

LG had teased a 32” 4K monitor which has the narrow bezel and can handle HDR10 video but also offer this similar USB-C connectivity and USB hub. They also tweaked the monitor’s integral speakers for that bit of extra “kick” from the bass. They also are pleasing the gamer clans by offering the UltraFine 34” 5K and 4K UHD gaming monitors with features like AMD’s FreeSync technology and 1ms motion-blur reduction.

Dell had advanced a range of monitors including the UltraSharp 32” 8K UHD model and the 27” Ultrathin monitor which has its electronics housed in its base. This monitor implements USB-C connectivity to the host along with a QHD display.

Dell UP3218K 8K 32" monitor press image courtesy of Dell

It’s not 4K resolution in this Dell 32″ monitor, it is 8K resolution

They even advanced the 24” Touch monitor with an integral 10-point touchscreen along with the 24” Video Conferencing Monitor which has an integral Full-HD IR Webcam that has a privacy shutter. This monitor’s camera also adds on support for facial-recognition login under Windows Hello while the sound is catered for with a pair of 5-watt speakers and a noise-cancelling microphone built in.

Dell S2718D 27" slimline monitor press image courtesy of Dell

Dell’s slimline 27″ monitor with its electronics in its base

Even households aren’t left out with a range of monitors from Dell that are designed with aesthetics and high-grade on-screen experiences. For example, the Dell 24 and 27 monitors (S2418HX / S2718HX) implement the ultra-narrow-bezel design being implemented in most of Dell’s laptops and all-in-ones plus the ability to support HDR along with Waves.Maxx sound tuning.

For those of us who have a screen that currently “ticks the boxes” for our computing experience at our desks, most of the manufacturers are offering highly-capable Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C docks. Remember that you can daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 peripherals from the same Thunderbolt-3 bus, which can open up a range of possibilities.

For example, Lenovo and Dell are offering these expansion modules as part of their official accessory lineups. Lenovo’s contribution is in the form of the ThinkPad Thunderbolt 3 dock (US279) with video connectivity in the form of 2 DisplayPort, HDMI and VGA ports; 5 USB 3.0 ports; audio jack for those speakers; a Gigabit Ethernet port; and USB Power Delivery for the host computer with a power budget of 60 watts. There is a USB-C variant that offers similar functionality for computers not equipped with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.  But Belkin have previewed the Thunderbolt 3 version of their original Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock, which will have 3 USB-3 connections, 2 Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C connections, two audio connections, a DisplayPort video connection and a Gigabit Ethernet connection. This device can supply a USB Power Deliver power-demand of 85 watts, again reducing the need for extra power supplies for your computer.

In the last post I wrote about CES 2017, I had cited Zotac’s external “card-cage” graphics module which uses Thunderbolt 3 connectivity as a way to enhance their “midget PC” product. This isn’t the only product of its kind to appear at this show. MSI also premiered the GUS (Graphics Upgrade System) “card-cage” external GPU system. This is styled for gaming and is a refresh of their original GUS external graphics module that they launched in 2012, but implementing the Thunderbolt 3 standard. It has a 500W power supply and USB 3.0 Type-C and Type-A connections.

Beyond the docking stations or, should I say, expansion modules, there have been a few other computer accessories with one being of note in the form of a Kingston 2Tb USB thumb drive.

The home network

A key trend affecting the home network this year at the CES 2017 is the concept of distributed Wi-Fi wireless systems. This consists of kits that use multiple devices to spread the Wi-Fi network’s coverage over a large area. They have appeared because most householders have run in to issues with their home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment not providing reliable wireless coverage everywhere in their house.

They are typically based on a single chipset and most of them implement a dedicated wireless backhaul between the slave devices and the master access point. A significant number of these devices implement a “mesh” topology where there is a “root” node that works as a router along with multiple access point “nodes” that connect with each other and the “root” node to provide Wi-Fi coverage, using multiple backhaul connections for load-balancing, fail-safe operation and increased bandwidth. Other systems implement the traditional router and range-extender method with a single upstream connection but have a simplified setup method and properly-simple roaming between the access points.

The problem with these systems is that you have to use equipment that is offered by the manufacturer as part of that same system. This means that there isn’t any of the interoperability available which, at the moment, is stifling innovation.

Qualcomm launched their Wi-Fi mesh chipsets which can implement Bluetooth, CSRMesh and Zigbee also to support the “Internet Of Things”. The software is based also around a dedicated software framework and cloud-services. But these systems also support wired backhauls and multiple-hop mesh setups.

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package

D-Link had premiered the Covr distributed Wi-Fi system which consists of a router and a wireless extender that implements the automatic setup and simplified roaming. For those of us with existing home networks, they also offered a Covr HomePlug system consisting of two wireless access points linked by a HomePlug AV2 powerline backbone. Another example that purely uses a Wi-Fi backbone is the NETGEAR Orbi which implements a router and a satellite extender device.

On the other hand, Linksys provided a true-mesh setup in the form of the Velop Wi-Fi system that implements multiple nodes. The Velop system even is able to work with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant such as controlling the guest Wi-Fi network or asking Alexa to quote your network’s credentials. Click or tap on this link to see a Linksys YouTube video which explains what Velop is about if you can’t see it below.

As well, Linksys have launched the WRT32X Gaming Router which implements the Rivet Networks Killer Wi-Fi chipset similar to what is implemented in the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook. Here, it is optimised to work with client devices that implement the Rivet Networks Killer chipsets but is a 3×3 802.11ac MU-MIMO system that supports 160kHz bandwidth. There is also the EA8300 Max-Stream AC2200 Tri-band MU-MIMO Gigabit Router which is a more affordable device based on a 2×2 802.11ac three-radio design. Both these routers are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet for LAN and WAN (Internet) connections.

Linksys even offered a WUSB400M dual-band MU-MIMO 802.11ac USB wireless network adaptor as a way to retrofit your existing laptop or desktop computer for the new-spec Wi-Fi segments. This network adaptor connects to the host computer via USB 3.0 and can work at a 2×2 AC1200 setup.

What Linksys have been offering is a representative of another trend affecting the home network’s Wi-Fi segment where Wi-Fi network infrastructure hardware is working on a simultaneous three-band approach, operating on the 2.4GHz, 5.0GHz and 5.8GHz wavebands at the same time. As well, Wi-Fi repeaters are even being setup to implement the 5GHz bands as the preferred backhaul. Amped Wireless is another company also offering the three-band Wi-Fi network-infrastructure equipment in the form of a router and an extender.

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch – for the home network or home entertainment unit

NETGEAR’s not silent here with the Nighthawk S8000 Media Switch which is a media-optimised Ethernet switch implementing some of the quality-of-service technologies in their managed switches but optimised for household use. As well, this house-friendly switch can support functions like link-aggregation for increased throughput on supported devices like desktop computers and NAS units with two Gigabit Ethernet connections supporting this mode.

This is also intended to complement the Nighthawk X10 gaming and media router which has an integrated Plex Media Server for USB Mass-Storage devices connected to this router’s USB ports. It is also one of the first few home routers to offer 802.11ad WiGig (60GHz) same-room wireless network LAN segment capable of a throughput three times that of the fastest 802.11ac Wi-Fi network; along with the 802.11ac 4×4 MU-MIMO three-band Wi-Fi wireless LAN segment.

As well, there are 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports which can also support port-trunking for failover or high-throughput operation like the Nighthawk S8000 switch along with the WAN (Internet) side being looked after by a Gigabit Ethernet connection. The processing horsepower in this performance router is looked after by a 1.7GHz four-core CPU and it can support VLAN setups of the port or 802.1q tag variety.

Both these devices are pitched at “core” online and VR gaming enthusiasts with those hotted-up gaming rigs along with people who are in to streaming 4K ultra-high-definition TV content. But they can also earn their keep with those of us who run our businesses from home and want “big-business-grade” connectivity for IP-based communications or cloud computing.

Another trend that is surfacing is security-optimised broadband routers for the home network. These offer the “unified threat management” abilities associated with business-grade Internet setups but in a manner that appeals to the ordinary household. The latest from this class of network-Internet “edge” device is the Norton Core router. This device implements content-filtering and security software that is also focused towards the Internet-of-Things devices in your household due to the increased awareness of security risks and poor software maintenance practices associated with these devices.

The self-updating router works with Symantec’s DNS service to prevent DNS hijacks as well as implementing deep-packet inspection on unencrypted traffic to screen for malware and network intrusions. As for encrypted traffic, the Norton Core router will inspect packet headers for and connections of this traffic class. It also comes with Norton Core Security Plus endpoint-protection software which is a variant of the business-grade Security Premium endpoint software and can be run on 20 devices running either Windows, MacOS, iOS or Android but the router is dependent on this endpoint software for the full protection..

Lenovo Smart Storage home NAS press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo Smart Storage home NAS

Most of the network-attached-storage units were focused on the “personal cloud” trend with the device being the centre of your data-storage universe while software and services work to locate these devices from afar. Similarly, some of them are using rich media servers which can do things like obtain further data about your media content. One of these devices is one that Lenovo launched called the Smart Storage 6Tb NAS which implements facial image recognition along with event-driven recognition to make it easier to identify and organise pictures of people just like what Facebook and Windows Photo Gallery were about. This unit has 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi for portable use but can be connected to your home network via an Ethernet cable.

The next article about the 2017 CES will be highlighting the trends affecting home entertainment including the new smart TVs that will be showing up.

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What is my computer’s file-storage system about?

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

How is your data organised on your computer, whether on its main disk or any removable storage connected to it>

A computer always needs to be able to hold programs and data in a non-volatile manner so users can get back to this data when they switch the computer on again. Here this has evolved through different methods and technologies that answered these needs in different ways.

What were these technologies that were available for home computers?

Initially, home-computer users used to have to use audio cassette tapes to store this data. Subsequently, the magnetic diskette, commonly known as the floppy disk due to it being like a piece of card, became the preferred storage method for computers. Typically, the better computer setups would end up with two floppy-disk drives so that two disks can be accessed at once.

USB external hard disk

A USB external hard disk

The early 1980s saw some manufacturers offer high-capacity fixed-disk drives, which were known as “hard disks” as a storage option for computers with this being preferred by business users. These storage devices earned this name as them being seen as an alternative to the old floppy disks.

Subsequently, Sony brought forward the hard-shelled 3.5” “micro-floppy” and this was brought out alongside a similar technology offered by Hitachi and a few other companies. It was to provide a higher-capacity smaller data-storage magnetic disk that was more rugged than the previous designs and appealed to the design of highly-portable computers.

The optical disk, which is based on CD technology, came in to being as an affordable software-distribution and large-data-distribution technology during the mid 1990s. Subsequently, solid-state non-moving flash storage came to fruition from the late 90s as a removable storage medium for digital cameras and PDAs but became more viable for regular computers since the late 2000s.

Since the magnetic disk came on the scene, there was an increased importance placed on organising where the data existed on these storage systems, with an emphasis on such concepts as file systems, volumes and folders or directories. This was because the various magnetic-disk systems were becoming more and more capacious and users needed to know where their data existed. Here, the file system effectively became a hierarchical database for the information you store on your computer and provided a logical relationship between the files and where the bits and bytes that represented them existed on the storage medium.

Desktop computers required the ability for the user to insert and remove any removable media at a moment’s notice but this required the user to be sure that all the data that was written to the medium before they could remove it. This is in contrast to what was required of mainframe and similar computer systems where an operator had to type commands to add the disk to the computer’s file system or remove it from the file system as part of physically attaching and detaching these disks.

This concept changed when Apple brought in the Macintosh computer which used the Sony 3.5” microfloppy disks. Here, they allowed you you to insert removable media in to that computer but required you to “drag it to the Trashcan” before the disk could be removed. Some advanced removable disk types like the Zip disk implemented this kind of removal in the Windows and other operating system by providing what has been described as a “VCR-style” eject routine due to its relationship to how you used an audio or video recorder. Here, you pressed the eject button on the disk drive which would cause all the data to be written back to the disk before the disk came out.

Now the modern computer has at least one hard disk and / or solid-state disk fixed inside it along with USB ports being used for connecting USB-connected hard disks or memory keys. You may also be inserting your camera’s SD card in to an SD-card slot on your laptop computer or in to an SD-card reader module that plugs in to your computer’s USB port if you were downloading digital images and videos. Some of you may even have an optical drive integrated in your computer or connected to it via a USB cable and use this for archiving data or playing CDs and DVDs.

Your operating system’s file manager

Windows 10 File Manager - logical volumes

All the logical volumes available to a computer – representing hard disks with their logical partitions along with removable media

The operating system that runs your computer will have a file manager that allows you to discover and load your files or move, copy, rename and delete files amongst the logical volumes available to your computer. In Windows, this used to be known as File Manager, then became known as Windows Explorer but is now known as File Explorer. The Apple Macintosh describes this file manager simply as Finder.

This used to be a command-line task but since the arrival of the Apple Macintosh, the file manager is represented using a graphical user interface which shows a list of files, folders or logical volumes that you are dealing with.

Clicking on a folder or logical volume will bring up a screen to show you what is in that folder or logical volume. But clicking on a file will cause it to be opened by the default application or, in the case of a program, cause that program to run.

Moving or copying files nowadays is simply a drag-and-drop affair where you drag the files from the source to the destination, but you may have to hold down the Shift key or use the right-hand mouse button to modify a default move or copy action.

As well, the modern file managers have a “two-stage” delete action for files on a hard disk or other fixed storage where they end up in a “holding-bay” folder known as the Trashcan or Recycle Bin when you delete them. This is to allow you to find files that you may have unintentionally deleted. But to fully delete them for good, you have to delete the contents of this “holding-bay” folder, something you can do by right-clicking or Ctrl-clicking on this folder to bring up a context menu and selecting an “Empty” option.

What is my computer’s file storage system about

The logical volume

Most operating systems represent as their storage system every logical volume be it a removable disk or each partition of a hard disk as its own element. It was the only way to work in the early days of computing because each fixed or removable disk didn’t hold much in the way of data and was its own element. As hard disks became more capacious, there was a requirement to partition them or break a single physical hard disk in to multiple logical volumes because the operating systems of the early days couldn’t hold much data per volume. You can also set up some operating systems to present a folder on a NAS or file server available to you over a network to appear as a logical volume, a practice that was important before networks were commonplace and personal-computer operating systems could address network resources directly. All removable media are still represented with one logical volume per disk, card or stick.

Each logical volume would have the ability to be given a volume name and be represented as a distinct icon which is part of a “Devices”, “Volumes” or similar cluster in the file-management system that is part of the operating system. The icon is typically a crude representation of the storage medium that the logical volume exists on.

Windows, harking back to the Microsoft MS-DOS days, would also assign each logical volume a “drive letter” owing to the fact that each disk drive on the original IBM PC was assigned its own letter with A and B reserved for the floppy disk drives.

The Apple Macintosh represented on the right side of the Desktop screen a “disk” icon for each logical volume currently available to the system. But recent iterations of the Macintosh’s operating system provided a setting so that all of the logical volumes that represented the computer’s fixed storage didn’t appear as desktop icons.

The mid 1980s showed up a situation where an operating system had to identify what kind of disk a logical volume was on because hard disks were becoming more viable and a computer could have multiple disks of different kinds. This was also being augmented by the arrival of networks and file servers where you could “pool” your files on a common computer with larger storage, and CD-ROMs in the early 90s being a cheap way to deliver large amounts of software and data. Thanks to the graphical user interface, this was represented via an icon that represented the kind of disk being handled.

How are they represented?

In Windows, each logical volume, whether fixed or removable,is represented in Windows Explorer or File Explorer by an icon in the left hand panel under “This PC” or “Computer” or something similar depending on the version. If you click on this icon, you will see a list of all the logical volumes available to your computer.

On the Macintosh, you would normally have each of these volumes represented by an icon on the right hand side of your desktop, where you would click on that volume to invoke a Finder window to see all of the files in this volume. On the other hand, Finder would represent all of the volumes in a separate left-hand-side pane.

In both cases, each logical volume would be represented at least with its logical volume name and icon. With some systems, if there is a device that can hold removable media like an SD card reader, floppy disk drive or an optical drive, you will see that device listed but greyed out or de-emphasised if there is nothing in it.

Some operating systems like MacOS X may represent a removable volume like an SD card, USB memory key or optical disk with a distinct icon to highlight their removeability. This will typically be an “eject” symbol which you can click to safely remove that volume. Windows even lists the “eject” word in the right-click option menu for all of the volumes that are removable.

Folders

The folders that exist on a system disk

All the folders that exist on a hard disk, this time the system disk

The Macintosh and, subsequently, MS-DOS and Amiga brought around the concept of directories or folders as a way of organising data across increasingly-larger data volumes. Here, you could organise the data in to smaller clusters that relate to a common theme or purpose with the ability to create a folder within another folder.

Some operating systems like some versions of the Macintosh operating system allowed you to represent a folder with a graphical icon but this was used mainly by software developers when you installed software on the computer.

But all of the computers typically allocate a special folder on the main logical volume for storing all the programs that you run and, in some cases, even create a temporary folder for keeping data that a program stores on an as-needed basis.

How are they represented

On the graphical-user interface, these were represented as a folder icon that is  a part of how the contents of a logical volume was represented. Clicking on this folder icon will allow you to see the contents of that folder.

What is the main or system disk of your computer?

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The main disk on your computer, which is a hard disk or fixed solid-state-device, stores all the files that are to do with its operating system and all the applications you run on your computer. Such a disk is listed as C: in Windows or MACINTOSH HD on the Macintosh. It is also described as the system disk or the boot disk because it has the operating system that the computer has to load every time it is started, a process described as the “boot” process.

Where the programs that you run exist

It will also contain the data you create but all of the files needed to run the operating system and the applications will be kept in particular folders. For example, the  “Applications” or “Program Files” is kept aside for the applications and games the user installs, with each application you install creating its own subfolder of that folder. This is while a separate folder like “Windows” or “System” is kept for the operating system’s files. Some operating systems like MacOS may also use another folder for keeping plug-ins, fonts and similar common application resources while others may keep these with the applications / programs folder, usually as a subordinate folder.

Where the Desktop is represented

As well, all the icons and files that you store on the Desktop will be kept on a “Desktop” folder which represents everything that exists there.

The data you have created

But you will also end up with user-data space like “Documents”, “Photos” and the like where you save all of the data you create with your computer’s applications. Your e-mail program may store your emails in that folder or in a separate folder on this same disk.

Some operating systems, most notably Windows and earlier iterations of the Macintosh operating system, even let you create folders on the System Disk that aren’t earmarked for a purpose for you to use as your data folders. This also includes other programs keeping the user-created data in their own folders.

The secondary holding place for deleted files

Then there is the “Trashcan” or “Recycle Bin” folder which is used as a holding space for files you delete should you regret deleting them. When you delete a file from one of your folders on the main disk or other fixed disks in your computer, these files will end up in this “holding space”. Then if you want to remove them permanently, you have to delete them from this folder.

Removable Storage

USB memory key

USB storage device – an example of removable storage

All of the removable storage devices work on a freeform method of organising data across each of their logical volumes because there typically isn’t a requirement to keep certain folders for certain system processes.

This is except for memory cards associated with digital cameras because of the digital photography industry’s desire to implement a “Digital Camera File System”. Here, you have a DCIM folder for all digital-camera images and your camera will keep the pictures and videos you take in a subfolder of that DCIM folder, This was to simplify the searching process for digital images when you used a printer, photo-printing kiosk or electronic picture frame. There is also a MISC directory where DPOF print-order files are stored when you order photos to be printed using your camera’s control surface and either insert the camera card in to you multifunction printer or a photo-printing kiosk.

When you delete a file from removable storage, it is gone for good. As well, you need to make sure that you properly remove memory cards, USB memory keys and similar removable storage because most operating systems won’t write back all of the data changes to that storage device as they occur. Some operating systems like Windows allow you to immediately remove the classic floppy disks but most of them require you to use a “safely remove” or “eject” routine to properly write all the data to the removable medium before you can remove it. The Macintosh even allows you to drag the removable medium to the Trashcan to safely remove it.

Conclusion

The file system that your computer has is one of the key tenets of managing your data on your computer and it is about how your data is organised across multiple storage devices and within these storage devices.

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External Blu-Ray burners to link your Ultrabook to archiving, games or box-sets

Article

Best external Blu-Ray drives | Windows Central

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

You could use optical discs with this Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook thanks to an external optical drive connected to the USB port

It may be tempting to think that in this day and age of Netflix streaming, Dropbox data-transfer, and Spotify music streaming that the optical disc has been declared extinct. But the optical disc, be it a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray, is still hanging on as an unalterable archive medium and as a cost-effective way to deliver audio and video content in a collectible packaged form.

In the case of video-based content, the optical disc still remains as a sure-fire medium of viewing this content offline which would be of benefit when you are travelling. You may even find that you could pack a movie or a season or two of your favourite TV series in the briefcase or laptop bag to have ready to binge-watch during that long-haul international flight without worrying about how much of the Ultrabook’s small SSD you are taking up.

Inspector Morse DVD box set

This is more so with optical media like DVDs being the surefire way to deliver collectable video content

A Windows Central article highlighted and compared a selection of USB-connected external Blu-Ray burners that can work with computers that don’t have any form of optical-disc reading or writing built in to them. Most of these units are slightly larger than 2 CD “jewel-cases” and they connect to the host computer via a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 cable depending on the unit. Some of them implement a USB “Y-cable” as a way to solicit extra power from the host computer but you may find that a self-powered USB hub or, in a portable context, a high-capacity USB external battery pack connected to the “power” part of the cable could serve as a way to keep these optical drives powered when used with a host computer that has few USB connections.

These, like other USB storage devices, will present to most operating systems using the USB Mass-Storage device-class driver but do come with at least DVD-playback or advanced optical-disc-authoring software but you can use other software to do the job. Most of these Blu-Ray burners have the ability to burn to the 100Gb BDXL discs which would earn their keep with archiving a large amount of data. Some of these devices even write to M-Discs which are an optical-disc variation that is optimised for long-term archival storage.

Those of us who have a computer with an integrated optical drive may find the external optical drives good for such tasks as adding an extra optical drive for disc-to-disc copying, ripping a multiple-disc CD set to FLAC or extending the optical-disc capabilities of your existing computer. Here, this situation may come in to its own with laptops, all-in-one computers or low-profile desktop computers. Similarly, these optical drives could become a fail-over measure if the internal optical drive failed.

What is being proven with these portable optical-disc drives is that the optical disc still exists as a medium for data-archiving or distribution of collectable content.

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You could enable your existing computer for Windows Hello

Article

USB accessories add Windows Hello capabilities to any PC | Windows Central

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

You could be soon able to equip your existing laptop or 2-in-1 with the same kind of fingerprint scanner as the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2

An increasing number of business-focused Windows laptops are being made ready for Windows Hello which is the password-free login ability that Windows 10 offers. This allows for facial recognition or fingerprint recognition as an alternative to keying in that Windows password.

But what if you have that tower desktop, all-in-one or existing laptop that has no RealSense camera or fingerprint reader. Normally, you would think that you were cut out of this feature.

At the Computex 2016 “geek-fest” in Taiwan, there were two aftermarket USB accessories that bless these computers with Windows Hello login abilities. One of these is a webcam that is compliant to Intel RealSense specifications which opens up the path for facial recognition, while another of these is a USB fingerprint-reader dongle that is very similar to a Bluetooth or wireless-peripheral-transceiver dongle and plugs in to the side of a laptop computer.

These peripherals would be a step in the right direction for small businesses and consumers if they were sold at reasonable prices and were made available at most electrical stores, computer stores and the like, rather than just being sold to value-added resellers that cater to big businesses.

A solution I would like to see especially for desktop users or people who set up primary workstations would be a fingerprint reader integrated in to a keyboard or mouse. This could be offered as a differentiating feature for business and gaming peripherals. Similarly, a standalone desktop fingerprint reader could be offered as a way to have your existing workstation or “gaming rig” working with Windows Hello. Similarly, a fingerprint reader could be offered as a “short-form” device that can be integrated in to the PC cases that tend to modified by gaming enthusiasts.

Similarly, more manufacturers and resellers could contribute to this class of device in order to allow more of us to benefit from Windows Hello.

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Product Review – Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Previously, I reviewed the Brother PDS-6000 sheet-fed document scanner which scans both sides of a document at once very quickly. This model connects directly to a host computer and would work with most document-management software. Now Brother have released the ADS-2800W which is a network-capable sheet-fed document scanner that allows you to direct a scanning job to a computer or a file server / NAS, and this is the machine that I am reviewing now.

RRP AUD$899

There are some more expensive variants of this network document scanner that can scan at higher speeds but I am reviewing the entry-level model.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Scan Scan to Connection
Sheet-fed

600 dpi

Single-pass Auto-duplex

USB Mass-Storage

CIFS/FTP/HTTP network storage

Online Services

SMTP E-mail

USB 3.0

Ethernet

802.11g/n Wi-Fi

The scanner itself

Setup

Brother ADS-2800W document scanner document path

Single-pass document scan, easy to service if anything goes wrong

Brother have avoided the tendency to create a separate setup regime for the ADS-2800W network document scanner, which will be a bonus if you have stuck with this brand for your multifunction printer. Here, the software interface both at the scanner and at the computer are very similar and you can even use the ControlCenter 4 software to process your documents.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner Wi-Fi connectivity

Wi-Fi connectivity

It was simple to connect this scanner to the home network although I used the Ethernet connection which is what I would prefer for normally-sessile devices. Here, it can be connected to a Wi-Fi wireless network segment or a wired Ethernet network segment (which also works with a HomePlug network segment) with the former network type working properly if nearer the wireless router. Personally, I would recommend that you use the wired network (Ethernet or HomePlug) at your home or office as I would recommend for sessile equipment.

Walk-up and mobile operation

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner - Web services

It scans directly to Dropbox

There is the ability to use a Web-based interface to set the Brother ADS-2800W network scanner to be able to scan to a computer, file server or NAS without the need to run a scan monitor on that computer. Here, the unit deposits the files to a known directory on the destination device in a predetermined form. As well, it can be set up to “scan and send” where it can send a document via SMTP-based email.

It also exploits the Brother Web Connect infrastructure to allow you to enrol it with Evernote, OneDrive, Dropbox, Facebook and other online services so you can use them as a destination for your scanned documents. You can also scan documents and images to your mobile device as long as you run the Brother iPrint&Scan mobile app, which is how I scanned some snapshots to be destined to Dropbox. An improvement I would like to have would be to see the scanned picture appear on the scanner’s screen so you can have the picture or document the correct way up.

Computer-based operation

The fact that this scanner makes use of Brother’s ControlCenter 4 software and uses the same scan monitor if you are running a Brother MFC alongside it means that you are not having to install extra software on your computer. When I ran the CD to install the drivers because I had issues with the Website, the installer detected the existence of the driver software associated with Brother printers and effectively updated the scan monitor to work with this scanner.

I even had the software set up so that blank pages were skipped even though the Brother scanner scanned both sides of the document when I was handling regular documents. This allowed for a single-side document to be worked on yet be ready to scan double-sided documents when dealing with “print-sign-scan-send” documents.

Scanning results

The Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner, like its stablemate the PDS-6000 implements a straight-through document feed which makes the scanning job quick but is kind to the documents because there is no curved path involved.

A job that I have been putting the Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner to over the past week is to scan a collection of snapshots due to the passing of someone whom I knew well. Here, I had set the Brother scanner to scan at the normal-for-35mm-snapshots “10x15cm” size with a resolution of 600dpi and fed the minilab prints in vertically. The document scanner had turned out the high-quality images while it was able to handle small batches of prints at a time like as though I was handling a multiple-page document. But I would like to see a “photo-optimised” scanning profile that copes with the glossy snapshots and works at a high resolution. As well, there could be the ability to determine whether a photo has a landscape or portrait orientation.

I had found that a bit of dust had ruined a scan of a photo and it was a cinch to remove that bit of dust from the scan head simply by opening up the scanner so I can see the scan heads. Then I was able to blow off the dust from the scan heads.

When I scanned a regular “print-sign-scan-send” document, the Brother ADS-2800W scanner made light work of this job and turned out the right number of pages based on what was marked. This avoided the creation of a 2-page PDF for a document that was written on one side only.

Limitations and points of improvement

A feature that would benefit the Brother sheet-fed document scanners, especially the network-capable units, would be to have functionality that gains the best out of photo scanning. This could be in the form of a “photo-optimised” high-resolution scan mode for scanning snapshots and / or a transparent-media scan mode with negative conversion for scanning film strips such as negatives.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Brother ADS-2800W network sheet-fed document scanner as a network-focused high-speed document-scanning solution especially if you want a high-speed dedicated-purpose scanner that can work independent of a regular computer.

For example, this could work well if you destine documents to the like of Evernote or Dropbox or to a NAS. Similarly, if you are wanting to get that hard copy document to be able to be viewed on something like an iPad, the Brother ADS-2800W and its peers can do the job properly.

But these devices would earn their keep if you scan many documents rather than the occasional few documents that have few pages and I would see it perform well with most businesses including tax agents who scan the receipts that are part of their clients’ “shoeboxes”.

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SteelSeries integrates OLED in their gaming mouse

Article

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse press image courtesy of SteelSeries

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse

SteelSeries ships its OLED-packing gaming mouse | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

SteelSeries

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Audio Adaptor

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – OLED display to show time or details about what’s playing like the SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse

Regular readers may have read my review of the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone audio adaptor which implements a monochrome OLED display to show the time or metadata about what what’s playing. Sony has also implemented this concept in a few previous personal-audio players as well as this Bluetooth headphone adaptor because of the fact that this display technology doesn’t take up much room in the device itself and could be best described as a “VFD display for battery devices” where it offers the same brightness as a vacuum fluorescent display while drawing minimal current.

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse press image courtesy of SteelSeries

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse – OLED display

SteelSeries have taken this further by implementing a user-customisable OLED display on the Rival 700 gaming mouse. Here, this mouse uses a special program to copy over game stats or a user-defined logo to appear on the display courtesy of the USB connection. Here, it is proving the idea that an OLED display can earn its keep on a small portable device even if the device is powered from another host device.

The Rival 700 gaming mouse also implements tactile feedback during gameplay so you can benefit from that convincing game effect but it is achieved in a manner to avoid disturbing your gameplay. As well, the mouse is designed for increased durability so you can subject it to intense gameplay or office work and SteelSeries offer it as something to equip your gaming rig or workstation for AUD$100.

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Using Bluetooth for wireless keyboards, mice and game controllers

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

A lot of wireless mice and keyboards offered at affordable prices and pitched for use with desktop computers are implementing a proprietary wireless setup which requires them to use a special USB transceiver dongle.

This is compared to some wireless mice, keyboards and games controllers that are offered for laptops and tablets where they have integral Bluetooth support. This is because the laptop and tablet computers are the main computers that come with Bluetooth on board. It is compared to desktops, mainly traditional “three-piece” desktops, that don’t have this feature and require the use of a USB Bluetooth dongle to gain Bluetooth connectivity.

Wireless mouse dongle

The typical easy-to-lose dongle that comes with most wireless mice

A reality that is coming crystal clear is that the laptop computer along with the all-in-one desktop computer is being seen as a viable alternative to the traditional “three-piece” desktop computer for one’s main computing device. This is underscored with laptops that are taken between work and home along with myself seeing quite a few computer setups where a laptop computer is hooked up to a traditional keyboard and mouse and one or two desktop-grade monitors. Some of these setups even run the laptop’s screen as part of a multi-screen setup.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer keyboard

Bluetooth shouldn’t just be for mobile keyboards

To the same extent, most of the “all-in-one” desktops are being equipped with Bluetooth functionality as a matter of course. This is more so where the goal is to compete with the Apple iMac range of “all-in-ones” or make this class of computer more impressive.

The Bluetooth advantage does away with the need to install a USB wireless dongle for that wireless keyboard or mouse or the risk of losing one of these dongles. For traditional desktop users, they can use and keep one Bluetooth dongle which works well if you want to move a Bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse between a secondary laptop and the desktop computer. Similarly the same Bluetooth dongle can support multiple devices like a keyboard, mouse, game controller and multipoint-capable Bluetooth headset.

The gap I am drawing attention to is the lack of traditional-sized keyboards, trackballs and mice fit for use with desktop computers, including novelty mice like the “model-car” mice, that work using Bluetooth. Manufacturers could offer a range of traditional-sized input devices that work with Bluetooth, preferably having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support, as part of their product ranges to cater for laptop-based and all-in-one-based personal computing setups.

Having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support would benefit this class of device because users shouldn’t need to be changing the peripherals’ batteries frequently which is something that can affect Bluetooth setups.

As well, there can be an effort towards improving responsiveness for Bluetooth keyboards, mice and games controllers to maintain Bluetooth’s appeal to the gaming community. Here, this would also be about working with other Bluetooth device clusters such as in a LAN-party environment where toe goal for gamers is to frag each other out rather than being “trampled on” by the enemy.

What really should be looked at is to standardise on Bluetooth as a way to wirelessly connect input devices like keyboards and mice to computer equipment.

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Buying a projector for your small business

Some of you may be buying a projector for the first time such as to add large-screen video display to your organisation’s presentation abilities; or you are replacing your existing video projector that has got a bit long in the tooth.

Praise and worship at church

Choosing the right projector can allow a church or other organisation to gain the most mileage from it

But when you are considering the purchase of a projector, take time to consider where you are intending to use it and what you are using it for.  This will make sure you are going to end up with a machine that can satisfy your needs exactly by projecting the brightest and sharpest image where you are using it.

What to look for

There are certain attributes that you need to look for when buying that projector such as its brightness and contrast-ratio specifications along with factors that affect how you can install your projector.

How your projector’s image will look

Brightness (lumens)

This specification affects how bright the images that appear on the screen will be. A projector with more lumens is also able to deal with competing light sources like room light easily. Today’s office projectors will typically end up with a brightness of at least 3000 lumens.

It is worth noting that a projector will yield the quoted brightness when it is using a relatively-new lamp and set to operate at full brightness.

Video and photo material along with games places more demands on the visibility of the image especially in existing light compared with graphic material that changes infrequently. This may call for a projector to have increased brightness. As well, you may have to look for a projector with increased brightness if you aren’t able to control the ambient lighting especially for video or photo content such as with rooms that have a lot of natural lighting.

The rule of thumb here is to buy the brightest machine you can afford no matter how small or brightly-finished the room is. This is more important if your room has large windows and you have a view to using the projector there during the day such as hospitality applications; or you intend to run the projector with the room’s lighting switched on which is the reality with most business or worship applications.

Contrast Ratio

This specification identifies how dark the black parts of an image will be and how white the white parts of that same image will be. It may influence the “perceived sharpness” of the projected images.

How your projector will “fit in” to your venue

There are certain specifications that concern how far back you have your projector from the screen or wall you are projecting the images on in order to have the largest useable image.

Throw Ratio

Projector setup diagram with distances

Throw distances and ratios explained in a projector setup

The projector lens’s throw ratio determines the effective size of the projected image in relation to the “throw” which is the distance between the projector’s lens and the screen. A lower figure allows for the projector to be closer to the screen for the same image size than a higher figure.

A projector that has a zoom lens, like most of the equipment pitched at small businesses and community organisations, will be specified a minimum and maximum throw ratio that is determined by the focal length you set the lens to. The zoom lens may help you with getting your image “just right” for your setup after you position the projector for best image size.

The “standard” throw ratio for most office and classroom projectors will come in at between 1.5 and 2.0 while a short-throw projector will come in at between 0.5 and 0.7. The newer ultra-short-throw projectors typically have a throw ratio of 0.3, allowing you to position them very close to the screen.

When you choose your projector, a short-throw projector can earn its keep in small rooms or for portable / temporary setups. These machines can earn their keep if you want your projector to be “ahead” of your audience. There are environments where an ultra-short-throw projector can come in handy like a small room such as a classroom, or a permanent installation for a space which gets crowded very quickly like a bar. Similarly, you may find that your venue has a bulkhead near the screen’s location where you can feasibly mount your projector, which may call for an ultra-short-throw model.

Projection Distance

Manufacturers will also provide a minimum and maximum projection distance specification in order to specify how close to or back from the screen the projector should be to yield a useable bright image.

But your setup’s “throw distance” will be based on the throw ratio of your projector’s lens multiplied by the width of the screen and this should be within the distances specified for the projector you are using. Once you know this figure, you can then determine how far back the installation’s ceiling bracket should be positioned.

Aspect ratio and Resolution

A projector, like a digital camera, is specified with a native aspect ratio which is the aspect ratio for the actual LCD or DLP image panel that realises the pictures. As well, they have a maximum native resolution that the LCD or DLP can handle for best results.

The "pillar-box" effect when you show 4:3 material on a natively widescreen display

The “pillar-box” effect when you show 4:3 material on a natively widescreen display

They can handle other aspect ratios but will yield “letterboxed” or “pillarboxed” images which have the black borders at the picture’s edges. You may have noticed this effect when you watch television and you watched some newer widescreen content on your old TV or you watched older TV content on your newer flat-screen LCD TV. In this case, you would need to determine your screen size based on the projector’s native resolution.

A projector with a wide native aspect ratio like 16:9 makes better use of wide screen areas whereas a projector that uses 4:3 as its native aspect ratio may work well for narrower screen areas including “traditional” screens.

Native 16:9 projectors are important if you are regularly showing live TV, movies or other video content turned out in this ratio; as well as yielding that wide look that easily impresses. You can get away with a native 4:3 projector if you occasionally show video but show a lot of graphics material or digital photos prepared in this ratio. It is also worth knowing that projectors that have a native 16:10 aspect ratio may allow for some flexibility between allowable screen area and what you show and is a go-between for 4:3 and 16:9 as well as accommodating scanned 35mm slides and prints.

As for the resolution, I would work towards projectors with a vertical resolution of at least 768 lines even for business applications. 16:9 projectors with the 1920×1080 “Full HDTV” resolution would earn their keep with most of today’s TV and video content, especially if you are running them with an HDTV set-top box or Blu-Ray player.

This is important because your audience will want to see a very sharp clear picture and the eye is less forgiving about fuzzy or blocky images on the big screen.

Connectivity and Functionality

Essential Connections

Economy data projector with VGA input sockets

Nowadays a projector should have an HDMI socket for newer computer and video equipment as well as a VGA socket for legacy equipment

Make sure that the projector that you are after has at least an HDMI input with HDCP for today’s computer and video equipment along with a 15-pin “VGA” RGB input for older computers that don’t use this connection.

If you intend to use your projector with consumer video equipment especially the Apple TV box or pay-TV services, make sure that the HDMI connection supports HDCP content projection. As well, a projector that implements HDMI-CEC control functionality can be a real boon with providing “one-remote” operation with most consumer electronics equipment especially Blu-Ray players.

HDMI is now par for the course for computer display connections

HDMI is now par for the course for computer display connections

Integrated image/video projection functionality

An increasing number of projectors are being equipped with the ability to display images and video footage held on a USB memory stick, onboard memory or other media which can make them become today’s equivalent of the old movie and slide projectors. This feature can be used for “there-and-then” applications or where you can’t connect a computer to the projector and is highly relevant to portable applications.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Most recent Blu-Ray and DVD players can show still and video material from USB storage devices

On the other hand, if you don’t want to use a computer to show pictures or file-based video content, you can use a recent DVD or Blu-Ray player, network media player or similar device to fulfil this role.

Wireless and network projection

Another feature that is available with an increasing number of video projectors is the ability to project images from a computer or mobile device via a network, a dedicated Wi-Fi link or a Bluetooth link.

Most of these implementations are very dependent on the client device running particular software or the purchase and installation of certain interface devices. At the moment, Miracast and Intel WiDi are considered stable standards in this space but you need to be sure if there are other implementations that are able to work across devices offered by multiple manufacturers.

On the other hand, there are video-peripheral devices like the Apple TV and the Google Chromecast which can answer this role effectively. This is more so if you want native network-projection support from iOS and Mac OS X devices in the case of the Apple TV or Android and Chrome OS devices in the case of the Chromecast.

Audio

Most projectors will have an integrated amplifier and small mono speaker for sound reproduction and many will have an audio DAC if they are equipped with an HDMI connection. This is good enough at a pinch but I would rather use a powerful sound system such as a hi-fi, home-theatre or PA system for reproducing the sound.

It is also worth knowing that most of the projectors with an integrated amplifier and speaker will have a stereo line-out connection, typically in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack. This comes in to its own with HDMI-equipped projectors that reproduce the sound from the HDMI connection and earns its keep if you have the sound system located close to the projector so you can keep a short unbalanced analogue audio link between the projector and the sound system’s amplifier.

If you want the sound to be reproduced independently of the projector such as to play music without a visual display, you may have to either connect your computer directly to the sound system or use an HDMI audio-extractor also known as an HDMI audio adaptor or HDMI DAC for best results with your sound system.

Lamp life

A projector will have its lamp life rated based on how long the machine will continuously operate before the lamp is half as bright. This is against the common logic of rating the lamp life based on how long it will operate before there it “blows” (burns out). I still factor in the reliable operation angle in that same equation. This specification is based on having the projector run at full brightness but being treated properly.

But most of today’s projectors implement lamp-management logic to effectively run the lamp for a longer service life. Examples of this include offering an “eco-mode” or similar setting to run the lamp at reduced brightness, tapering the lamp’s brightness slightly when the projector is showing the same image for a long time or some even adjusting brightness based on room lighting.

Problem can still surface with some projectors where the lamp lasts a long time but hits the end of its useful life and a good quality replacement isn’t available for that machine anymore. This can happen when a manufacturer makes equipment that is less “parts-common” with prior models when it comes to user-replaceable parts and it could be more financially viable to replace the machine with something of a similar or better standard when the bulb comes up for replacing.

Solid-state lighting (“lamp-free”) projectors

An increasing number of manufacturers are offering projectors that implement solid-state projection lighting which implements LED and/or laser-diode lighting technology. This is compared to the common practice of using a bulb-based lamp and allows for lower maintenance requirements. Manufacturers call these projectors “lamp-free” by virtue of not having to factor in the risk of the projection lamp “blowing” and stopping the show or you having to keep a spare lamp on hand.

These projectors offer best value for installations like displays were you are likely to have the projector running constantly. In other cases, you can get by with a projector that implements the regular light-bulb technology.

Buying guidance

When you choose your new projector, buy a projector which has as high a lumens rating as you can afford and look towards units with at least 3000 lumens. This is more important if you intend to use it in settings where you intend to run video content or show photographs in ambient lighting or your environment is brightly finished or has plenty of natural lighting.

Look towards purchasing projectors that support a 16:9 or 16:10 native aspect ratio unless you are using a narrow wall space as your screen.

Short Throw or Ultra Short Throw projectors earn their keep with small rooms or where you want the projector to be in front of the audience.

If you expect to frequently run your projector for long sessions, like a display, a worship scenario, or a bar that is showing the big sports fixtures every weekend, look for equipment that has a very long lamp life. If you can afford it, you may want to consider a projector that implements solid-state “lamp-free” technology.

Making sure your projector lasts a long time

You will typically get around five to seven years useful life out of a good-quality projector if it is operated and maintained properly.

To achieve this, make sure that the machine is on a sturdy surface before you turn it on. This also is of importance if you are using something to raise the front of the projector slightly to get the picture right. As well, transportable projectors have to be handled gently especially when they are on or just been turned off. If you are setting up an integrated installation, make sure you are using a good-quality mount kit and that it is anchored properly to the mounting surface.

At the end of each session, make sure that the projector is properly shut down so that the lamp isn’t damaged by excessive built-up heat. This procedure is more important for transportable units or units that are in an installation where they can be enclosed when not in use like “drop-down” installations. Here, you have to turn off the projector using the standby button on the unit’s control panel or its remote. At this point, the lamp and the circuitry associated with the projector’s signal path are turned off but the fan will continue to run for a few minutes. Depending on the machine you are using, an indicator light on the projector will flash or glow to let you know that this is taking place. This cool-down process is completed when the fan shuts down and only the “standby” indicator glows or no lights glow depending on the machine.

Avoid the temptation to turn the projector on and off too frequently because this can shorten the projection lamp’s lifespan. Here, if you need to have nothing on the screen such as when loading up subsequent content, use the “Mute” or “Blank” button on the unit itself or the remote; or a similar function on your display computer’s software to achieve this goal.

If your projector uses filters, make sure you change them on a regular basis. As well, it is a good idea to clean the ventilation grilles to stop dust building up in them. This may simply be a case of running your vacuum cleaner’s crevice nozzle over these grilles; and is more important in dusty areas.

Be aware of how your projector fan sounds when you are using your projector. If you hear excessive grinding or squealing noise, this is an indication that the fan’s bearings are on the way out and it could cease to do its job. It leads to unreliable operation and heat build-up which could shorten the lamp’s lifespan. This may be a time to send the projector to a repair workshop and have the fan replaced.

The screen you use for your projector

The other factor that you also have to consider when you buy a projector, especially for the first time, is the screen on which your projected content will appear. This may not be of concern if you are simply replacing an existing projector with a newer model.

Fixed Screens

Some of you may use a white wall or whiteboard as a fixed screen for your projector when you are on a budget or, in the case of a whiteboard, you intend to implement an interactive-whiteboard display.

On the other hand, you may purchase a dedicated fixed screen that mounts on the wall or on an adjustable bracket.  Wall-based setups will occupy wall space even when they aren’t used and you may use doors, shutters or curtaining that complement your décor to conceal the screen when it is not in use. The adjustable-bracket setup will earn its keep with classrooms, worship applications and the like where you have a main focal point of attention.

Here, it would be preferable to have a fixed-screen setup if you have a permanent setup or can keep unencumbered wall space available for a screen.

Retractable and Portable Screens

But, if you don’t have that wall space, you may find that you have to purchase a retractable screen of some sort.

Portable screens

These come in a portable form that either is the classic tripod screen that most of us are familiar with or a “pull-up” screen which is a simpler larger form with the screen coming out of a large tube that sits on the floor or table. Some of the “pull-up” screens may be designed so that they can be attached to a wall, bulkhead or other similar feature on a temporary basis so they are effectively portable pull-down screens.

Fixed retractable screens

Presentation shown on retractable screen

A presentation shown on a retractable screen

On the other hand, you have fixed retractable screens that have a roll that is permanently mounted.

These screens, commonly described as “roll-up” or “pull-down” screens, are pulled down like a traditional roller blind when they are needed. They can be mounted with the tube that the screen rolls into exposed or this tube can be concealed, whether in the ceiling or a specially-built pelmet with the screen emerging from a slot in the ceiling or pelmet.

There are some more expensive varieties that extend and retract under electric control but are more suited to permanent installations. These may look more elegant and opulent but you will also find that they last a lot longer because they are less subject to the manhandling that a typical manual roll-up screen is subjected to. I would recommend this type of pull-down screen for those venues where the equipment is expected to gain a lot of regular use.

What to look for here

Here, you need to place importance on the screen’s build quality because this affects both durability and image quality. This is more important with retractable and portable screens when your screen will be set up and put away by many different people such as what happens if you have a high turnover of staff or volunteers.

As well, when you buy that portable screen in a “bricks-and-mortar” retailer, try to set it up and pack it up yourself before buying it. This will allow you to identify if it is well-built and can be easily set up or packed up by an inexperienced person, something expected of in volunteer-driven organisations like churches, or businesses like bars or cafés which have a high staff turnover rate. You also have the chance to see how stable the screen is once it is assembled in order to be sure of a high-quality picture and less need to adjust the projector during a showing.

It is worth paying attention to the fabric that the screen is made of. A heavy fabric or a lighter fabric that uses tensioning at the edges leads to high-quality images especially when you intend to use it with ultra-short-throw projectors. You can get away with a matt-white screen finish when you are using today’s video projectors so avoid being sold the exotic finishes like glass-beaded surfaces if you want to save money.

Conclusion

Whether you are replacing an existing projector or are buying a new projector and screen setup for your organisation, it pays to take some time to purchase the right equipment for your needs rather than rushing in to it. This will allow you to see a highly-reliable setup perform for many years of use.

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