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  • Newsletter Issue #334

    April 24th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Here we go again: We made some more changes to our setups in recent weeks that should result in more reliable streaming, with fewer instances of stuttering. And all the shows have been re-encoded for superior audio quality, and to play properly on Podcast sites that use Flash players.

    What does all this mean? Well, we switched to a provider that allowed us to crank up audio quality and reduce the bit rate somewhat. This means that those of you with dial-up models should find it easier to hear the show. At the same time, we needed to get a handle on a peculiar phenomenon where our shows would sound like an episode of “The Chipmunks” when heard through players that used Flash technology. That meant replacing our entire library of programs, which resulted in somewhat larger file size, but improvements are obvious.

    It’s all part of an ongoing evolution, and more changes will come in time. We are also in the process of expanding the equipment lineup at the studio, and creating a mobile system, so we can broadcast on the road. Those of you who are audio engineers are welcome to make your suggestions about equipment and setups. We constantly strive for a professional sound and there’s always room to make things better.

    On April 20th, we again talked about running Windows on a Mac, using booth Boot Camp and Parallels Work Station. We were joined by Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus and Jason Snell, Editorial Director of Mac Publishing. In addition, industry analyst Joe Wilcox, of JupiterResearch, gave a fast analysis of Apple’s sales during the last quarter, and then examined its outlook for the coming year.

    Our April 27th episode will have some surprise guests, and we’ll let you know about them as soon as scheduling is nailed down.

    As to our other show, “The Paracast,” on April 25th we’re bringing back Bill Birnes, publisher of “UFO Magazine” and co-author of “The Day After Roswell.” He’ll respond to some of the criticisms about the best-selling book that he wrote with the late Philip Corso and also deliver some surprising information on the subject that you’ve never heard before. In addition, Sean Casteel will speak about Biblical prophecies and what he calls the “excluded” portions of the Bible.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, iPod accessories, memory upgrades, network music players, video tuner/recorders, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.

    If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.

    THE NIGHT OWL REVIEW: XEROX PHASER 8550DP

    Night Owl Rating: ★★★★★

    It’s rare that I review a product twice, and that the review is based on two different samples of a product. But I felt that Xerox and its solid ink printing process deserve special treatment, particularly in an industry with so many me-too designs. I’ve evaluated a huge range of printers over the years for various publications, and, in the end, often found it difficult to tell one from the other except for the most minor elements.

    Among dozens and dozens of inkjet and laser models, the Xerox Phaser 8500 and 8550 printers promise to bridge the gap between laser and inkjet in an affordable line that’s perfectly suited for the small to medium-sized business. I’ve already given an extensive first look at an 8500/DN, one of the cheaper versions, and, since then, I’ve stepped up to the 8550/DP, which, while nearly identical from the outside, offers speedier printing and superior output quality at its High Resolution/Photo print mode.

    While preparing for this extended examination, I reviewed some of the published reports about the product, and ended up finding one, from InfoWorld, which managed to get most of the figures right, but just about everything wrong. I’ll cover that, however, in a separate article in this issue.

    On the surface, the 8550/DP closely resembles a typical color laser. At the same time, it’s shorter and a little longer than most, but you have to open it up to see that this is a different animal entirely. At $1,149, after rebate, it is priced in the same range as many popular models from HP, Lexmark and others and you’re apt to evaluate it in the same breath. The features are similar too, with rated print speeds of up to 30 pages per minute, up to 2400 dpi resolution, and built in networking and two-sided printing. Unlike some of the competition, the main paper tray actually stores a full package of paper, with a rated capacity of 525 pages. Two costlier versions come with extra paper trays, more memory and an internal hard drive. If you want to save a few hundred dollars, you may want to consider the 8500/DN, which offers print speeds of up to 24 pages per minute, and lacks the higher print resolution for photos and high quality graphics.

    But when you add up the cost of consumables over time, you might prefer to stick with the 8550/DP, which will eventually become cheaper to operate for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

    Xerox, like Apple, understands that a smooth out-of-box experience can enhance the value of a computer peripheral. After taking the hefty beast, which weighs over 60 pounds, out of its shipping carton, I had it running its extended warm-up mode in just a few minutes. The latest Macs include drivers for the 8500 and 8550 series, so I was able to set it up on an Intel-based iMac in about a minute. Xerox’s own software package includes a XSupportCentre utility that lets you monitor printer settings and status on a Web-based interface, so you’ll get onscreen messages of the printer needs ink, paper or special maintenance.

    Unlike many printers out there, I was also able to configure it with relative ease under Windows XP, as installed on the iMac with both Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation. If you’ve ever tried to configure a networkable printer on a Windows box, you know that’s no mean achievement. The standard hookup scheme is Ethernet, but there is a USB 2.0 port for installations where you just want a personal printer in a single computer setup.

    When you first open the printer to install consumables, you know you’ve got something quite different. Instead of ink cartridges or toner, both the 8500 and 8550 series use solid ink, tiny wax-like sticks that are easily inserted into receptacles uniquely shaped for each color. You don’t have to wait for a for the ink to be nearly spent before replacing it either, as you can add several sticks to the ink loader and have the extra supplies in readiness when needed. If the colors are used up, it’ll automatically switch to black and white mode. That way you can keep on printing until you have a chance to replenish the color supplies.

    Upon first starting the printer, you have to wait about 15 minutes for the ink sticks to melt and for various startup and setup processes to complete. Once the printer is ready for output, it’ll output several pages showing status messages and helpful instructions. Xerox recommends that the unit should always be left on, because a fair amount of ink is used in the warm-up process. However, there is a low-power idle mode for when the printer isn’t in use. The unit automatically configures its idle periods over the first few weeks of operation by calculating your usage pattern. Smart!

    Once the first pages emerged, I knew I had something different. The 8500/DN delivers the first page of most documents in about six seconds; the 8550/DP does it about a second faster. Except for complicated graphics, print speeds are quite consistent, although you’ll sometimes encounter or pause of five or six seconds for some sort of internal processing or resetting.

    The 8550/DP has four print modes, trading off quality for speed. Unlike many models, Xerox manages to come amazingly close to its speed ratings. The 30 pages per minute Fast Color mode delivers adequate text with serviceable graphics, and its great for proofing or just printing pages from a Web site that you want to keep around for research. The default print setting is Enhanced, which rates at 16 pages per minute, and it offers the best combination of speed and text and graphics quality. The High Resolution/Photo setting is the one that gets you 2400 dpi effective resolution, and at a rated speed of 10 pages per minute, gives you near photo-quality prints.

    A solid ink printer uses a simple, relatively straight paper path, and the printing process is similar to offset, where a single roller receives the image, which is then transferred to paper. Since you don’t have to deal with multiple banks of toner cartridges, registration of color documents is essentially perfect. Print quality is extremely close to that of a laser printer, and you have to look real close to see just a slight spread of ink from tiny characters. This is something you won’t notice when you examine the output from any normal distance. Color photos and graphics are sharp and bright, and only a color inkjet will deliver superior results. Black and white photo can be a little grainy, but are still quite acceptable. If you don’t intend to print photos on glossy paper, however, you’ll be extremely pleased. But don’t forget that inkjets, which excel at photos, generally require expensive paper and consume large quantities of ink to do their best. Costs for page will be a lot less if you stick with a solid ink printer for most of your work.

    According to Xerox, the 8500 and 8550 printers are often bought by real estate agents. Their superior text and photo quality is great for displaying home listings and they are also cherished for in-house business reports.

    Any four-color printer isn’t exactly cheap to operate, but solid ink rates at the lower end of the cost scale when it comes to consumables. You can purchase single sticks, which are each rated at 1,000 copies. But you’ll do best with three-packs for colors and six-packs for black. Periodic maintenance requires emptying a waste tray at the side of the printer and replacing a special maintenance kit that contains a roller that keeps the surface of the imaging drum clean and oiled.

    The standard maintenance kit is rated for up to 10,000 copies. There is an optional version for the 8550 series that costs about 50% extra, but yields up to 30,000 copies. Here’s where the more expensive model might end up being cheaper, if you find yourself printing thousands and thousands of copies per month.

    Yes, it all adds up, but if you evaluate the price of keeping a color laser well fed, you’ll find these solid ink printers relatively economical to operate.

    In addition to stellar print quality, the 8550/DP has been thoroughly reliable during my extensive tests. I’ve outputted thousands and thousands of copies, and it never missed a beat. Envelopes come through the multifunction tray clear and crisp, and all the pages sport a waxy sheen that gives them the look of class.

    If you’re in the market for a color laser for your home or office, take pause. For many of you, a Xerox Phaser 8500 or 8550 is a much better solution and I will be extremely reluctant to return this product when the review product concludes.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: ANATOMY OF A BAD PRINTER REVIEW

    Reviewing computers and electronics gear is both subjective and objective, and opinions to a product may vary all over the place. So I am decidedly reluctant to criticize someone else’s reaction to a product. I wouldn’t be so egocentric as to say that my views are necessarily to be taken with greater authority that anyone else’s.

    However, I’ve already weighed in on that strange review of a Xerox Phaser 8550/DX, which is identical to the 8550/DP I’ve reviewed for this issue, except for packaging it with two extra paper trays, extra memory and a 20GB hard drive.

    Now that I’ve had plenty of face time with the 8550/DP, it has only made me more concerned about InfoWorlds’s review and their inability to make corrections when confronted with incontrovertible facts. In any case, I’m going to examine the key anomalies and deliver my comments. I’m doing my best here to stick with the facts, taking the article at face value as much as possible.

    Grayscale photos are rendered in “a pinkish color composite.” Maybe this is peculiar to the unit they tested. I couldn’t find any symptom of this sort on either the 8500/DN or 8550/DP. When I asked one of InfoWorld’s reviewers about this, she said it wasn’t “pinkish” but “greenish,” which made the comment even stranger. One owner of one of these printers has suggested some sort of misconfiguration in the print driver, but I wasn’t able to see it with the default settings.

    The printer “paused frequently to adjust itself.” This implies a period of long duration, such as you occasionally encounter with an inkjet printer. In fact, this alleged “pause” only happens periodically, and then it’s of brief duration, probably a few seconds at most.

    Update: “The smell of melting ink can be unpleasant.” Maybe in their environment, but I can’t smell a thing in my home office even when my nose is placed near the printer, and I’ve been able to detect the odor emitted by printer toner. Mrs. Steinberg, who boasts a superior ability to sense strange odors, couldn’t smell the melting ink either. In fairness to everyone, some of our readers do smell the odor, particularly during the warm-up cycle, but find it pleasant, like crayons. But the flavor of incense would be nice.

    “Despite a 30-ppm-rated engine, the Phaser 8550/DX’s fastest time when printing 10 copies of a 10-page, plain-text Word document was a paltry 15.4 ppm.” All right, InfoWorld is accusing Xerox of misrepresenting its test results. However, one of the authors of this review admits the test was not done in the speediest or Fast Color mode, but in the Enhanced mode, which is rated at 16 pages per minute. Under those circumstances, a 15.4 result is not “paltry” at all, but extremely close to Xerox’s claim. There’s nothing to indicate that the unit was ever tested at its speediest setting.

    “You can’t write over the output with a ballpoint pen.” This is partly true. However, it works just fine if that ballpoint uses gel ink.

    “Consumables costs are high.” InfoWorld rates the costs of consumables over 50,000 copies. When you compare it with a previous survey of color lasers, where printer costs were examined for an estimated 100,000 copies, and account for the differences, the Xerox solid ink printers actually rate at the lower end of the scale. When I asked the InfoWorld writer to explain this contradiction, she claimed the magazine had changed its method of calculating costs of operation, but I could never get her to explain what those changes were. I spent a little time examining the price of consumables of the Xerox against several popular color lasers, and the Xerox was more than competitive.

    I do not pretend to understand why the obvious flaws in the article aren’t being acknowledged, even after I spent an extended amount of time documenting them. The fact that I didn’t see the review until several months after it was published, however, no doubt influenced the decision, since it’s probably just yesterday’s news. But it makes me concerned over the accuracy of other product reviews by the same authors.

    No, folks, I am not free of errors, but I strive to correct them when I can, and that’s the advantage of Web-based publishing. Too bad others don’t look at the situation in the same way.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #334”

    1. […] a few articles last year, I gave stellar reviews to the Xerox Phaser 8550DP solid ink printer. Indeed, over the ensuing months, I felt extremely positive about my decision. […]

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