Tweet this on your lounge-room TV with Panasonic

 

Panasonic Adds A Twitter App To Its Viera Cast Plasma HDTVS

My Comments

First, they did it by enabling video conferencing with Skype, now Panasonic are allowing you to Tweet a comment about that show you are watching or follow your Twitter friends on your lounge-room TV. Who knows not if but when Facebook will become the next add-on for Panasonic’s Viera-Cast TVs and Blu-Ray players. These sets will also need to work with a remote control that has a QWERTY alphanumeric keyboard so you you can get those Tweets or status updates out as that show progresses.

This happens to be highly relevant as an increasing number of television shows, mainly sports, talk shows, current-event broadcasts, reality TV and the like integrate Twitter in to their content and have set up a particular hashtag associated with that show. This typically includes the use of a “Twitter crawl” that appears at the bottom of the screen and / or the show’s compere or anchor citing selected Tweets directed at the show.

It is becoming the direction for manufacturers to extend the common social-Web and Internet-driven-communications platforms to a “10-foot” experience on the lounge-room TV or video peripheral (Blu-Ray player or “personal-TV service”) either by providing the function as an “app” that you choose from an “app-menu” or “app-store”; or as part of a firmware update that is rolled out to the device.

This may require a change in the direction on how the remote control for the TV set is designed. This may be in the form of a handset that mimics the Nokia N97 Mini smartphone where the top of the remote swings away to reveal a QWERTY keypad; a handset that looks like a BlackBerry or Nokia E-Series smartphone or simply an app for the common smartphone platforms which provides TV control as well as a link between the phone’s text-entry keyboard and the TV. It may also mean that the infra-red remote control will go the way of the ultrasonic remote control and be replaced by a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi remote control. Other solutions may also include support for standards-based Bluetooth keyboards like the Logitech diNovo Mini or Microsoft’s Media Center keyboards.

In this case, there will need to be an interest in designing more of the multimedia keyboards that appeal to being operated while you are slouching on the couch. This will mean keyboards that are backlit when they are used, small keyboards that can be worked with two thumbs; keyboards resistant to damage from crisps (US: chips) and sweet drinks that are often consumed in front of the telly and elegant-design keyboards.

Now it will certainly mean that the TV isn’t just for watching your favourite shows any more. It will also be about integrating the social Web with the experience.

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Product Review – HP Photosmart Wireless-E Multifunction Printer (B110a)

An Internet-based printing appliance from HP

Introduction

I am now reviewing the HP Photosmart Wireless-E Multifunction Printer (B110a) which is the successor to the Photosmart Wireless (B109n) printer that I reviewed previously on this site.

HP Photosmart Wireless-E all-in-one printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour 2 x A4 USB
Inkjet     Receive e-mail from Web-based service   802.11g/n WPA2 WPS wireless

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$129

Inks

  Standard   High-capacity  
  Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$18.76 250 AUD$51.20 800
Cyan AUD$16.76 300 AUD$29.56 750
Magenta AUD$16.76 300 AUD$29.56 750
Yellow AUD$16.76 300 AUD$29.56 750

There are no fees or charges to use the ePrint service for print-to-email or the ePrint applications.

The printer itself

This unit looks as if it is a copy of the previous model, with the same compact black chassis and small screen with ATM-style operation and “pinball-machine” touch-buttons around the screen. The printing mechanism is very similar to the predecessor and using the same consumables.

But there is a lot more that meets the eye when you plug it in and switch it on,

Improvements over the B109n

Wireless-network setup

You will notice the first improvement when you set up the printer to work with your wireless network. Previously, if your Wi-Fi network’s router or access point didn’t support WPS “push-button” setup, you had to connect the printer to your computer and run the HP-supplied software to enrol it with your secure wireless network. With this model, you can enrol it with your non-WPS wireless network segments using the control panel. This is done using a “pick and choose” text entry method for entering the network’s WPA passphrase.

Another improvement is the ability to integrate properly with 2.4GHz 802,11n Wi-Fi network segments which means that you don’t need to “downgrade” your 802.11n router or access point to “mixed mode” or 802.11g for it to work properly.

The Internet-based printing appliance

The printer can now work as a network-based “printing appliance” for emails and MMS messages as well as being a network printer and scanner. There is also support for “print apps” where the printer can print out Web pages, RSS feeds, Sudoku pages and the like from the control panel. These are all set up by visiting the HP ePrint website (http://www.hp.com/go/ePrintCenter) where you establish an account using your Google, Facebook or openID credentials or site-particular credentials. Here, you enrol the printer by entering the device-specific code which is on an “ePrintCenter” sheet that is printed as part of the setup process.

ePrint Apps on unit's screen

ePrint Apps on unit's screen

Once set up, you have a machine-specific email address which you can add to your laptop, smartphone or MMS-capable mobile phone. Here, you then forward your document, photo or message to this address or add this address as a BCC address to an email to have it printed on the printer. This will then be printed out by this unit without you needing to have a computer at the same location switched on all the time. You may have to make sure you type some text before the photo if you are sending a photo by MMS so the ePrint service doesn’t reject your picture as spam.

HP ePrintCenter Web page

HP ePrintCenter management page

Similarly, HP have introduced “ePrint Apps” which allow you to print items provided by certain content providers from the control panel. I have talked about this feature on this site last year when HP released their first TouchSmart-based Web-enabled multifunction printer that had this functionality. One of these “ePrint Apps” that I like is the “Tabbloid” which allows you to have today’s posts from a list of RSS feeds that you select printed out at the touch of a button. Of course, there is the HP Quick Forms application which allows you to turn out ruled paper like notepaper, graph paper or music-manuscript paper using the printer’s control panel. This application still has some limitations like only being able to print 10 staves on the music-manuscript paper which is useless for certain music projects such as “vocal+piano”, quartet or organ pieces.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

On the other hand, the small control panel makes it harder to perform most walk-up printing tasks. Here, you have to highlight the task, touch “OK”, then work through menus to determine the task, which can make the whole process more difficult and confusing to perform and lead to more operation errors. This is a real limitation for older people or those of us who have eyesight or dexterity limitations.

As well, like the previous model, this unit doesn’t have Ethernet connectivity, which may be required if your Wi-Fi network is plagued with reception difficulties and you want to use HomePlug as an alternative networking method or connect it directly to the router using an Ethernet cable.

Some of these limitations may be to do with a common practice associated with the design of manufactured goods as the design nears the end of its lifecycle. This is where the manufacturer creates a model that is based on a common physical and mechanical design as other popular models that have the design but this model has a swathe of improvements over the previous models either in order to “finish off” the design or rush certain features in to that design.

Conclusion and Recommendation Notes

I would recommend this printer for home use as an entry-level network-enabled printer especially if you are moving towards the laptop-based wireless-network-driven “new computing environment”. It would also work well as a secondary printer for the study or kitchen area or in another building, especially if you place high value on the unit’s function as a “network printing appliance” that prints emails and photos that you send to it.

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Samsung – one of the few major contributors to the DLNA Home Media Network

I have been observing various Web feeds and found that Samsung has been working heavily on contributing to the DLNA Home Media Network in many different ways.

They had integrated the functionality in to most of their high-end Wi-Fi-enabled digital cameras and into their smartphones issued over the last year or so. An example of this is Epic 4G which is the latest 4G-enabled smartphone now available to Sprint customers in the US, where this phone can be a media player, server and controller.

As far as the main lounge-room or home theatre is concerned, all of their TV sets that are based on the Series 7, 8 or 9 chassis which includes most, if not all, of their “main viewing area” flatscreen TV models sold over the last two years are DLNA enabled and is now integrated into an increasing number of the Series 6 flatscreen TVs issued since model-year 2009. These TV sets and the DLNA-equipped ones offered by Sony have been considered as an option for small business and education when it comes to applications like digital-signage because of their cost-effectiveness and ready availability at most of the big-name electrical retailers.

As well, they are rolling this function in to most of their Blu-Ray players and Blu-Ray-based “home-theatre-in-box” systems. Surprisingly, they have provided this function in to the BD-C8000 which is the Blu-Ray equivalent of the portable DVD player that may be used to “pacify” kids with a movie during a long road trip. This is a product class that is less likely to be endowed with this kind of functionality because most of these players are made in a cost-driven manner.

It will be interesting to see what Samsung will come up with next as they design and release newer equipment over the subsequent years.

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A need to avoid “redlining” in broadband-Internet rollouts

During the election campaign in Australia, both political parties put up their plans for an improved broadband Internet service, with Labor providing a fibre-to-the-premises plan for most metropolitan, regional and rural areas and satellite for other areas while the Liberal Party put up a plan based on cable-Internet, ADSL and fixed-wireless technologies with a fibre-optic backbone.

One of the issues that I have noticed is that the broadband issue hadn’t touched on the issue of “redlining” when it came to provisioning of infrastructure. “Redlining” is where districts that are capable of receiving infrastructure aren’t provided with the infrastructure due to a perceived economic environment that is in place or the goal of particular parties like developers or investors to “shape” a particular district to a desired usage vision. An example of this was what happened with the way cable-based pay-TV service was provisioned around the cities in Australia. Some neighourhoods had the cables in the streets while other neighbourhoods didn’t have the cables and in those neighbourhoods that didn’t have cables, pay-TV was provisioned by satellite while broadband Internet was provisioned by ADSL. This became the same situation even though some of these suburbs were inhabited by wealthier professionals, “empty-nest” couples or others with more disposable income.

This can easily backfire as the demand for this kind of infrastructure shows up in the areas that are “redlined”. It can be caused by situations such as the subscription price for the services becoming more affordable for most people. As well, it can be exacerbated more by changes like gentrification of former working-class neighbourhoods or “empty-nest” couples moving to neighbourhoods with plenty of small houses.

Whenever anyone decides to roll out next-generation broadband, they need to make sure all areas that can be covered by a particular medium are covered by that medium.

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Buyer’s Guide – Buying a network-enabled printer

Introduction

Your may be operating an old printer that is “on its last legs” or you may be considering a printer for your new computer setup. At this point, you are thinking of which printer to purchase as your next printer.

The printer market is divided between two classes of printer user – the consumer which represents a typical household; and the small-business market which represents small organisations and home-office users who use the printer as part of telecommuting. I am not focusing attention on equipment pitched at “enterprise” users because these units are typically either leased or purchased under operation-specific plans and have too much functionality that is out of the scope of this buyer’s guide and Website.

Why prefer a network-enabled printer

When you have a small network in place at home or in your small business, it is now a good idea to move away from the cheaper “desktop-only” printers and multifunction printer-scanner units which are typically connected to one computer using a USB cable, and move towards a network-enabled printer. These printers connect directly to your home or small-business computer network and are in a position to share their printing or other resources without you needing to have a computer running all the time for this to happen.

Sure, you could connect a desktop printer to a network print server, which is now one of many functions provided by most routers or network-attached storage units. But on the other hand, a lot of the desktop-only units come with software that makes them totally dependent on their host computer and they don’t work well with network print servers. In the case of multifunction printer-scanner combos, you may only be able to print to the device’s print mechanism – you may not be able to gain access to the scanner, fax functionality or secondary storage.

Multifunction printer-scanner combo devices also benefit from network connectivity because they can allow you use their other resources from any computer in the network. There is even the ability to “push-scan” documents to any particular computer on the network from the printer’s control panel as long as you have the manufacturer’s software on that computer. This is because there isn’t a standard ability to list all available scanning endpoints on a network as yet. Some units can also “mount” the camera-card slots in the printer as network-shared disk drives so you can import the pictures to the computer for “processing”.

The network-enabled printer can work well with the “new computing environment” because the laptop computers that connect wirelessly to the home network can send their print jobs through that network to the printer. This avoids the need to locate the printer and connect up the USB cable to your laptop every time you want to print something out. The printer would be connected to the network via whatever network medium works best for the situation whether it be Wi-Fi wireless; blue Ethernet cable, or HomePlug or MoCA “existing wires” technology. This also allows you to locate the printer wherever you want to, as long as it is connected to your network and to power.

The main exception to this rule would be a portable printer like Canon’s PIXMA IP100 which is designed for use as an “on-the-go” printer for a laptop user; or a printer that services a particular desktop computer’s computing needs.

Printer Device Classes

Consumer printers and multifunction devices

Examples: Canon PIXMA MX-350 and MX-870, HP Photosmart series

HP Photosmart Wireless B109n printer

HP Photosmart Wireless B109n printer

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer

Canon PIXMA MX-350 multifunction printer with fax

These are printers and multifunction devices that are pitched at households to use primarily for printing “happy snaps” and other casual short-run print jobs, with occasional large print runs for homework projects and the like. They are often sold through the big appliance chain stores like Best Buy, JB HiFi and Harvey Norman and typically are finished in a cabinet that is attractive for home use. This is a way where manufacturers try to please the “woman of the house” with this class of printer by emphasising the machine’s beauty.

This class of printers always uses inkjet technology and the printing system in most of these printers is typically optimised for printing of photographs. This is typified through the use of photograph-optimised inks including five or six ink cartridges in some machines. In most of these machines, the paper-feed mechanism is optimised to handle “snapshot” prints with some machines like the HP Photosmart Premium Fax having a separate paper tray for 4”x6” paper.

The downside of this is that these printers are costly to run and, in most cases, they have a low duty cycle which will cause reliability problems for business users who run off many documents.

It is also worth knowing that most of the premium devices in this class are pitched as “home-office” printers and have business-ready functionality like integrated fax functionality or high-speed operation. This is although they are optimised for photographic printing and use the expensive consumer-grade photo inks rather than business-grade large-capacity inks.

Small-business printers and multifunction devices

Examples: Canon LaserShot series, HP OfficeJet series, HP LaserJet series

HP OfficeJet 6500

HP OfficeJet 6500

The printer equipment that is pitched at the small-business market is optimised for speed, efficiency and economy for a high duty cycle.

Most units will use inkjet printing although some models may use a laser or LED xerographic printing technology and one brand, namely Fuji Xerox, uses a “solid-ink” technology similar to how crayons work. This is although the output speed and quality of the inkjet printers is approaching that of equipment based on these other technologies.

There is much less importance on photo quality with most printers in this class because they are optimised for printing business documents most of the time. Let’s not forget that the colour inkjets in this class can do a good quality job of printing photos when given A4 or similar size paper. As well, they won’t have support for “snapshot” paper for use with printing “happy snaps”. Some manufacturers won’t provide a colour display on their low-end small-business models, which then will make it hard to print selected images from a digital-camera’s memory card, although they can print a DPOF print order that you determine on the camera from the camera’s memory card.

Network connectivity and setup

Connectivity

Most network-capable consumer-grade multifunction printers and a few small-business multifunction printers can connect to 802.11g WPA-PSK wireless network either with a built-in wireless network adaptor or a wireless network adaptor sold as an optional accessory. Some of the newer models in each class will properly support 802.11n wireless networks and may work with dual-band networks.

The mid-range and premium consumer equipment and all of the small-business equipment will have an Ethernet socket as a network connectivity path. This will provide increased connection flexibility such as the ability to use the “no-new-wires” technologies like HomePlug powerline or MoCA TV coaxial-cable networks as well as direct connectivity to a router’s or network switch’s Ethernet socket.

Wireless-network setup

Most of the economy consumer-focused models will require direct USB connection to a PC that is running manufacturer-supplied software to allow a user to configure them for most wireless networks. An increasing number of these machines may support WPS-based connection setup from the device’s control panel.

Better-equipped models will allow wireless-network setup for most home and small-business wireless networks at the unit’s control panel. usually with an “SMS-style”, “pick-n-choose” or virtual-keyboard text-entry method for entering WPA-PSK passphrases. Most of these models will not support WPA-Enterprise networks which are based around access to the wireless network based on user name and password credentials.

Network functionality

All of the machines will support network printing and if they have scanners, they will support network scanning. This will be in the form of allowing PC-initiated scanning to be started from the operating-system interface or manufacturer’s software, or device-initiated scanning as long as the host computer has the manufacturer’s software running.

Fax-equipped units can allow a user to send a fax via the network using the printer’s “fax” driver and some of the machines can send a fax to one of the computers in the network as long as the computer is on and running the manufacturer’s software.

Due to the cost-conscious manufacturing practices that exist in the consumer and small-business class of printers, there isn’t the likelihood of the printers supporting “on-device” print-job spooling where the print queues are held at the printer. Instead, the computers that prepare the jobs have to hold the jobs on their hard disks until the printer has finished printing the current job. There may be situations where there will be a “rush to the gate” to get a print job going when a print job is complete and two or more computers have pending print jobs. This feature could be made more available to this class of printer now that the cost of flash memory or hard-disk storage that is enough for this purpose has come in to ridiculously-cheap territories.

The network printing appliance

A new trend that is emerging especially with consumer equipment; and has been spearheaded by Hewlett-Packard is the ability for the printer to become an Internet-connected computer-independent “printing appliance” rather than a printer for computers on the local network. This is aided with a dedicated Web-based “online printing” portal created by the printer manufacturer where you manage this functionality. Here, the printer can be set up to print emails forwarded to a specific email address associated with that unit, print files uploaded to a particular Web page or print from special Web-based applications that are loaded on it.

Large-sheet printing

You may want to invest in a network printer that can work on paper sizes that are A3 or bigger, perhaps to print promotional material on large sheets of paper or to “run-off” hard copies of large spreadsheets.

In some cases, this may become more ecessary as organisations that you work with supply their “on-site” promotional material in a “download-to-print” form. This is where you download PDF files of the promotional material from a Website or receive the PDF files as an email attachment, then you print these PDF files out.  For these organisations, it is a cheaper option because they don’t have to print out and deliver or post the material to the sites where it is needed and they can focus the material to particular locations in an easier and quicker manner.

At the moment, there aren’t many network-enabled printers that can do this kind of printing, especially at an affordable price. The printers that do this functionality are usually single-function units that are to be connected to their host equipment through a USB or similar connection. There are some exceptions to this rule as mentioned below.

Hewlett-Packard have two network-connectable single-function printers that work with A3 paper: the OfficeJet 7000 colour inkjet printer, reviewed in this site; as well as the Color LaserJet CP5225dn colour laser printer.

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

HP OfficeJet 7000 wide-format printer

Brother have introduced a few network-enabled inkjet multifunction units that can print on A3 paper. One of them, the DCP-6690CW, also has an A3 scanner, which would make it functionally equivalent to the typical office photocopier of the mid 1980s. This is insofar that these units could copy A3 to A3 or do tricks like reducing an A3 document to A4 or enlarging an A4 document to A3. These printers have two paper trays so you can load one of them with A4 paper for regular use as well as the other with A3 paper for those large documents.

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

The best idea for most small businesses who want to fill these needs at the moment would be to obtain a wide-format colour inkjet that is capable of being hooked up to a network, such as the HP OfficeJet 7000. If they have a need to do an increased number of mid-to-high-volume A3 print runs, they may be in a better position to go for an A3-capable colour laser printer. This is in addition to a good inkjet or laser multifunction unit that connects to the network.

Consumables issues

Original-brand consumables vs generic-brand consumables

There is an ongoing issue concerning the use of generic-brand or private-label inks and toners for printers compared with using the inks and toners supplied by the manufacturer under the manufacturer’s own brand.

Most printer manufacturers often sell their consumer-market printers on a “razor and blades” model where they sell the printer cheaply but make up on the losses involved by selling highly-priced inks and toners. This is similar to how the razor manufacturers sold low-cost interchangeable-blade men’s razors but required that the customers bought their expensive replacement blades to work with these razors.

But there are some third-party suppliers who supply inks and toners that can work in a similar manner to the original-part cartridges and these may be sold direct or through smaller retailers. Some other retailers may sell these inks under one of their own private labels. The main issue with these cartridges is that the ink or toner may not yield the same high-quality output as the original-part cartridges. As well, the printer manufacturer doesn’t cover faults caused by the use of these generic-brand inks in the machine’s warranty or service contract.

The output-quality issue may not matter with routine jobs like faxing or printouts of emails, database reports or downloaded PDF documents intended for immediate reading but may matter with quality-sensitive material like photographs, presentation handouts or proofs. Another issue that may be of concern is that some of these cheaper inks may fade over a long time which may be of concern for photographs or documents intended as paper archives. In some cases, particularly with very cheap generic-brand consumables, there may be damage caused to the printer by their use.

On the other hand, there may be companies who will offer to sell consumables that are the same standard as the original-brand consumables but under their own label. It may be in the form of “clean-skins” that are consumables of a standard equivalent to original consumables loaded into “white-label” cartridges or simply consumables built by and for original-brand companies but sold under a private label, both practices that may be more prevalent in the USA and Canada but not so much in Europe or Australia.

It would be worth making sure that if you use generic-brand or private-label consumables that you use those consumables that are known to be good quality and you may have to remember that use of them may be suitable only for “rip-and-read” printing.

Use of aftermarket continuous inking systems

There are some firms who offer aftermarket continuous-inking systems for certain inkjet printer models. These are devices which draw ink from larger containers and feed the ink in to special cartridges that are installed in the printer. They are valued because they improve the printer’s economy and allow the printer to run for a long time without the need to purchase or install new cartridges.

Like generic-brand inks, these inking systems are not endorsed by the manufacturers as approved accessories and won’t be covered by the printer manufacturer’s warranty. So you would need to make sure you are using a good-quality continuous-inking system that is supplied by a reputable supplier.

Another issue worth knowing about with these systems is what is involved with maintaining them. This includes adding extra ink or handling ink or hose blockages; or air-locks as well as preventative maintenance. Some systems may require intensive end-user training and this may be of concern with workplaces where there are many different staff members coming through the business.

What to look for

When you buy a printer or all-in-one, you may find that buying the cheapest model, especially the cheapest consumer-grade model, may be penny wise but it can end up being very pound foolish.

Operation economy

You will need to look for a machine that is cost-effective to run in your operating environment. It may be cheaper to buy the consumer-focused model for your home office or small business, but you will find that these models will become expensive to run because of their low-capacity ink cartridges, whereas the expensive small-business models will end up being cheap to run due to their higher-capacity cartridges.

A good question to ask is whether you will be running many documents out of that machine. This will include, for fax-enabled all-in-ones or units with “email-to-print” capability, whether you will be receiving many documents, including “deliver-by-fax” periodicals, by fax or email-to-print.

Ease Of Use

The machine should be easy to use, especially for what you want it to do. Such a unit will end up being worth using by everyone at home or in the business because they don’t have to be involved in performing ridiculously difficult tasks in order to use it fully.

Firstly, you should be able to load paper and ink / toner cartridges without having to spend a long time “fiddling around” with or in the machine. This includes making sure that any lids that you need to open don’t require much effort to lift and can stay open without you needing to move a stay in to place. The cartridges shouldn’t need any extra effort to insert or remove. These factors are more important for machines used by older adults who may be losing their physical strength.

It also includes easy access to the paper path so you can rectify paper jamming and similar problems.

The print drivers should be easy to install for anyone who is competent with the computer operating system that they use. The instructions should be easy to understand and easy to follow, and the experience should be friendly.

If you use a multifunction printer from its control panel for tasks like scanning, copying or faxing, the display should be easy to read and the controls easy to identify and follow. If you print from a camera card, the machine should have a colour display that can show the pictures so you can choose whichever one to print.

Reliability

The printer should be able to handle a large print or scan job without jamming or saying it’s out of paper when there is paper in the unit. This is also important for machines that use extra paper handling like automatic duplexers, multiple paper trays or automatic document feeders.

You may find that your new printer will perform ultra-reliably during its first few years of service but will start to show problems after a good run of documents or as it ages. Here, it may be worth paying attention to the warranty that the manufacturer provides for the machine or specifications like mean-time-between-failures or duty-cycle to ascertain how reliable it is likely to be.

Similarly, the printer should be able to stay on the network while doing large print jobs. This may be a problem with some wireless models that go “off the air” during a print job. If this is important to you, it may be worth making sure that your printer has an Ethernet socket and purchasing a HomePlug powerline network kit or an extra “homeplug” if you have such a network segment running if you want installation flexibility and reliable operation.

What should I buy

Main printer for the household

An economy consumer all-in-one may be suitable as a first machine, such as when you use the wireless network for your laptop for the first time. This would be more applicable for a single person or couple with light printing needs.

A mid-tier consumer or an economy to mid-tier small-business all-in-one may work well for most houesholds as a main printer where a lot of traffic is expected. It would be also suitable for people who have a home office, whether they work primarily in another location or from home.

A premium consumer or small-business model is worth its salt if you are after the features it offers like high-quality photo printing for example. Some of the premium machines have fax capability which may be important if you need to send or receive faxes from home.

Secondary printer for the household

An economy consumer network printer or all-in-one can come in handy as a secondary printer, such as for children to use in the study for example. It would also go well for use in multi-building home networks where you want a network printer that is local to that remote building.

Main printer for small business

It is much wiser to stick to small-business multifunction models like HP OfficeJets for use in a small business or community organisation. If you intend to expect more printing activity, you may have to consider using a laser-based unit.

The feature set that you choose should be relative to what you expect out of your machine, especially the kind of printing that you may end up doing.

Secondary printer where main printer is a monochrome laser multifunction unit

For occasional colour printing jobs, it may be worth purchasing a network-enabled colour inkjet printer like an HP OfficeJet 6000. You may want to go for a wide-format machine like the OfficeJet 7000 if the kind of colour print jobs are primarily done on A3 or similar large paper sizes.

If you end up doing many colour print jobs, it may be worth looking at a dedicated colour laser printer because of these machines’ quick speeds.

Secondary printer optimised for quick turn out of receipts, etc

A networked laser or LED-based printer could do the job well for applications where you need to turn out forms, receipts and similar documents very quickly as part of your workflow. Similarly, these printers may also work well if you do large document runs like what would be expected in a legal office for example.

You may prefer a monochrome unit if the kind of work is primarily forms, receipts, large legal documents and the like or go for a colour one if you do some colour documents such as documents with photographic illustrations.

Conclusion

Once you know what the marketplace is like for your next network-enabled printer and know what to buy for your particular application, you can then choose a printer that will provide you with many years of reliable economical document-printing service.

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Product Review – Canon PIXMA MX-870 Inkjet Multifunction Printer

Introduction

The network-enabled printer that I am now reviewing is the Canon PIXMA MX-870 which is positioned at the top-end of the home and small-office / home-office range. It is another of the multifunction printers that are starting to complete a “bridge” between the high-end of a manufacturer’s consumer-oriented range and the low-end of their small-business range when it comes to inkjet-based multifunction printers.

Canon PIXMA MX-870 multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax Document Feeder Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour Double-sided 2 x A4 USB
Inkjet 2400dpi         Ethernet
Automatic Double-sided           802.11g WPA2 WPS wireless

Prices

RRP AUD$299

Inks

Standard
Price
Black 22.95
Cyan 22.95
Magenta 22.95
Yellow 22.95
Photo-Black 22.95

 

This printer is the PIXMA MX350’s bigger and more expensive stablemate but offers a lot more for the price. Most of the operations are very similar to the MX350, where the main functions are a button away. Even the quick-forms functions are similar in capability to what the MX350, with the support for printing music sheets that have 12 staves for composing and arranging “vocal+piano”, quartet or organ music.

The network connectivity is very similar to the MX350 where it can be hooked up to either a WPS-capable 802.11g WPA2-PSK wireless-network segment or a Cat5 Ethernet network segment. This can then cater for use with “no-new-wires” network segments based on HomePlug powerline or MoCA TV-coaxial technology when used with the appropriate bridge device.

The fax caters for the full requirements for single-line setups like FaxStream Duet (distinctive-ring) or automatic detect with telephone answering machines as well as the traditional dedicated-line setup. It can work “best-case” with colour transmission and reception.

There is even further improvement with receiving faxes where the unit can be set to print on both sides of the paper when it receives a multi-page fax. This feature can be very confusing when the fax is a separate pre-written document accompanied with a cover page or cover letter because the start of the document may be on the back of the cover page / letter.

It is also worth knowing that there is an optional Bluetooth interface kit which allows you to print pictures on your mobile phone using this printer or the MX350. This can also work with the 

Improvements over the MX350

5 Separate ink cartridges

Five separate ink cartridges

One major improvement that I like is that it uses separately-replaceable cartridges for each of the colours rather than a single colour cartridge. Here, you have 5 inks in separate cartridges which makes this printer more economical to operate

Paper handling

Front paper tray

Paper tray at front of the printer

There is a drawer on the front of the machine which is used for A4 or Letter plain paper. This drawer, which is referred to as the “cassette”, is where you would keep regular paper for use in ordinary print or copy jobs and receiving faxes while you use the rear feeder for printing on to special media like coated or glossy paper. When documents are printed from the paper held in this drawer, the paper path is a “horseshoe” path similar to many HP and Brother printers rather than the linear path used by Epson printers and Canon printers, including this one when it uses the rear tray.

There is also an automatic duplexer which I am very pleased with especially if you want to do your own short-run desktop publishing rather than just use it to conserve paper. Here, you don’t have forced margins or scaling involved and you have a very slight registration shift of 1 or 2 mm between the front and back sides of the page. The only limitation is that you have a 20-second per page time penalty when you print on both sides.

The automatic document feeder is also capable of scanning both sides of a page but it does this in a sequential manner. This can still benefit those of us who scan documents like accounts to PDF for electronic archiving.

User Experience issues

You may find that paper won’t load from the front tray and the printer will show “out of paper” errors for that paper source. This can be rectified by running the printer through a cleaning cycle for the paper-feed roller, which you do by pressing the “Setup” button and selecting “Maintenance”, then “Roller Clean” on the “Maintenance” menu.

Windows 7 users will notice that the printer isn’t replicated twice for the “print-to-fax” queue and the regular printer queue. What will happen is that when they click on the printer in “Devices And Printers”, they will see the printer’s Device Stage which is a “branded” user interface for the printer. If they click on the device status line in the Device Stage header to see what is yet to be printed, they will see a drop-down box which gives the user an option between the printer queue and the print-to-fax queue.

Limitations

There is still one problem with the software where the print monitor program can be out of step with printer, especially if the computer and the printer are working across the network.

Another limitation that I have found with this printer is that there aren’t any high-yield ink cartridges available for it, which can be of a limitation if you do a lot of printing or have to provide for a period where a lot of documents have to be printed like end-of-school-year.

Similarly, I would like to see the front paper tray be able to hold more paper, especially if you expect to receive more faxes or do a lot of short-run desktop publishing. As well, I have always said this that the printer manufacturers need to take advantage of flash memory being available at cheaper prices in order to provide for efficient print-job handling.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend this printer as another option for a home-office or small-business printer, especially where double-sided printing or scanning are required and the business places importance on fax capability. It would also work well for people who will want to use the automatic double-sided printing function as part of their short-run desktop-publishing requirements.

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Another dockable NAS system from Seagate

News article

Seagate introduces GoFlex Home for household network storage | The Toybox – ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Seagate –

Product Page

Press Release

My comments

Seagate had previously released a docking hard-disk system under the FreeAgent name, with a USB dock, media-player dock and the DockStar which is a network-attached storage which works with the FreeAgent docking hard disks.

This unit was based around the PogoPlug technology which has an Ethernet-ended network-attached-storage circuit in the same space as a “wall-wart” AC adaptor. It was able to support these functions:

  • “cloud-based” file sync
  • file backup either with supplied software or operating-system-native software in the form of Apple Time Machine or CIFS
  • a DLNA-compliant media server or
  • Remote file access from the Internet

Now, Seagate have established a new “FreeAgent” docking hard-disk form factor in the form of the GoFlex, which has some different attributes to the previous standard. Why has this action been taken?

One issue that may be of concern is the desire for Seagate to move from one platform to another but keep a few products going to support those who have the established platform.

Whatever, I would consider this NAS design as being suitable for use with a small network or as a secondary unit for a larger network. One application that I would think of for these units would be as a DLNA media server for a small-business network that has a dedicated server computer running something like Windows Server or a Linux business server build for company data. This unit would, as outlined in “DLNA and UPnP AV in the business”, hold media like pictures or videos to show using DLNA-capable TVs and electronic picture frames as part of the business’s visual merchandising strategy without putting business-critical data at risk.

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Impact of next-generation broadband on regular broadband service

 

La montée en débit des réseaux ADSL se précise – DegroupNews.com (France – French language)

My comments on this article

From my understanding of this French-language article, there had been some reports that the performance of “regular” ADSL broadband service (including the triple-play services) in areas where FTTH next-generation broadband service had been rolled out.

But there are some main factors that could lead to this.

One is that the “early-adopter” technology enthusiasts who would make most use of the Internet would have shifted to next-generation broadband as soon as the technology is available. This would apparently “free-up” the load on the regular broadband services for most people who may be doubting the need to shift to next-generation broadband.

Another is that the backbones that bring the data to the broadband-service networks, both the next-generation variety and the regular variety would have to be upscaled to cater for increased data traffic caused by the next-generation networks. This would then lead to increased performance for the Internet services.

But the main reason is due to capital improvements on the existing telephone network that have been taking place in order to increase the possible bandwidth available at the customer’s door. This has mainly been through revising the telephony-system architecture and eliminating aging and derelict infrastructure in order to improve the performance of ADSL-based Internet services

As I have observed with the UK and France, once you have serious commercial and government interest in developing a nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, such as through implementing fibre-optic-based next-generation broadband, there is a strong likelihood that the quality of the nation’s Internet service will improve. This can only happen with real competition in the telecommunications sector and a government that is behind real telecommunications improvement.

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Product Review – Brother MFC-6490CW A3-capable multifunction inkjet printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-6490CW multifunction inkjet printer which is one of the first products of its type to offer A3-size paper handling. This may appeal to you if you are likely to be running-off large spreadsheets, “download-to-print” display signage and promotional material, maps and the like on these large paper sizes.

Brother MFC-6490CW A3 multifunction inkjet printer

Print Scan Copy Fax Document Feeder Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour Single-sided 2 x A3 USB
Piezo-action Inkjet 1200 dpi Preset Enlarge A4-A3       Ethernet
            802.11g WPA2 WPS wireless

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$529

Inks:

Black: AUD$39.95 / cartridge (450 pages) 

Black – Double yield : AUD$59.95 / cartridge (900 pages)

Each colour: AUD$19.95 / cartridge (325 pages)

Each colour – double-yield: AUD$35.95 (750 pages)

A3 map on automatic document feeder

Can scan or copy A3 documents using its automatic document feeder

Paper handling

Brother has moved away from design practices that are common with most inkjet printers. First, they have used a U-shaped paper path which is similar to what is used in Hewlett-Packard inkjet printers. Here, unused paper is located under the output tray rather than behind the printer.

This has allowed for a design improvement where the paper is loaded in two removeable “cassettes” similar to how you load paper in to the typical office photocopier. These trays can hold both sizes of paper, but have to be expanded for larger sizes.

Copier-style paper cassette

Copier-style paper cassette

It can be fussy about which tray holds A3 paper, especially if the paper to be used is of a special type like glossy photo paper. As well, the unit will not be likely to work reliably if you load a small amount of paper in any of the trays, which you may do if you are using occasionally-used media.

The other key difference is the use of an Epson-style “piezo” inkjet mechanism where the ink is pumped to the print-head to mark the document. This is in contrast to how Hewlett-Packard, Canon and others heat the ink in the printhead to make drops fall on to the paper. There can be reliability issues with this kind of setup if you allow the ink cartridge to run bone dry because of air-locks but they can be rectified by your running the printer through a few head-clean cycles to get the ink flowing again. You can do this by pressing “Ink Management” on the control panel, then selecting “Cleaning”.

Brother have taken this further by locating the ink cartridges away from the print-head and using “capillary” hoses to pipe the ink to the print-head. The Ink cartridges are located behind a door on front of machine. One useability advantage is that you don’t need to lift a heavy lid to replace ink cartridges.

Ink cartridges accessible from front of unit

Ink cartridges accessible from front of unit

Network Set-up and Functionality

This printer is capable of working with either an Ethernet or 802.11g WPA2-compliant wireless network. It can support quick wireless-network setup with WPS-compliant access points and routers but it supports conventional WPA-PSK networks by requiring you to enter the passphrase using the numeric keypad in a manner similar to entering a text message on a mobile phone.

You can use the network for printing and scanning, whether initiated from the destination computer or the unit’s control panel. This will require that you use the Brother software that came with your printer in order to run a “scan monitor”. You also have “print-to-fax” and “fax-to-computer” abilities including the ability to allow the unit to work as a standalone fax for receiving faxed documents if the computer is down.

Walk-up functionality

Copying

The unit has just about the functionality that was expected of a mid-range office copier sold through the 1980s plus can do this with colour.

Here, you can enlarge and reduce originals, with preset ratios for enlarging A4 originals to fit A3 paper and reducing A3 originals to fit A4 paper for example, It also has a “book copy” optimisation mode for copying out of bound materials by using digital trickery to eliminate dark edges and skewing that occur with this kind of material.

Fax

This multifunction printer has all the support for most shared-line PSTN fax setups like Faxstream Duet and similar distinctive-ring services, telephone answering machines with proper end-user experience, as well as the dedicated-line setup. This is a boon for small businesses who are unable by cost or installation issues to set up the traditional separate fax line.

This unit is the first inkjet all-in-one that I have reviewed that provides proper “scan-then-send”  memory transmit for many fax jobs. This allows you to do things you are used to with a well-bred fax machine like scheduled sending (send overseas faxes to arrive at their machine “their” morning) or continuing to send documents to other destinations when one or more destinations is temporarily unreachable.

Print from camera cards

The unit does well with printing from camera cards but, like a lot of its peers, it “holds” the memory card for the whole of the print job even if it is just one image rather than copying the image to memory and releasing the card. This is simply because most of these machines don’t have enough memory for working with print jobs efficiently.

Printing tests

Graphics printing

I tested the Brother printer with a Transport For London transport map which covers the London “Tube”, “Overground”, Docklands Light Rail and other rail services covering Greater London. This map, which I have downloaded as a PDF file from the TFL website allows me to assess graphic colour handling (service lines) and printing and intelligibility of small detail (station names).

From this, it was able to work with small detail but can be hard to read with very small detail. For colours, they aren’t as vivid on plain paper unless you make sure that you specify “Vivid” in the colour option when you configure the print driver.

This isn’t an issue when working with glossy paper because the colours come up more vivid and more contrasty. I have had this printer print a photograph of some people and it handles the flesh tones properly. This is something that I assessed because the A3 page format may also appeal to those of us who are turning out rough drafts, mockups and the like for publishing of magazines and similar work.

Of course, photo-optimised paper yields the best results with more contrast and vivid results. If the work isn’t photo-based, the printer would work best with coated inkjet presentation papers for this kind of work.

Limitations and Points of improvement

The colour print output for graphics printing could be improved when you use plain paper. It is because most of us will work with plain paper either to print “download-to-print” onsite promotion material or run preliminary proofs on to plain paper through a project’s approval cycle. This could be achieved through a “proofing” or “plain-paper graphics” mode which optimises for this kind of use.

The unit could benefit from a “manual bypass” tray so you can load a few sheets of a particular kind of media without needing to empty out one of the trays every time you need to use specific media or do manual duplexing.

The paper-size auto-detect function could be made more reliable so you don’t have to re-determine the paper size through the control-panel or print driver menu if you want to use different paper sizes and types in any of the trays.

An automatic duplexer could be worth its salt as we are being encouraged to print routine office documents on both sides of the paper in order to save paper.

As I have always said, these printers need to benefit from more flash memory installed in them and used for holding pending print jobs. This particular unit would benefit more because of its A3 printing capability where these jobs can take a long time to turn-out. The cost associated of furnishing this memory is coming to the point where it will be ridiculously cheap to provide the technology.

Conclusion

This Brother MFC-6490CW is one of the first colour all-in-one inkjet printers on the market that can print to or scan from A3 or similar paper and this feature alone has impressed me. It is a good “all-rounder” for an operation where there is a desire to print to A3 but size is limited

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Why dump the idea of Australia’s National Broadband Network?

 Coalition will ‘wind clock back’ with NBN axing – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

My comments

I have observed other countries like the UK and France push on with next-generation broadband Internet developments and they have taken various initiatives to achieve this goal.

In some cases, most notably in the UK, local communities had set up localised next-generation broadband deployment for villages and other areas which wouldn’t be serviced by this kind of broadband, let alone any broadband service. As well, a lot of European towns are “wiring up” with some form of fibre-based next-generation broadband and there has been efforts in place to assure competitive service to the customer’s door.

Similarly, Finland took the bold step of having broadband Internet with a minimum speed of 2Mbps declared as a universal service in the same manner as a home telephone or mains electricity.

At the moment, we have situations where people in the country cannot get proper broadband service either through issues like distance to the exchange or very old telephone infrastructure; and we have a common situation where people have to count bandwidth used because of ridiculously expensive Internet-access tariffs and quotas. In some cases, we have situations where multimedia Internet like Internet radio or YouTube streaming video cannot be enjoyed especially during the late afternoon in a metropolitan area due to poor bandwidth allocation.

Is the Coalition intending to provide us with a lesser-standard next-generation broadband service or why are they simply doing this? If there is an alternative solution being proposed for an improved-technology broadband infrastructure, it needs to be cheap to maintain, including low failure rate; cheap to adapt to changing demainds as well as being cheap to establish. It also must be able to provide robust always-live broadband-class Internet service to rural and remote households as well as more dense communities. Finally, the service must see a decent increase in value for the amount the customers are willing to pay.

Whoever gains power in the Australian Federal Government should look at what the UK, France and Scandinavia are doing to assure their citizens of proper value for money as far as broadband Internet service is concerned.

Electoral Disclaimer

This comment is based on my observation and research of other countries concerning their provision of Internet access and service and is a viewpoint expressed independently of any political candidate or party contesting the current Australian Federal Election.

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