Product Review–Brother MFC-L8850CDW Colour Laser Multifunction Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer which is positioned as the step-up model in Brother’s full-speed colour laser multifunction printer lineup. This model is based on their HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer and is equipped with single-pass duplex scanning and a wide range of copy, fax and scan features.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour / B/W Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Method
Laser xerographic
2400dpi from platen ID copy
Optimised receipt copy, enlarged text copy
Super G3 Optional high-capacity paper tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi
Auto-duplex Single-pass duplex ADF T.37 Internet fax, Scan-to-email multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$849

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$267.95 25000
Belt Kit AUD$179.95 50000
Wast Toner Kit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer

How the printer looks when it is used for any of these tasks

The Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer is based on the single-function Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer and others in the series, thus sharing the same improved colour laser-printing technology as its single-function stablemate. This has all the same abilities like the quick page-turnout and the duplex printing that this series is known for where it appears to work on both sides of two pages at one time.

Like other Brother laser printers and multifunctions, this unit has serparately-replaceable components for the print engine such as the drum unit and belt unit. This means that you can gain a longer service life out of these machines and their parts and can factor in these costs over the lifetime of the unit while not paying too much every time you need to replace the toner. One perceived disadvantage may be that you may run in to print-quality and reliability issues when you are using a drum unit or belt unit that is near the end of its useful life.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer LCD touchscreen

Large LCD touchscreen

One feature I admire about the Brother MFC-L8850CDW multifunction printer is that it is equipped with a large LCD touchscreen that is its “walk-up” user interface. There is also a touch-operated keypad that lights up when you have to enter numbers in to the machine like dialling a fax number or determining the number of copies you can do.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer user interface

LCD touchscreen and numeric keypad that shows when it is needed

People who have eyesight difficulties may benefit from this because of the large display area and avoiding unnecessary user-interface clutter which is a problem with a lot of business-focused multifunction devices that are in circulation.The only niggle that some people will find with this display is that the clock display takes a few seconds to update when you “wake up” the machine to start using it.

The automatic document feeder is a single-pass duplex type which scans both sides of a document at once for such jobs as double-sided copying. If you have to deal with bound original documents, this lid can be lifted up at the sides so that it lies flat on the original documents.

It, like most of the recent Brother business multifunction printer range, can work as a colour Super-G3 fax machine with a regular telephone connection or can work as a T.37-compliant Internet fax machine. This includes the ability to work as an “Internet-fax off-ramp” where it can receive a fax from the Internet and send it along regular telephone lines to an ordinary fax machine. This feature is pitched at users who have multiple locations separated by long distances and want to avoid huge long-distance telephony bills for sending documents by fax.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer user interface

Task-specific copying options

This machine’s display leads to a simplified user interface that makes it easier for people to use it even if they haven’t used this model before. This is taken from the design cues used in today’s smartphones and tablets and you have such situations as function lists that scroll sideways and one-touch access to the common tasks.

When you copy documents with the Brother MFC-L8850CDW after not using it for a while, the unit will start scanning the originals to memory while the print engine warms up to start printing. This benefits such tasks as copying many pages from bound documents or simply to have the originals returned to whoever gave them to you.

The ID-copy function is, like on most recent Brother multifunction printers, still very simple to use because you don’t have to reposition the card when you flip it to copy the other side. On the other hand, if you line up any document to the edge of the glass surface, the printer clips a few millimetres from the edge of the document which can be of concern for those documents that are “worked to the edge”.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer app options

Task-specific apps now available

There are a variety of apps which provide extra functionality such as copying a section of text like a newspaper article. These apps also work alongside the popular online services like Dropbox, Facebook and Evernote so you can “scan to” these services. The Brother printer also supports the ability to print from these online services and the Brother Web Connect system allows multiple users to register their own accounts for each service on the same device. Furthermore, each user can protect their presence on these accounts using a PIN number.

The Brother MFC-L8850CDW does work with Brother’s iPrint&Scan mobile-printing software and the Apple AirPrint ecosystem to allow you to print from smartphones and tablets.

Computer functions

I downloaded the driver software for the Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer and had found it quick to install but you have to make sure you install the correct driver that pertains to the correct model of printer.

There is the “print-options at a glance” layout for specifying how the print job should be printed and you bring this option up when you click on the “Preferences” or “Properties” option when you specify your print job. This includes rough-previewing of how a duplex, booklet or “tiled” print-job should look like.

The Brother-supplied “ControlCenter4” scan software could benefit from direct access from the desktop rather than via the “Brother Tools” app and could allow you to organise the order of the scanned pages rather than having to delete then re-scan pages to achieve a particular page order for that PDF.

Print Quality and Useability

Like the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer I previously reviewed, the Brother MFC-L8850CDW multifunction implements the “drawer-style” of consumable loading. This is where you pull out the drum unit as if it is a drawer to change the toner cartridges. This also extends to access to the printer’s internals when you have to deal with paper jamming or similar situations.

The Brother colour laser multifunction has a 6-second delay till the first page comes out when it hasn’t been used for a while. This is something that has to be expected of laser printers because of the way the toner is “fixed” on to the paper using hot rollers.

It was able to competently turn out a large double-sided document properly and reliably, although there it does pause for a few seconds after 30 pages. It may be to receive more data bot also to keep the machine’s running temperature in check. Like the single-function HL-L8350CDW and its stablemates, this Brother printer can effectively “work” both sides of two sheets of paper during a duplex-printing job. This only works with jobs that you submit from the computer rather than any of the “walk-up” printing jobs.

I also had to run a batch of mailing labels on this printer and had a problem with the printer jamming. The large LCD screen showed clearly where to remove any jammed paper and this process didn’t involve groping around in dark places to remove that paper. Then I re-ran the job on some newer labels and had to make sure I was specifying labels rather than plain paper when doing this kind of run.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The copy and scan functions could benefit from additional optimised-copy / optimised-scan modes to suit working with thin paper or with bound materials like books. As well, the “app” functionality could also benefit from functions to turn out “pre-ruled paper” like ruled notepaper, graph paper, check lists and music staves similar to what has been offered by HP and Canon for their inkjet and laser printers.’

A problem that can occur when printing a single double-sided document is where the printed document “curls up” in the output bay. This may happen when you use the printer earlier on in its service life. As well, I would also like to see the “quick duplex-printing” functionality where these Brother colour laser printers effectively work both sides of two pages improved to work with jobs you specify from the control panel or for continual printing of many pages.

As for scanning, the Brother multifunction printers could have the scan head able to scan “to the edge” of the glass when scanning documents from the glass platen rather than the automatic document feeder. This is because most of us would line up documents against the edge of the glass when scanning them to achieve a good-quality scan.

Another features that would be nice to have would be the display clock being synced to an NTP time server and supporting local time zone rules like what happens with computers or mobile devices. This can avoid the need to set the clock every time daylight-saving time changes for example as well as a desire to have an accurate clock for fax logs, etc. There could be a menu option to allow the USB port to work as a “plug-and-charge” USB port when the printer is in sleep or hibernate mode as well as supporting 1 amp or 2.1 amps power at that port, so as to allow us to charge smartphones, tablets and their accessories from the printer’s USB port at all times.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

If you are considering a heavy-duty desktop multifunction colour laser printer for that office where you expect to yield a lot of colour documents, I would give the Brother MFC-L885CDW some serious consideration. This is more so if you also expect to include the idea of scanning one or more large runs of documents to PDF and want to get both sides at once.

You could even consider teaming this printer along with one of the Brother A3 single-tray inkjet multifunction printers to set up an “all-inclusive” desktop printing / scanning setup for your small business, home office or non-profit organisation. Here, this unit could handle most regular A4-based printing jobs while you could run the inkjet unit on A3 jobs or those jobs that require special inkjet-compliant media.

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Product Review–Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer which is similar in capability to the HL-4150CDN and HL-4570CDW colour laser printers. This is the kind of printer one would consider as being useful for high-throughput printing of presentations and marketing collateral for a small business i.e. the organisational “short-run” printing press. The classic example of this would be a real-estate agent or auctioneer who has to turn out flyers that describe the property or goods that are for sale to hand to prospective purchasers when the property or auction lot is available for inspection. Or a church or funeral home could use these printers to bring colour in to those “order-of-service” cards or other similar short-run printing jobs.

There is a cheaper variant of this printer, known as the Brother HL-L8250CDN. This has a slower output speed and only has Ethernet as its network connection but is fast enough for most colour printing applications.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
Colour / B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Optional high-capacity A4 tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi,
Wi-Fi Direct
Auto-duplex multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price:

HL-L8250CDN: AUD$399

HL-L8350CDW: AUD$499

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Unit AUD$267.45 25000
Belt Unit AUD$179.95 50000
Waste Toner Unit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Setup

The Brother HL-L8350CDW printer is apparently easy to set up or prepare for transport compared to previous-generation Brother colour laser printers. Here, there isn’t a need to remove catches and other pieces to prepare the HL-J8350CDW for use. There isn’t also a need to prepare the printer’s print engine for transport such as installing special fittings if the machine needs to be transported.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer toner cartridges and drum unit

Toner cartridges and drum unit as a drawer

Like the Brother HL-4150CDN, the HL-L8350CDW has the drum unit working effectively as a “drawer” when you have to change toners, which would make this process a lot more easier. As well, like all of the Brother printers or multi-function units that implement laser or LED xerographic technology, these use a print engine with running parts like the imaging drum and/or transfer belt that the user can separately replace, along with the option to purchase toner cartridges that have a higher yield. These features allow for the printers to be effectively cheap to keep going.

It is capable of being setup for an Ethernet of Wi-Fi wireless network or even supporting Wi-Fi Direct so you can print directly from your mobile device without the need for the printer to be connected to a network. But the Wi-FI Direct function cannot be operated at the same time as the printer being connected to your network.

There is the ability to set these printers up for advanced print jobs such as working with envelopes or thicker media. This is through a drop-down “manual-bypass” tray that accommodates up to 50 sheets of the media along with the back of the printer being able to be dropped down for “straight-path” printing of envelopes. This ability places the Brother HL-L8350CDW and its peers along with the higher-capacity monochrome laser printers at an advantage compared with cheaper Brother printers for working wiht special media.

Walk-up functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer USB walk-up socket

USB socket for plugging in USB flash drives

You can print PDF or similar files from a USB memory stick by plugging it in to a USB port on the front of the unit. One disadvantage here is that it is slower to turn out a 2-sided PDF print job which may come as a limitation when you want to turn out that flyer where the artwork is on a memory stick.

It is also worth knowing that the USB port can serve as a “walk-up” charging port for your smartphone or similar devices. The manual doesn’t seem to support this but I haven’t had error messages thrown up as a result of my charging of gadgets this way. This function even operates when the printer is in the “Sleep” mode or in active use. It doesn’t work this way in the “Deep Sleep” mode.

Computer functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser pritner control panel

Control panel

An issue with a lot of Brother printers is that they make one driver package for each model even though most or all models of a series have common abilities and features.  This can cause problems with installation especially over the network. Other than that, the software installation worked smoothly.

For printing, it took only a few seconds for the printer to “wake up” and turn out the first page of a job once you submitted it. This was from its “sleep” state. As for heat build-up, there wasn’t much of that during a small print run but it starts to occur through larger print runs say, for example, after 20 double-side pages are turned out. As well, the noise level is similar to what is expected for most laser printers and photocopiers.

The on-machine user interface is similar to the HL4150CDN’s user interface, which has the small LCD display and four-way arrow keys. This doesn’t have the ability to show up how much toner is currently available or provide an easy-to-implement “confidential-print” or “walk-up” printing function.

Print speed and quality

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer special-media tray

Multi-page special-media tray

The text and graphics documents came out of the Brother HL-L8350CDW very sharply and clearly. This was exemplified with a personal “desktop-publishing” job that I had run as well as other print jobs that I had done with this machine.

The automatic duplex functionality came across as being very quick for jobs that were sent from the host computer. It was something that was very similar to what had happened with the Brother HL-4150CDN where it apparently worked both sides of two pages at the same time. This didn’t cause problems with registration shift, which could make it work well for turning out bookmarks and similar documents or proofing documents that are to be printed on card-stock by a print shop.

As for photos, these came through sharp and vibrant, which is above average for a colour laser printer. Here, I was able to see bright reds in the test images which also came through very brightly and with good contrast. This would increase the Brother HL-L8350CDW’s appeal to people like estate agents who need to turn out a run of flyers to have on hand during an “open-for-inspection” visit.

Build quality and serviceability

The Brother HL-L8350CDW is built very well and, as I have mentioned before, hasn’t had issues with heat buildup or excessive noise. This has been through use of proper cool-down procedures. As well, all the doors and drawers snapped shut properly and didn’t come across as being flimsy.

For serviceability, the rear door exposes most of the output print path so you can remove jammed pages easily. The fact that the drum unit is separately replaceable makes it easier to reach inside the unit if you had to deal with paper jams inside the unit. This makes the job of rectifying most printer paper-transport problems less of a chore.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother HL-L8350CDW could show the amount of toner available in the unit on the LCD display so you don’t have to operate a computer to know when it’s time to put a replacement toner cartridge on the shopping list. This could simply be shown as a bar graph and not only when the supply is critically low.

The USB device port on these machines could be implemented for more than just walk-up printing from USB flash drives. For example, this port could support PictBridge printing from digital cameras so you could obtain a quick printout of a digital photo you took with your camera. As well, it could use the USB Human Interface Device class to work with an external numeric keypad for applications such as Secure Print or whenever you are setting it up with a wireless network. It then avoids the need to “pick and choose” numbers for code entry.

A nice-to-have feature that the machine’s owner could separately enable would be a “plug-and-charge” function that is available at all times the printer is plugged in to AC power rather than when it is active or in “sleep” mode. Here, this means that the USB port could provide 1 amp or 2.1 amps of power available irrespective of sleep-mode status so you can charge up a smartphone, tablet or similar gadget from the printer’s USB port. It is one of those features that is becoming more important as the USB port is seen as a universal power outlet for personal gadgets.

Brother could improve on the automatic duplexer in these printers to improve its throughput so that the “sheet output” approaches that of half of the machine’s rated single-sided throughput. This is although these machines do excel on that feature by effectively “working” two sheets at once. It would then raise the bar with those of us who are using this feature as part of our desktop-publishing needs. Similarly, these laser-printer automatic duplexers could be worked further to handle A5 and similar small sizes of paper for those of us who expect them to work as “short-run” printing presses.

As for replaceable parts, Brother could offer for these colour laser printers a “heavy-duty” replacement-parts kit with a drum unit and belt unit that are optimised to handle longer more-intense print runs as an option. This could appeal to small businesses and non-profit organisations who are more likely to run these machines constantly as the organisational short-run printing press.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend the Brother HL-L8350CDW as a cost-effective high-volume colour laser printer for those of us who turn out a lot of colour business or presentation documents and place value on the laser xerographic print method for this application. Those of us who are on a budget could opt for the HL-L8250CDN which has a slower throughput and just uses Ethernet network connectivity.

As well, I would run these printers with the TN-346 series of toner cartridges when you are expecting to push them hard on a lot of promotional printout work. Most users can run them with the TN-341 cartridges when on a budget or even use a TN-346K black cartridge along with the TN-341 colour cartridges as a way of stretching your dollar further.

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Should I buy a secondary printer for my home network?

Brother MFC-J4710DW sideways-print multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J4710DW – an example of a printer you would use as your main printer

Your existing printer or multifunction unit may be working satisfactorily for you at the moment but you may find that you or your household may benefit from a secondary printer that is connected to your home network.

Typically this may be brought about by you buying a printer with more functionality than the one you already own and you “pushing” down the existing printer to serve as a secondary machine like you would with the existing refrigerator or colour television set. In some cases, it is more attractive to do this with mid-tier consumer units or any of the business units where you spend more on the equipment rather than those units that cost as much as you paid for the machine to replace their ink or toner cartridges.

Of course, the idea of networking a printer would be to avoid the need to buy a printer for each computer at home but a different trend has risen. Increasingly, most printer manufacturers are implementing a “mobile-printing” strategy to allow you to print from a smartphone or tablet. This can be done through Apple AirPrint for iOS devices, Google CloudPrint for some Android devices or a manufacturer-provided app.

Similarly, most printer manufacturers are selling equipment on a “horses-for-courses” approach where different printers in their consumer and small-business product ranges suit different tasks.

What applications may cause you to think of a secondary printer?

There are two main applications where a secondary printer on your home network may be handy

A machine more locally placed

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer – suitable for use as a secondary printer

Most likely, you will have the printer kept in your home office or study where you do a lot of the computing. But, as you use AirPrint or similar features that enable printing from your tablet or smartphone, you may be wanting to order print jobs from other rooms in the house like the kitchen. Similarly, most of the recent crop of printers have a “print-from-Web” function to obtain hard copy from Web services like Dropbox or Facebook.

The idea behind this setup is that when your computer device asks you which printer to send the job to, you determine the machine that is local to you for that job. Here, you have the advantage of being ready to collect the job immediately rather than it piling up on the desk. You also have the assurance of hearing whether the machine has started to turn out your job or not so you are not worried about sending it to the wrong unit or mis-specifying that job.

This situation may be more real for those of you who live in a larger house or a multi-storey / split-level house and have the home office up the front or downstairs but have a significant activity area on the other side of the house or upstairs like the kitchen and family room that is located down the back of the house. Similarly, those of you who have a multi-building home network covering the garage,barn or bungalow alongside the main house may also find this situation applying to you. Here, you could keep a lesser-capable printer or multifunction in the bungalow while having another unit like a better model kept in the main house.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer

Another printer that can serve as a secondary unit

Here, you could keep a light-duty network-capable multifunction printer like the Brother DCP-J552DW or HP Envy 120 in the kitchen or family room. This could allow you to do on-the-spot printing and copying in that area. A mid-tier consumer inkjet, low-tier business inkjet or a low-tier business laser / LED machine may work well for a study.

Some families may use this as a way to work towards providing their adolescent or adult child with a printer for when they “grow their wings and leave the family nest”. Here, the adolescent or adult child could be responsible for buying the consumables for that machine and then take it with them when they move onwards.

The ability to have complementary functionality

You could have the best of both printing types for your home office if you have both a laser and an inkjet printer. Here, you could benefit from the flexibility that this offers when it comes to choosing and using stationery for your printing requirements. An example of this could be to not worry about purchasing laser labels or inkjet labels for your envelopes because you can use the appropriate machine for the labels you have on hand.

Some users may benefit from a monochrome laser or LED unit for their routine document-printing needs while a colour inkjet can come in handy when occasional colour printing is required. Similarly, a photo-grade inkjet machine like a high-end HP Photosmart or OfficeJet or high-end Epson could serve your photographic or brochure-printing needs while a machine not so good with “presentation printing” or “photo-grade printing” can do the normal office printing work. This is more so as presentation-grade glossy or silk-look paper is more readily available at local office-supply stores for inkjet printers than it is for laser printers.

Brother HL-6180DW monochrome network laser printer

One of those mono laser printers you would see as a document-printing workhorse

Another example would be is having machines that handle different paper sizes such as A4 and A3. You could use an A3-capable printer or MFC for your large-sheet printing requirements while you maintain an A4-capable machine like most business lasers for most printing needs.

What must you consider?

A common issue associated with very-low-end printers when it comes to keeping them going is that the cost of purchasing replacement consumables is equivalent to that of purchasing a similar-standard printer. As well, a lot of these machines may not last for a long time nor would they be able to yield a significant number of pages.

I would also be careful of the two-cartridge colour inkjet printers because if one colour runs out, you would have to replace the colour cartridge. These can only work well for occasional work but I wouldn’t expect to run them hard for constant work.

On the other hand, I would pay attention to brands that use the same type of consumables across a large part of their product range. This is represented with Hewlett-Packard implementing the 564 series of ink cartridges across most of their Photosmart product range since 2009 and Brother using the LC-133 cartridges across all of their current-issue inkjet machines.

The latter example was underscored with the Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer which is a light-duty home machine and the Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 multifunction printer which is a heavy-duty SOHO unit using these cartridges – you don’t have to think of buying two different cartridge types for the different printers..

Conclusion

You can run one or more additional printers on your home network still as communal printers. But these can earn their keep either as a machine that is local to a point of activity and/or to provide functionality that is complementary to other printers that you own.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 colour inkjet multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-6720DW A3 colour inkjet multifunction printer which is the latest in Brother’s A3-capable multifunction inkjet printers

The model I am reviewing is the second-tier model in Brother’s new A3 multifunction range with the Brother MFC-J6520DW economy model having only one paper tray and the top-shelf Brother MFC-J6920DW having single-pass duplex scanning and NFC / Wi-Fi Direct mobile connectivity

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour A3 Colour Colour 2 x A3 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-jet 2400 dpi ID copy,
Book-optimised copy
Super G3 Ethernet, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi
Auto-duplex A3-capable ADF T.37 Internet faxing multi-purpose tray IPv6 dual-stack

Prices

Printer

Brother MFC-J6520DW: AUD$279 (Single paper tray)

Brother MFC-J6720DW: AUD$299 (Two paper trays)

Brother MFC-J6920DW: AUD$429 (Two paper trays, single-pass duplex scan, NFC support)

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity Extra High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages Price
Black AUD$43.79 600 AUD$54.95 2400
Cyan AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200
Magenta AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200
Yellow AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200

It is also worth noting that the Brother LC-133 series ink cartridges, which are standard-capacity cartridges for these printers are compatible with most of Brother’s newly-released consumer and small-business inkjet printer range whether as standard cartridges for some models or high-capacity for others. This may allow you to buy and run different Brother inkjet printers from that range yet be able to buy the same lot of cartridges to replenish them which can be a bonus if your supplier does sell them in quantity at a cost-effective price.

The printer itself

Setup

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J6720DW loaded with documents

Like most of the recent Brother multifunction printers, the trend is to place the network and USB computer-connectivity sockets within the machine and have the machine open up in a clamshell manner to expose these sockets. But Brother also moved the telephony connections used for regular telephony-based faxing to this same area. This can confuse some users who are installing the printer for the first time or moving the printer to a newer location.

Other than that, this printer worked well when it came to setting it up. But Brother still needs to work on the computer software so it doesn’t time out and throw an error message if it can’t find the printer quickly enough or prefer to use the operating system to discover the hardware.

This printer, like the other Brother A3-capable inkjet multifunction printers uses a paper tray that extends to a large size for A3 or collapses for A4 and smaller paper. As well, you load the ink cartridges in a compartment that is at the front of the machine, moving away from the need to lift heavy lids to replace them. Personally, I would like the printer to identify if multiple new cartridges are being replaced at a time which can come in handy if you were doing a few large printing projects and you needed to replace a lot of cartridges.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

I have done quite a few copying jobs such as some family trees for someone who lives with me and this has yielded high-quality copies although it doesn’t print to the absolute edge and can clip the original at the edge. As well, it “copies to memory” so that you can remove the original document before the copies are printed which can come in handy with multiple-copy copy jobs. Even the ID copy function worked properly with you having to keep the card in the same corner when you turn it over.

Like with most of the recent Brother printers, there could be an option for the printer to keep the same settings rather than timeout to default settings. This would make things easier if you were doing larger copy, scan or fax jobs where you have to spend some time organising the original documents to be worked with. Luckily there is the ability to “preset” common setups as shortcuts which can make this workflow quicker and easier.

For that matter, when you copy, fax or scan from the glass platen rather than the automatic document feeder, you have to position the original lengthways. This confused me initially due to using the Brother MFC-J4710DW which was the first to use landscape printing and required the original in “portrait” mode.

The fax functionality works both with the regular telephone, offering Super G3 with a best case of colour A3 or T.37 store-and-forward with monochrome A4 faxing. If the standard was extended, it could support JPEG colour faxing. The T.37 store-and-forward faxing function is available with a free firmware update from Brother’s Web site.

Like other recent Brother inkjet printers, these printers implement the Web Connect functionality which allows them to be used with a lot of hosted services like Dropbox and Facebook. This comes in to its own with the “download-to-print” functionality for photos or PDFs that these services can offer.

Computer functions

The software that Brother supplies with this printer and most of the other printers gives up too easily when it is searching for the device. It could use the host operating system’s hardware-discovery methods to find the printer.

As for printing, it can turn out most jobs quickly but you would have to set the print driver to the “best quality” if you want to turn out “presentation-grade” colour work.

The A3 functionality comes a long way for larger graphics work including most signage but use the “Booklet” printing with A3 and you turn out a double-sided four-page A4 booklet which could save you money or give you a desktop-publishing bonus.

For operation speed, it turns out most most business documents very quickly but takes a slightly longer time to turn out “best-quality” work. Even turning out the A4 booklet on A3 paper came out properly and quickly.

I have printed some test photos and noticed that this printer does work heavier on the yellow and turn out a darker image. There is still a bit of a redder flesh-tone in people’s faces and this may have an impact with turning out best-quality brochures. For a small-business inkjet printer, these don’t beat the previously-reviewed HP OfficeJet 8600a as a high-quality photo/brochure printer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One area I would like to see improvement take place is with the software where the onus for discovering the printer is placed on Windows rather than the printer’s software.

These Brother printers like the MFC-J6720Dw could implement a straight-through paper path for their automatic document feeders, especially with machines that have the single-pass duplex scanner. This makes them easier to trust with documents that are on fragile paper. Similarly, they could benefit from increased flash memory or a dedicated SDXC card slot for “fax vault” functionality, caching of print queues and similar functionality.

Also a midrange Brother A3 multifunction printer could still implement A4 duplex scanning with A3 one-side scanning as has been achieved with the prior generation of Brother A3 multifunction printers such as tbe Brother MFC-J6910DW that I previously reviewed. This is while a premium model could still support the full-duplex operation for all paper sizes.

Similarly Brother could work on these printers and the rest of their business inkjet printer range to make them answer HP’s OfficeJet Pro 8600 multifunction printer when it comes to printing brochures, flyers and similar marketing collateral. They could achieve this by making the colours more vibrant in most printing modes especially with coated or gloss / matt paper and being able to handle multiple sheets of special-media paper whether in the manual-bypass tray or the paper drawer.

This is due to inkjet printing being material-flexible due to the absence of heat in the printing process. It would be highly relevant with the Brother A3 inkjet printer range because of that paper size appealing to noticeboard or shop-window use or to creation of A4 booklets when the printer is set up to print in “Booklet” mode on A3 paper.

Another way that Brother could “cut in” with their A3 printers woudl be to provide an A3 single-function printer that can answer a lot of the “wide-carriage” A3 inkjet printers offered by Canon and HP or a DCP-series A3 multifunction printer without fax abilities to come in to its own as a cost-effective A3 multifunction when A3 faxing is not on the agenda.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Any of us who handle large documents regularly would find this latest range of Brother’s A3-capable multifunction printers earning their keep. For most of use, the Brother MFC-J6720DW would come in handy especially if we are also using it as the main printer. The MFC-J6520DW costs $20 cheaper but I would consider it a false economy due to having to switch paper when you want to print on a different paper size. The MFC-J6920DW, which costs significantly more, is for those of us who copy or scan a lot of double-sided documents or want the ability to work with Android-based mobile devices in a standalone manner.

You could easily partner one of these printers with Brother’s HL-4150CDN or HL-4570CDW colour laser printers or the cheaper HL-3150CDN or HL-3170CDW for a high-performance colour desktop-publishing setup for your small business or other organisation. This is where you can use the laser printer with laser-capable media for high print runs while you use these inkjet printers for smaller print runs, large A3 documents, double-sided single-sheet A5 flyers or A4 multi-page booklets on A3 paper and similar work.

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Mail-order printer ink plans come to the US courtesy of HP

Article – From the horse’s mouth

HP

HP Instant Ink|Ink Cartridge Replacement Service | HP® Official Store (Advertisement)

My Comments

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer

HP have brought to the US the concept of plan-based ink replacement for home users. Here, in the land of mail-order business, people can sign up to a pay-by-the-month plan that works with select HP printers so that HP supplies replacement cartridges directly when the machines run low on ink.

This is very similar to enterprises who have managed printers and copiers where, as part of the contract, they receive ink or toner as they need it for their machines. In this plan, known as HP Instant Ink, a customer can choose one of three different service levels dependent on how much printing they expect to do. Here, when the printer runs low, it lets HP know via your home network of this fact and HP will deliver a the ink cartridges that you need and provide a bag for you to send back the empty cartridges for recycling.

Luckily, there is the ability to vary the plans to suit different printing needs or walk out of the plans if you see fit because there isn’t an annual commitment. As well, these plans assure that users can have HP supply them the genuine ink cartridges for their machine.

At the moment, these plans are pitched at a range of two-cartridge HP multifunction printers but who knows when HP could extend it to other home and SOHO machines. HP could see these plans as a way to supply printers to home and small-business users on a contract basis by selling them as complete systems where there is a monthly payment for the machine and the inks and a 1-year or 2-year commitment. They could target this kind of plan at the SOHO and small-business user who has to factor in the purchase of newer equipment, depreciation for current equipment as well as ink costs as legitimate business expenses to be factored in every financial year.

Of course, there would be doubts about the value of money that these plans have compared with inks purchased at a local or mail-order / online outlet who may sell genuine ink cartridges at cheaper prices. Similarly, I would have doubts about HP running the Instant Ink program in countries where direct sales aren’t considered the norm for selling goods to consumers and small organisations.

But I see of this as being a bold step for a company HP to offer an ink-delivery program for home and small-business / community-organisation users who want to make sure they have a supply of ink in their printers.

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Product Review–Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction inkjet printer which is part of Brother’s newer budget-focused series of home / SOHO-positioned multifunction printers and “fax-machine replacements”

Most of the printers in this series have auto-duplex printing and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity . The top-most models in this series offer an automatic-document feeder and, in some cases, Ethernet connectivity while the flagship fax-equipped model can support NFC-based printing for your Android-based mobile devices.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour / B/W 1 x A4, 1 x 4×6 photo USB 2.0
Piezoelectric
Ink-jet
600dpi ID copy
Optimised book copy, other special copy features
multi-purpose tray 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
Auto-duplex

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price AUD$129

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$29.95 300 AUD$42.79 600
Cyan AUD$16.95 300 AUD$28.16 600
Magenta AUD$16.95 16300 AUD$28.16 600
Yellow AUD$16.95 300 AUD$28.16 600

Officeworks does sell a pack which has each of the colours as a high-capacity cartridge for AUD$78.31.along with a pack that has all of the cartridges plus a supply of “snapshot” paper for AUD$126.

The printer itself

Initial setup and functionality notes

Like most of the Brother inkjet printers, the DCP-J552DW is easy to set up. You may find this confusing at first when you receive a brand-new machine that your starter supply of ink cartridges are taped in a bag above the paper tray and effectively in the printerrather than strewn in the box.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer ink cartridges

Ink cartridges loaded in the front

These inks are able to be installed quickly through the use of a front-loading compartment. But it takes five to ten minutes for the Brother printer to effectively get itself ready when have just installed the ink cartridges and is due to the nature of the piezoelectric inkjet system.

Like the Brother DCP-J925DW, this printer uses an A4 paper tray which also has a mezzanine tray for loading a small supply of “snapshot-size” inkjet paper for printing out copies of your digital photos.

As for integration with the network, you are able to use the printer’s touchscreen to enter your network’s parameters or start a WPS setup routine. Like an incresing number of network-capable consumer multifunction printers, the Brother DCP-J552DW uses Wi-Fi wireless connectivity only.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

There is the usual collection of “walk-up” functions available on this printer and, for that matter, this printer does them the right way. Herem the user interface is through a touchscreen which offers a highly-flexible level of functionality. There is even the ability to set up “preset tasks” for common scanning and copying scenarios such as double-sided copy or ID copy.

For copying, there is a lid that you can pull up by its sides in order to improve the quality of copies made from bound materials. Very often, this is a job that is often performed to make recipes, music pieces and similar work available in a portable manner or to avoid losing or damaging the cookbook or music book when you are using it.

Businesses also appreciate the ability to use ID copy which works well without needing to reposition the card in another location on the glass platen. It could work best if you had the card in a vertical position on the glass rather than the horizontal position.

Printing from Web services

Like the previously reviewed Brother MFC-J410DW landscape-printing multifunction printer, this unit supports the ability to print from Web services. Here, you use the Brother Web Connect page to link your printer with Dropbox, Facebook and co to print resources on these sites. This is actually the formation of Brother establishing a Web app platform with scan-to-email and outline copy / scan functionality.

In my opinion, who knows whether Brother will link all of their device classes i.e. these printers, the label printers and their craft equipment especially the high-end embroidery machines with this app platform.

Computer functions

The driver’s setup routine for the Brother DCP-J552DW leaves a lot to be desired because it doesn’t automatically detect the printer quickly. Here it required me to enter in the printer’s IP address or Node name, these details which I was able to find on the printer’s control panel display under Settings – Wi-Fi. Other than that, the driver and other software worked properly when I had it in place.

The supplied software does appear easy to use in a similar vein to what is typically offiered with this class of printer. There is even a “pop-up” help function so you can seek further help with the printer. Of course, this software doesn’t place unneccessary visual or performance load on the computer by running unnecessary print monitors.

Print quality

The Brother DCP-J552DW printer turned out the print jobs pretty slowly and dwelled for a few seconds after slightly retracting the paper when printing both sides of a document in a similar vein to previous Canon printers that I have reviewed.

I have run a test concerning the printer’s auto-duplex abilities and there is no unwanted shift going on with the paper when it is printing on both sides. This makes it work well for turning out luggage tags and other documents that implement odd page sizes. As well, it covered the whole sheet of paper when printing a document on both sides.

For document printing, the Brother DCP-J552DW works well, yielding sharp text but doesn’t yield the strong sharp colours. But phtot printing tends to come up with reduced contrast and definition along with less of the colour saturation compared to some of the other consumer multifunctions that I have tested. It is more like a lower-tier office multifunction printer.

I have done a few scanning jobs using the Brother DCP-J552DW and have noticed these observations. Firstly, if you are scanning a document, the on-device user interface allows for multi-page PDF scans by asking the user if they want to scan another page after the printer has scanned the current page. If they touch “Yes” on the screen, the printer will prompt them to load the next page and start scanning. For accuracy, the printer performed as expected for an average multifunction device for both the photos and the business documents.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

For connectivity, I would like to see Brother implement HomePlug AV2 in their SOHO printers as an alternative network technology, or resist the temptation to eschew the Ethernet socket on these printers because Wi-Fi wireless networking doesn’t always work out due to the nature of the radio technology. Similarly, Brother could move towards support for 5GHz Wi-Fi technology as this band opens up as an uncluttered home-network Wi-Fi band.

Like with most of the multifunction printers, I would like to see these printers have increased onboard memory to cache print jobs to avoid waiting on host computers or networks for the data. This can allow for quicker printing and support heavy print runs more easily.

To improve on useability, the Brother DCP-J552DW and its peers could benefit from contrasted page marking on the edge of the scanning platen, especially the “reference corner” of the platen. This is so you can easily know where to position documents for scanning.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I am finding that the Brother DCP-J552DW and the MFC-J470DW fax-capable peer fit in well as a budget or entry-level printer that could fit in well in the home as a cost-effective solution for a common printer for that household. This is although I am seeing this machines trying to snap at the heels of HP’s Photosmart series of multifunction printers like the Photosmart 5520 with the 4-cartridge print mechanisms.

Here, it would perform well as a regular document machine rather than a photo-printing machine and, due to the use of individual ink cartridges for each colour, could be the cost-effective printer that you can still afford to run.

.It would be better value to run this printer primarily on the Brother LC-133 series of high-capacity cartridges to gain better value out of it. Even buying a multi-pack may also come across as being worth it so you keep an extra cartridge on hand for each colour to avoid problems that can easily happen with piezoelectric inkjet printing mechanisms.

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HP offers a Wi-Fi Direct / NFC module for most existing business printers

Articles

HP LaserJet M1536dnf monochrome laser multifunction printer

HP LaserJet M1536dnf monochrome laser multifunction printer – now NFC and Wi-Fi Direct capable with a cheap module

HP outs NFC and wireless mobile printing solution for homes and offices | TechRadar

This little box adds NFC mobile printing to recent HP LaserJet, Officejet printers | PCWorld

HP Announces NFC Device For Printers | The Recycler

HP pousse le NFC sur presque toutes ses imprimantes | Le Monde Informatique (France – French language)

From the horse’s mouth

Hewlett-Packard

Product Sheet (PDF)

My Comments

HP have now cottoned on to the NFC “touch-to-print” model that Brother was involved along with the Wi-Fi Direct “own-access-point” printing model to allow people with mobile devices to print from their own devices without using the business’s main network.

But this is not about junking a perfectly-good printer that is still giving sterling service for your organisation. Instead it is in the form of a black box that connects to recent-issue compatible HP business printers, some of which I have reviewed here such as the Colour LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw multifunction printer, Colour LaserJet 400 Series printer, the LaserJet M1536dnf multifunction printer and the OfficeJet 150 mobile printer.

This device is in the form of a black box that connects to the printer’s USB port, has NFC “touch-and-go” print for Android and Windows 8, as well as the Wi-Fi Direct / own-access-point functionality which works with HP ePrint and with Apple’s AirPrint systems. HP’s larger “workhorse” printers and multifunctions have a similar option but this is in the form of a module that is installed in the existing printer on site. The device, known as the 1200w Mobile Printing Accessory is to be normally offered for USD$50 / EUR€36 but initially offered for USD$40/ EUR€29.

HP OfficeJet 150 mobile multifunction printer closed up

The HP OfficeJet 150 can be the fully-fledged mobile office with your iPad courtesy of the NFC Mobile Print module

The idea would be that if you aren’t keen on having clients or business partners marauding on your business network when they need hard copy from their mobile device, you have them use the separate printing network for their quick-run printing needs.

As for the OfficeJet 150, this accessory would allow one to create a “back-of-the-van” mobile office around their smartphone or tablet especially if the effort is to do away with the regular computing environment on the road. It is because the iOS and Android platforms with the HP-supplied or platform-native printing apps are intended to work with a Wi-Fi wireless network segment rather than the Bluetooth or USB connections this printer natively supports.

This is more about adding extra functionality to an existing device through the installation of an add-on module rather than replacing the existing device. It is a practice that is common to anyone who owns a hi-fi system or a TV, where they buy and connect extra equipment like CD players, tape decks, video recorders and DVD / Blu-Ray payers to add extra functionality to their existing systems. This avoids the need to do away with perfectly-good equipment to gain the extra functionality and, in some cases such as the video recorder, has added a lot more functionality like increased tuner capacity, stereo TV sound or remote control abilities.

This concept of offering the add-on devices can be seen as a way of effectively extending the life of most devices that are expected to put in a long service life and keeping their relevance to current needs and should never be tossed aside by device vendors.

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Taking the integrated access point practice further with Wi-Fi-capable client devices

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock – an example of a device that uses an access point for initial network setup

An increasing number of consumer-electronics and small-business devices that don’t have a large screen are repurposing their integrated Wi-Fi functionality as an access point as part of the setup routine. This is used alongside an integrated Web server and is mainly for when the devices are being integrated with a Wi-Fi network that doesn’t implement WPS one-touch setup.

But a lot of these devices also implement an Ethernet wired-network connection for use when there isn’t reliable Wi-Fi wireless-network connectivity. This function is used primarily as a product differentiator for the consumer printers but is common on a lot of “big-set” consumer AV equipment. This concept can be taken further in one of a few ways in order so that the Wi-Fi wireless network ability in these devices doesn’t go to waste, especially when the device is connected to a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV powerline) network segment.

Setups

Separate Wi-Fi logical network

One of these devices, typically a wireless speaker or printer, could implement a logical network that just serves the access point and run its own DHCP server. This could come in to its own where you just want the device to provide its function to portable devices in a walk-up manner but you don’t want the portable devices wandering on to the Ethernet-connected network or Internet service.

This may be a situation with a wireless speaker or a network printer where you want to allow the device to gain access to Internet and network resources or allow other network devices to have access to the device. But you don’t want people who use the device in a “walk-up” manner with unauthorised devices to maraud around the network or use the Internet bandwidth, which is something of concern with business users with larger networks.

Some of the wireless speakers like what Pioneer offers follow this pattern by working as their own networks so as to create an ad-hoc setup to get the tunes going in environments where a small Wi-Fi network segment isn’t in service. Pioneer achieves this through a switch on the back of the speaker which enables this mode specifically rather than for setup and this method could be exploited by other device manufacturers through a “permanent setup mode” where the speaker doesn’t stay in the setup mode if it succeeds in connecting to a wireless network.

Access Point

On the other hand, you could have the Wi-Fi functionality that is normally dormant when the device is connected to the wired network, become a simple access point. Here, this setup could come in to its own if the device is being used in an area where Wi-Fi wireless reception for your network is very difficult.

One classic example could be a smart TV that is installed in a secondary lounge area but this lounge area is out of reach of the main wireless router. Here, the Wi-Fi-capable smart TV can serve as an access point for the secondary lounge area and neighbouring rooms even while it is on standby.

This kind of setup could be simplified with a WPS-based “Wi-Fi Clone” function so you could switch to the access-point mode even if the device worked initially with the Wi-Fi segment. On the other hand, a device like a business-grade network printer could implement WPA2-Enterprise access point functionality in order to work with business-grade wireless networks.

As well, this functionality could be simplified by the device detecting the connection to an Ethernet network and asking the user if they want to operate it as an access point if the device was previously connected to a wireless network.

Wireless Client Bridge

In a similar context, the Wi-Fi and Ethernet network interfaces that these devices have could permit the device to become a wireless client bridge for an Ethernet-based device or segment. This would be of an advantage if the device is picking up a reliable strong signal from your Wi-FI network.

The classic use of this would be to provide network connectivity to a games console or Blu-Ray player from a Wi-Fi-enabled smart TV working with an existing Wi-Fi wireless network. Similarly a desktop computer in a remote room could work with the integrated Wi-Fi ability in a network printer for its network connectivity.

Simplifying the Setup Experience

The setup experience could be set up with the use of WPS-assisted “setup copy” routines and vacant-channel-seek routines for network integration. For “standalone segment” setups, the device could implement setup routines that are similar to carrier-provided wireless routers like SSID / passphrase stickers or cards.

This can be augmented through the use of nVoy technology which is intended to make the configuration and operation of small networks simpler yet giving these networks the ability to be like a big network.

Business-grade setup could involve support for WPA2-Enterprise functionality and multiple-SSID / VLAN functionality that are part of larger networks. This would be more relevant for printers or other devices that small business could take advantage of. It can be assisted with a technology similar to the original Windows Connect Now USB technology where parameters are transferred between devices using a USB flash drive.

Similarly the above technology could work hand in glove with Wi-Fi Passpoint technology in order to support the simple-yet-secure hotspot login technology that the Wi-Fi Alliance have proposed. This can work through the devices linking back to access controllers that implement this technology.

Conclusion

Manufacturers could take the concept of the integrated access point that is part of their network-capable devices and make sure that they don’t go to waste when these devices are connected to a wired network. Similarly, they could make sure that the wired network functionality doesn’t go to waste if a wireless link is exploited for network connectivity.

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HP and others use Mopria to advance driver-free printing for mobile devices

Article

HP, allies launch Mopria to keep printers relevant in mobile era | Mobile – CNET News

My Comments

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer

A common reality with the desktop printer is that you need to implement drivers on a desktop computer in order to have the printer work properly with that computer. This has confused many people who simply wanted to “walk up and print” at another location or install a newer printer. The situation is very difficult for mobile and embedded devices where these devices require limited memory space or hard-to-adapt software.

There have been various attempts at providing driver-free printing for mobile and embedded computers. One of these was UPnP Printing which allowed one to print a JPEG image or XHTML-formatted document on a suitable network printer but this was only followed through by HP with their consumer multifunction desktop printers and Nokia with their Symbian-based feature phones. HP also took this further with their ePrint “print-by-email” setup which just about every consumer and small-business HP desktop printer is equipped with.

Apple made a bit of headway with this issue by implementing AirPrint for their iOS devices and Macintosh computers running MacOS X Lion. Here, this was totally “driver-free” and more printer manufacturers came on board offering it for newer printer ranges or as “field-update” firmware for some of their existing models.

There needed to be an effort that is centred around one or more existing standards and augmented by a logo-driven marketing platform in order to provide driver-free printing to other regular, mobile and embedded computing platforms. No doubt, as Apple and their fanbois have their faith behind the AirPrint ecosystem, the Mopria ecosystem will be offered as a complementary system for other “open-frame” computing platforms.

The Mopria platform is recognising the idea that the smartphone or tablet that runs a mobile operating system is serving users as either a sole or anciliary computing device. But I would also like to see Microsoft and the open-source community adopt Mopria as a driver-free system-wide printing solution for Windows and Linux respectively in order to provide the true “walk-up and print” ability to regular computers that run these operating systems.

The embedded device community could place value on Mopria as a way to add network printing to all sorts of dedicated devices. For example, the smart TV or set-top box could exploit Mopria for interactive TV’s printing needs such as coupon printing. Similarly, devices like energy meters or “wellness” devices could use the technology to print trend-based charts for energy used or personal-wellness stats.

This may be early days yet but by using a device standard with a distinct customer-recognisable logo, Mopria could be in a position to provide driver-free printing for most applications. They also need the help of other industry standards groups like DLNA or Blu-Ray Disc to provide leverage for Mopria in the embedded-device space.

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Gadget List–Best bets for setting the family house up for the Internet

Introduction

You may have read “Is it worth it to put full broadband in the family house”, which is an article that I wrote about going about setting up a fully-fledged home-network setup with wireline broadband at a house which ends up a “common property” for a family. Typically this place may be a house resided in by one or both of the parents or an occasionally-occupied “resource” property like a holiday house or city apartment.

Here I raised issues like the amount of “online” activity that would take place at this location, the availability of the full broadhand services including the packages and what kind of hardware to get if you go about this.

Your home network

Full broadband service

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

A router that is part of a full broadband service

Firstly, identify whether there is either a landline telephone service or a cable TV service in place at the “Family House”. To the same extent, it is worth identifying whether next-generation broadband is available at this location.

A landline telephone service with a regular telephone may be considered highly important due to the desire for a robust ermergency contact arrangement and will be essential to the operation of a medical-alert system if you are dealing with elderly parents who are at a fragile point in their life.

Here, look at the information provided by the telephone service provider or cable-TV company for packages which include the broadband Internet service along with the telephone or cable-TV service.  Some of these packages may also integrate mobile service for your parents or relatives living there. This is more so when you have elderly parents who are loyal to a particular service provider for most of their lives and are hesitant to change providers.

The cheapest Internet-service packages may only suit very casual Internet use such as daily email checking and Web-browsing where regular use of online games (Facebook games, MiniClip, MSN Games, etc) or multimedia (YouTube, Spotify, etc) aren’t part of that activity. A mid-tier service may be more relevant with a busy household, or regular use of Internet-based communications and entertainment like Skype, YouTube, Spotify or Internet radio is expected to be the order of the day. This also includes a “Family House” situation that has relatives or friends who are regularly stopping by as part of business travel or you have teenagers and young adults who regularly visit that location.

Internet Gateway Devices

This is an important piece of equipment when you are getting the “Family House” on to a full broadband service. Here, if you are supplying your own modem router for a cable or ADSL service, you can opt for “wires-only” / “bring-your-own-device” services where the provider can enable the device at the office rather than supplying the equipment.

Most modest retail-grade broadband routers and ADSL modem routers with simultaneous 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi LAN connectivity and four Ethernet LAN sockets would answer this need. If next-generation broadband is becoming very imminent, I would suggest that the router being purchased has Ethernet WAN connectivity and preferably have Gigabit Ethernet connectivity throughout.

You can get by with carrier-supplied equipment if it is known to work to a similar standard to the retail-supplied equipment. For example, if you are in France, you could get by with one of the newer triple-play “n-boxes” offered by Free or any of the other carriers there.

Network equipment

HomePlug AV segment

Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch connected

The WD LiveWire HomePlug AV switch that fills in the network gap

A good practice with setting up the home network in this location is to create a HomePlug AV segment which uses the house’s AC wiring as its medium. This can be compliant to either the HomePlug AV 200Mbps standard or the newer HomePlug AV 500Mbps standard. The advantage of this medium is that it works on a wired medium without you needing to lay new wires, thus allowing you to set up a reliable semi-permanent network for fixed devices.

You can get going with this by purchasing a HomePlug AV kit and connecting one of the adaptors to the router and the other to another network device that uses an Ethernet connection in another room. These adaptors simply plug in to the nearest power outlet.

Here, the HomePlug AV multi-port switches like the WD LiveWire can come in to their own with clusters of AV equipment such as the TVs. This device provides a single on-ramp to the HomePlug AV segment for equipment like a smart TV, PVR and Blu-Ray player. As well, a spare single-port or multi-port “homeplug” adaptor can come in handy when you need to bring in a network-capable device on an “ad-hoc” basis. The example that I outline below is the situation where an adult child brings around a games console to either entertain the grandchildren or show off a game to his brothers.

HomePlug AV adaptor

A typical HomePlug AV adaptor that is worth keeping as a spare

Improving the Wi-Fi wireless segment

You may find that you don’t get good Wi-Fi wireless coverage across the house. This may be due to construction issues such as a thick brick or stone wall or extensive use of metal in the construction of a wall. Even the use of some heat-reflecting materials like Pilkington glass treatment or aluminium-lined insulation may affect radio waves that are part of a Wi-Fi wireless network.

You can answer this problem through the use of a Wi-Fi access point that is connected to your Internet router via a wired backbone such as the HomePlug AV segment. Infact there are some access points that connect directly to a HomePlug AV segment and effectively do their job as an extension access point.

On the other hand, you can repurpose an older router with the same wireless-network technology as your current Internet router as an access point. Here, you have to disable DHCP and allocate it a unique IP address within your network.

Computer equipment

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11

Most portable and transportable computer equipment can work well in the “family house” to underscore the notion of lifestyle computing there. Here, I am thinking of the idea of using these computers around the house and out in the garden to manage email, news, media and similar activities.

  • Apple iPad (tablet, iOS, 10” 4:3 screen)
  • HP Envy x2 (detachable tablet, Windows 8, 11” widescreen) – review
  • Dell XPS 12 (convertible notebook, Windows 8, 11” widescreen)
  • Sony VAIO Duo 11 (slider convertible notebook, Windows 8, 11” widescreen ) – review
  • Toshiba Satellite U920t (slider convertible notebook, Windows 8, 12” widescreen)
  • Sony VAIO Duo 13 (slider convertible notebook, Windows 8, 13” widescreen)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet (tablet, Android, 10” widescreen) – review
  • Sony VAIO Tap 20 (adaptable all-in-one tablet, Windows 8, 20” widescreen)
    Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

    Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “adaptive all-in-one” computer

    review

  • HP Envy Rove 20 (adaptable all-in-one tablet, Windows 8, 20” widescreen)
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 series (tablet, Android, 8.9” widescreen)
  • Google Nexus 10 Series (tablet, Android, 10” widescreen)

Printers

Network-capable multifunction printers work well for turning out hard-copy documents. Here, features like the availability of extra-yield cartridges as an option and auto-duplex (double-sided) printing are a must. As well, pay attention to units that use four or more ink cartridges and make sure that you can choose between standard-capacity and high-capacity cartridges so you can choose the capacity that suits the amount of usage your machine is going to have but cater for particular seasons of use.

Fax-capable printers can work as a good substitute to those economy “plain-paper” fax machines that use a thermal-transfer ribbon to print on to the paper which can be costly to run.

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer

  • HP Envy 120 inkjet all-in-one (review) – a neat stylish all-in-one with duplex printing and its own email address
  • HP Photosmart 7520 inkjet all-in-one with fax – an elegant option that can offers photo printing, colour faxing and separately-replaceable cartridges so you can get rid of that old half-dead costly-to-run fax
  • Brother DCP-J925DW inkjet all-in-one without fax (review)  – an elegant machine that has basic A4 duplex print and a photo tray
  • Brother MFC-J825DW inkjet all-in-one with fax – similar to the DCP-J925DW but is equipped with the colour fax functionalityBrother DCP-J925DW multi-function printer
  • Brother MFC-J4410DW inkjet all-in-one – low-tier version of the MFC-J4710DW reviewed on this site

DLNA Home Media Network

The home network offers up plenty of resources for entertainment and, in some cases, communications. Here, it could be to create a reserve of content that can be “pulled up” and played at a moment’s notice or you simply pulling in content from an online resource like a catch-up TV service, Spotify or an Internet stream hosted by a radio station in your home country or country you love so much.

Network Attached Storage with DLNA

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS - an example of an entry-level NAS

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS

A network-attached storage device allows you to store and retrieve data via the network without having to keep a computer switched on all the time. Similarly, the computer doesn’t underperform due to it handling data that it keeps for other devices.

The ability to use common standards to add and view content is very important. For example, using the SMB standards to transfer content to and from a NAS is important if you use a portable computer based on a regular-computing operating system like Windows, Mac OS X or Linux. Similarly, you can add a file manager to most Android and iOS devices so you can transfer files out between these devices and a NAS.

The DLNA requirement is important for whenever you want to gain access to audio, photo and video files from that smart TV or Blu-Ray player.

  • WD MyBook Live
  • Seagate Central
  • Seagate GoFlex Home (review)

Some Internet gateway devices have the ability to be connected to a USB hard disk and work also as a network-attached storage device. These typically provide SMB-compliant file transfer from regular computers and also have DLNA and / or iTunes media server functionality.

TV or video peripheral with DLNA and / or Skype

Here, I am covering either Internet-enabled TV sets which come in to their own if the goal is to upgrade one of the TV sets, especially any set installed in any of the main living areas. On the other hand, I would recommend using Internet-enabled video peripherals like Blu-Ray players / home-theatre systems, games consoles or Skype cameras where a TV is working very well and satisfying the current needs for the area it is installed in.

  • Most recently-built Samsung, Sony, LG or Panasonic smart TVs. These sets come with online video, DLNA player / renderer, and Skype functionality on most currently-built units, if not all of the units of the popular screen sizes. You could even consider the Skype cameras that the manufacturers make available for these sets so you can run them as a large-screen Skype videoconferencing terminal which is a feature I recommend for families separated by distance.
  • Panasonic Blu-Ray players especially the DMP-BDT220 which offers Skype and DLNA at a reasonable price for a good-quality machine even with the TY-CC20W Skype camera. The Panasonci SCC-BT480 Blu-Ray home-theatre system and similar models in the Panasonic lineup are enabled for Skype and DLNA, which can be of value if you are factoring in a home theatre system with the speakers in to the equation. These use the same Panasonic Skype camera to work as a Skype terminal and exploit the speakers so you can hear the people whom you are talking to clearly. More expensive models in this lineup offer the Viera Cast smart-TV functionality so you can enable other TVs to become smart TVs and have access to online content.
  • The Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player (review)
    Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

    Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player – a Blu-Ray player that adds DLNA to an existing TV

    and the newer Sony Blu-Ray home-theatre systems add smart-TV functionality and DLNA connectivity to existing TV sets. But they don’t offer Skype connectivity which may put you back if you are thinking of Skype on your TV at affordable costs. The mid-range and premium Sony Blu-Ray players also are Skype ready with the same optional Sony camera if you are considering this function for your TV set.

  • The Logitech TV Cam HD Skype camera which simply adds Skype functionality to most flat-screen TVs.

Games consoles

Sony PS3 games console

Sony PS3 games console – best brought around as needed

You may think of keeping a games console connected to a TV at the “Family House” but this may work if you have a TV in a secondary lounge area and the console is going to be used by the grandchildren. On the other hand, one of the adult children who owns a games console can bring it to the “Family House” on an as-needed basis and connect it up to the TV there especially if the idea is to entertain the younger children.

But they would need to have it be part of the “Family House’s” home network and this setup routine for the Wi-Fi network only needs to be done the first time a Wi-Fi-equipped console is used there. On the other hand, the previously-mentioned spare “homeplug” can come in handy for linking a console that has an Ethernet socket on it to the home network. Of course, some older people may find that the games console would be difficult to use, including playing a game or navigating the user interface. These are best used when you are with the younger people who regularly play games on these devices.

Network-enabled music systems, wireless speakers and receivers

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Sony CMT-MX750Ni 3-piece music system

These music-system and receiver suggestions can fit the bill of you want something that can play content held on the DLNA-capable NAS or take advantage of online media resources such as Spotify or the “new short wave” i.e. Internet radio.

  • Sony CMT-MX750Ni music system. (review) This system has FM and DAB+ for regular broadcast radio, a CD player as well as an iPod dock. But it can work with DLNA-hosted media content as well as online music services including Internet radio.
  • Sony CMT-SBT300WB music system – This is anther 3-piece music system that follows on from the CMT-MX750Ni music system but uses Bluetooth local connectivity as an audio path as well as being able to connect to your home network and supporting AirPlay functionality for Apple devices.
  • Denon CEOL and CEOL Piccolo music systems (review).
    Denon CEOL music system (Image courtesy of Denon)

    Denon CEOL music system

    These systems work as part of the DLNA Home Media Network and can pull in online music sources including Internet radio and Spotify. They also have an iPod dock and support Apple AirPlay but the CEOL also has a CD player and FM radio tuner.

  • Onkyo TX-8050 Stereo receiver. If you are thinking of a stereo receiver rather than a home-theatre surround receiver, this Onkyo unit can also provide access to
  • Most home-theatre surround-sound receivers that are placed in the mid-tier of the market also come with home network abilities including DLNA, Spotify, Internet radio and the like.  But listening to audio-focused content on a lot of these systems typically requires you to use the TV to navigate for the content.
  • Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock (review).
    Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

    Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

    This is one of a few iPhone speaker docks that connect to the home network as a wireless speaker for Airplay and DLNA-capable mobile devices or an Internet radio, yet yield that high-grade sound.

  • Boston Acoustics MC-i200 Air wireless speaker (review). One of a few wireless speakers that excel on the sound but works primarily with your home network.
  • Denon Cocoon speaker docks – A more affordable speaker-dock setup that doubles as an Internet radio or can accept the popular iPhone 4S or iPod Classic.
  • Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker (review) – A DLNA / AirPlay wireless speaker that can be used around the house and doubles as an Internet radio
  • Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker (review) – A highly-portable DLNA / AirPlay wireless speaker with Internet radio functionality that runs on its own batteries thus being appealing for the garden or other outdoor use.

Network audio devices

NAD C448 network media tuner

NAD C448 network media tuner connected to an amplifier

These units can be connected to a regular stereo or home-theatre system via a vacant line-level input to serve as an audio-focused network media player. They also have an integrated broadcast-radio tuner which you may use in lieu of the FM or AM tuner that is part of your system or could replace a regular tuner component for broadcast-radio reception.

  • Sangean WFT-1 FM/DAB+/Internet network audio tuner – An economical way to add digital broadcast radio, Internet radio and network-hosted audio to your sound system
  • NAD C448 FM/AM/DAB+/Internet network audio tuner – The first “full-band” hi-fi tuner and network audio adaptor with serious hi-fi credentials
  • Onkyo T-4070 FM/AM/DAB+ Internet network audio tuner – Onkyo’s “full-band” tuner and network media adaptor for the hi-fi system
  • Denon DNP-720AE FM/AM/Internet network audio tuner – A similar “FM/AM/Internet” tuner with network media playback for the hi-fi system.
  • Yamaha CD-N500 Network CD player – This CD player can come in handy with a sound system or speaker dock by being able to play CDs as well as tuning in to Internet radio or playing content held on your network-attached storage

Conclusion

Of course, there are better and newer devices that would fill the needs for a house that either serves as an older parent’s residence or commonly-resource property as well as a family hub.

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