Mon, 07 Feb 2000

DeskJet 970Cxi for printing photos at home

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): When I bought my HP DeskJet 1600C, I was convinced that I would not have to buy another printer in another 10 years. Well, it turned out to be a case of yes and no.

Yes, because the DeskJet 1600C still works very well for most of my printing needs -- and I no longer print as much as I did in the past when I was still doing some desktop publishing work. Today, however, the color capabilities of the heavy-duty, high- end DeskJet 1600C pale when compared to what we can get from the latest generation of color inkjet printers.

So, when I finally had the chance to test one of HP's currently most popular inkjet printers, the DeskJet 970Cxi, I realized that I had a case of wishful thinking when I decided to buy the 1600C. In addition to really great color printouts, the 970Cxi, which HP also calls Professional Series, comes with a slew of nice features.

It is the first inkjet printer to come with a duplex capability. The two-sided printing module, which is included with the printer, can be attached to the back of the printer and will enable us to print on both sides of the paper without having to reinsert the paper. HP claims that the printer has 12 pages per minute (ppm) of maximum speed, which may be an overstatement. Still, the 970Cxi is a respectably fast printer. Strangely, despite the speed, the printer is quiet and does not shake and jiggle when printing -- like my 1600C does.

In addition to the commonly used parallel connection, the printer also has a USB port for USB connection to a newer PC or a Mac. Immediately after I inserted the plug of the USB cable, which was not included, my PC recognized the printer even though I had not powered the printer up. However, I made a mistake by going straight ahead with the installation of the driver, thinking that it would work like any other time I installed the driver of a new printer on my PC.

It did not. After two failures, I followed the instruction on the included flyer. Only then were the drivers and printer utility installed without any problem. Once again the same lesson was learned here: Don't just ignore the quick start flyer that the manufacturer has provided. Products may require a bit of special trick before you can use it flawlessly.

The USB connection is faster than the parallel. Besides, plugging and unplugging the cable are easier, too, much easier than the parallel cable. We don't even have to turn off the printer when we use the USB cable.

PhotoREt III

With this printer, HP finally responded to the demands from users who religiously believe that the more DPI (dot per inch), the better. The 970Cxi is capable of printing color images at 2400 DPI (2400 x 1200), one of the highest in the industry.

However, more dots per inch will mean a lot more data is involved. HP recommends a machine with 64 MB of RAM and 400 MB of free hard disk space if intending to print a 8.5x10 inch image at this level of resolution. Processing more data will inevitably require more time, and we may be unable to use our PC for a while. It took me more than six minutes to print a full-page picture of my daughter using the Best print quality mode.

HP has a better solution that does not require a huge amount of data and therefore can keep printing time short. It's called PhotoREt (Photo Resolution Enhancement Technology), which is now the third generation. PhotoREt III is basically a color layering technology developed to enable the printer to place up to 29 droplets of ink on the same tiny spot on the paper. The size of each droplet is really miniscule, only 5 picoliters. With this capability, the color becomes very rich and highly saturated. The printer can print up to 17 different levels of intensity for each primary color per dot.

In one of my tests, I used the image captured using the Canon PowerShot A50 digital camera, which I reviewed late last year. The camera itself did not do a very good job in capturing flesh tones, but the printout still shows an acceptable result, nonetheless. The SmartFocus feature also helps a lot in sharpening the details of the relatively low-resolution JPEG image file from the digital camera, making the large 8.5x10 inch image still look very acceptable.

In addition to PhotoREt III, the printer is also equipped with ColorSmart for color management. There are other special features that HP has added to improve the quality of color printouts, such as Automatic Contrast Enhancement and manual color setting. Black text printout equals that of a laser printer. We can also tell the printer to print out pages that are more suitable for photocopying or faxing. The 970Cxi accepts a wide variety of printing materials, including envelopes and special photo paper. We can even print posters by combining a number of sheets, and the printer driver automatically creates the individual sheets for us.

Unlike in the past, we no longer have to swap cartridges if we want to print photos. Unlike my 1600C, which has four cartridges for four different colors, the 970Cxi has only two ink cartridges, one black and one tricolor cartridge. There is a low- ink indicator, so we won't have to stop our job midway because the ink runs out. There is a Cancel button, too, so we don't have to power down the printer if we decide to cancel a print job. The duty cycle is pretty high at 5000 pages per month. It is also networkable, but we'll have to add HP's JetDirect printer server.

Because HP normally includes a USB cable in each of its USB- capable scanners, I was surprised to find that they didn't include one in this printer. The built-in 4 MB of RAM cannot be expanded. But, except for these two weaknesses, I could not find fault with this US$400 printer.

Often it is a good idea to buy a product that has been field tested by the market. The DeskJet 970Cxi has been around since last October, and therefore its reliability has been tested. If you're looking for a mid-range inkjet printer that will allow you to print gorgeous photos in addition to sharp documents for your business and SOHO, you can't go wrong with the 970Cxi.