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May 1996 WinLab Reviews

See a complete listing of this month's product reviews.

(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score: rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. Our overall ratings follow this scale: 5,Outstanding or breakthrough product, best of its kind; 4, Exceeds expectations, superior to most competing products; 3, Works well, meets all our expectations, no major problems; 2, Has serious difficulties or limitations; 1, Has critical flaws. A list of recommended products follows the Reviews section.)

Hardware This Month…

Image is everything in this month's roundup of new hardware, with reviews of five monitors, four scanners and add-in cards that deliver big-screen video and TV to your desktop.

Head to Head: Color Laser Printers

Color Printer Pair: Choose Your Hues

By Hailey Lynne McKeefry

Art is in the eye of the beholder. Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol viewer's masterpiece is another's mediocrity. I found that judging between the output of the Tektronix Phaser 550 and that of the HP Color LaserJet 5 was no easier. Both color laser printers provided good results.

To compare the two printers, I printed a dozen color photograph files on each using the out-of-the-box standard mode. In its ColorSmart mode, the LaserJet automatically chose the most vivid colors for added brightness. Although this sharpened the images, it also sometimes modified the colors. In four of the six examples, the Phaser produced images that were closer to the images when displayed on the PC's screen. Text and graphics from both units were equally colorful and clear.

The HP Color LaserJet provides "1200dpi class" resolutions, which means that a 300dpi printer engine is combined with Image Resolution Enhancement Technology for the effect of higher resolutions. The Tektronix Phaser 550 offers true 1200x1200dpi resolutions.

Tektronix has taken printing software to a new level with its PhaserLink software, which uses the World Wide Web to access printer status, troubleshoot problems, configure the printer, and find documentation and technical support. Several traditional software utilities were provided with the HP LaserJet, including HP FontSmart and HP JetAdmin printer-management software.

I hit a few snags setting up each of these printers. Both balked at the Extended Capability Printing (ECP) port used in Windows 95. Processing time for an average-sized JPEG file was several minutes. Resetting the BIOS of the 133MHz Pentium PC I was using to "compatible" printing got the LaserJet humming along. However, this did not completely solve the Phaser 550's problem. On the advice of Tektronix Technical Support, I created a new printer port called LPT1.DOS, which allowed the unit to print, although I still experienced prolonged processing speeds.

The Tektronix Phaser used a cartridge system for toner, which was easy and straightforward. The HP Color LaserJet used a toner bottle system, in which toner powder had to be emptied from the bottles into the printer, which proved to be more time-consuming.

The Tektronix came standard with 24MB RAM, and the HP shipped with 20MB. Both provided adequate paper-handling capabilities, offering a 250-sheet universal tray. The Tektronix holds up to 100 transparencies, while the HP can handle 50. Two 250-sheet optional trays could be added to the Phaser, while one 250-sheet tray could be added to the LaserJet. The HP allowed control of the unit at the printer using an extensive system of buttons, while the Tektronix used fewer buttons and a display panel to allow control of media trays, defaults and test printing.

The Tektronix Phaser 550 offered some extra features that the HP Color LaserJet 5 did not, though the drivers in HP's unit proved more robust. The HP is the unit for you if you want easy color control. The Tektronix should be your choice for consistent output.

Info File
HP Color LaserJet 5
Pros: Color accuracy
Cons: Toner bottles
Hewlett-Packard Co.
800-752-0900, 408-246-4300
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Tektronix Phaser 550
Pros: Color accuracy; Web software
Cons: Communications snafus
800-835-6100, 503-682-7377
WinMag Box Score: 2.5

Head to Head: Scanners

PIE Takes a Slice of HP's Turf

By Serdar Yegulalp

Now and then, an upstart comes along to knock off the old champ. While Hewlett-Packard is hardly on the ropes with its ScanJet 4p flatbed scanner, I found that the PIE ScanMedia from Pacific Image Electronics earned a higher rating. Not only does the PIE unit have a better driver, but it can serve double duty as a fax machine and copier, too.

HP ScanJet 4p

The ScanJet 4p doesn't quite live up to HP's normally excellent reputation.A 24-bit, 300-dot-per-inch optical scanner, the ScanJet is fundamentally a good machine that's been thwarted by bad TWAIN software. Just changing the scanning resolution in terms of dots per inch isn't directly possible; the user has to manually calculate the appropriate dpi. Documentation on the TWAIN driver is equally sparse, amounting to little more than a walk-through of each phase of the button-pushing. The good news is that the ScanJet acquires its images with speed and extremely decent quality.

The rest of the package is quite good. HP has bundled its own SCSI adapter (the user can choose either the included adapter or an Adaptec-compatible ASPI SCSI card), and the setup and configuration documentation is comprehensive. Another plus: HP has made full use of Windows 95's hardware management. After you install the needed drivers and reboot, the ScanJet shows up as a properly configured and ID'd device in the Device Manager. This means that 32-bit drivers and TWAIN controls are being used, of course; 16-bit ones are also pro-vided for Windows 3.1x users. I had the scanner humming away after the first install attempt.

Bundled with the scanner is Visioneer's PaperPort software, which uses a documents-on-a-desktop metaphor to sort and organize scanned images. Some features of the program are excellent-the way it handles annotations, OCR and multiple-page documents, for instance-but it doesn't seem to have been thoroughly tested for Windows 95 compatibility, since using the mouse on the main window's menu caused the program to crash.

Also included is Corel PhotoPaint Select 5.0, a Photoshop-like program designed for precise editing of large, high-color images. A 50-page document feeder is available as an add-on.

With Hewlett-Packard's legendary reliability and support, the ScanJet 4p is worth considering, but HP needs to rethink its drivers.

PIE ScanMedia

The ScanMedia has a leg up on its HP rival because it performs multiple duties: It can work as a fax machine (there are jacks for phone lines right in back) and a copier, since its drivers can send scanned output directly to the printer. You can control both copier and fax functions as well as all aspects of the scanner's setup directly from the ScanMedia's front panel, which features a two-line LCD. An LPT port in the back is provided for attaching directly to a printer, in case you prefer to work that way. Lots of nice little features abound, including a user-configurable sleep mode that saves power and extends the life of the scanning lamp. The cover is hinged for removal to allow access to materials too big to fit under the hood.

Crack open the crate and the usual instructions are there, along with a 16-bit SCSI card, PIE's Office software-a simple, centralized way of accessing all the scanner's functions at once-and Ulead PhotoImpact 3.0. Getting the scanner up and running was a 10-minute job that involved nothing more than making the SCSI connections and running the installation software. The ScanMedia relies on a DOS driver to handle scanner communications and virtualize the scanner as a printer (for the copier function). This is perhaps the unit's single biggest drawback.

Its TWAIN driver is also 16-bit, but gorgeous-a little cluttered, but not hard to figure out. Exposure, color balance, contrast and tone curves are all here along with a built-in calculator to determine the best scanning resolution for output devices with different dot pitches. There is a gamma control, but there's no calibration for matching with output-device gamma. There is, however, automatic exposure control for getting the best quality from a pre-scanned area.

The image quality is superb, capturing even difficult-to-reg-ister shadows and gradations. Maximum scanning size is 8.5 by 14 inches, and the optical resolution is 300x600dpi (with an interpolated resolution of 2400dpi). Documentation is thorough and straightforward, with all bases covered. There's not much information on cus-tom-configuring the ScanMedia for use with one's own ASPI-compatible SCSI card, though-the only thing to do is to reinstall the drivers with that option selected.

-- Info File --
HP ScanJet 4p
Pros: Win95 integration; speed; "32-bitness"
Cons: TWAIN driver
Hewlett-Packard Co.
800-SCANJET, 415-857-1501
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

-- Info File --
PIE ScanMedia
Pros: Diverse functions; front-panel controls
Cons: 16-bit TWAIN driver
Pacific Image Electronics
800-909-9966, 310-214-5281
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

Head to Head: Envisions 4e Color Flatbed Scanner and
UMAX PowerLook II

A Scan for All Seasons

By Serdar Yegulalp

These two flatbed scanners can give both professional digitizers and weekend Photoshop jocks something to smile about. The UMAX PowerLook II provides a high-end solution for professionals, while Envisions' 4e Color Flatbed Scanner is a low-cost solution for business users.

Envisions 4e Color Flatbed Scanner

The Envisions scanner features an 8.5-by-11-inch scanning bed, a hinged and removable cover-for easy scanning of bulky materials-and the addition of a transparency adapter ($399). It's got an optical resolution of 300x600 dots per inch and a maximum color depth of 24 bits. With software interpolation, the resolution can be boosted to 4800x4800 dpi. The included software bundle is solid: Adobe Photoshop LE, Xerox TextBridge 3.0, Kai's Power Tools SE and Alta Vista MediaWrangler. There's even an instructional videotape.

Envisions' DynaScan drivers are based on UMAX technology, so there's practically no difference between the two units' TWAIN interfaces. The 4e was up and running on the first try, hungrily consuming graphics and spitting them into any program with either 16- or 32-bit TWAIN interfaces. Even better, the 16-bit TWAIN driver is able to interface with Windows 95's hardware management and doesn't need a DOS ASPI manager to function. Getting great-looking scans from the 4e is no harder than prescanning the page, choosing an area and hitting the Scan button, since contrast and gamma are automatically calibrated from the prescan bit-map. Despite the omission of a few small features, such as a power- and lamp-conservation mode, the 4e is still an excellent choice for scanning on a budget.

UMAX PowerLook II

The PowerLook II gets everything just about right. Packaged with a SCSI card, 16- and 32-bit driver software, a full version of Photoshop 3.04, Pixar Typestry, Wordlinx OCR and Kai's Power Tools (plus a CD of KPT high-resolution stock pictures), the PowerLook II is ready to go in minutes once plugged in. This is one for the pros-including its price tag ($3,399, but that includes everything).

The PowerLook II sports a 10-by-14 inch scanning surface, 36-bit image depth and a hardware resolution of 600x1200dpi.Software interpolation brings the resolution up to a dazzling 9600dpi. As for the output from the PowerLook, "gorgeous" is an understatement: Shadows and deep tones all come through, and the sharpest details are rendered accurately both in monochrome and color. Photoshop 3.04 now supports images of up to 48 bits, so it's possible to edit and scan 36-bit pictures without trouble if your display card can handle it.

Fire up the TWAIN driver, and you're greeted by a clean, easy-to-read display that is rich with useful options. Moir... removal and descreening (for 85- , 133- and 175-line images) make graphics scanned from magazines and newspapers look clear and clean. Images of any size up to the full capacity of your computer (memory plus hard disk) can be scanned in, and a special batch scanning mode lets you collect scans from several sources, such as the pages of a book. There are also hooks to tie into UMAX's MagicMatch calibration software, which provides dead-on color matching between what you see on screen and what you put on the scanner bed.

Working with the transparency adapter is not difficult-it just involves hooking up the hardware (a two-minute job) and changing one setting in the TWAIN driver. Transparency scans are every bit as de-tailed and bright as their reflective counterparts. Both 16- and 32-bit drivers work well, and the 16-bit material doesn't require a DOS ASPI driver under Windows 95.

Some of the bonuses in the box aren't the greatest-Wordlinx OCR is a 16-bit program and has only so-so recognition-but it's hard to argue with Photoshop or Kai's Power Tools, and Pixar Typestry is a nice way to augment completed scans. Documentation for the UMAX is well-written and il-lustrated lavishly, if occasionally short on precise technical information. The description for the Scan Quality factor (used only when calibrating output to printer), for instance, is too sketchy. The PowerLook also goes into sleep mode when it hasn't been in use for several minutes, thus conserving lamp life, but there's no way to set a time interval or to force it to go to sleep. These are minor quibbles, however, about an otherwise exceptional product.

-- Info File --
Envisions 4e ColorFlatbed Scanner
Pros: "32-bitness"; drivers
Cons: No power conservation mode
Envisions Solutions Technology
800-365-7226, 510-661-4300
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

-- Info File --
UMAX PowerLook II
$3,399 (street)
Pros: Scan quality; software
Cons: Price
UMAX Technologies
800-562-0311, 510-651-8883
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

Mitsubishi Diamond Scan 17HX and Diamond Scan 15HX

Pretty Pictures-at a Price

By Michelle Tyrrell

Mitsubishi's newest monitors are beautiful to look at, easy to operate and functional-but pricey compared to their competition. The 17HX retails for $950 and the 15HX for $450. Several competing monitors on the market offer similar features for less money.

The 17HX flat square monitor (15.7-inch diagonal viewable area) displays 1024x768 pixels at a 75Hz refresh rate. Maximum resolution is 1280x1024. Its ultrafine 0.26-millimeter dot pitch, Invar shadow mask and antireflective/static coating make for good all-around viewing. But after a few hours in front of the 17HX, I was wishing for a slightly higher refresh rate. Flicker that was barely apparent at the start eventually bothered my eyes. While few will need the maximum 1280x1024 resolution, it's useful for CAD and DTP apps.

The 15HX (13.8-inch viewable area) also displays a maximum resolution of 1024x768 pixels at a 75Hz refresh rate, with a 0.28mm dot pitch. It also features an Invar shadow mask and antireflective/static coating, and, after much image tweaking, actually presented a more focused, sharper picture than the 17HX. Both monitors are Plug-and-Play compatible.

The casing on both models is sturdy and well constructed. The 17HX measures 16.1 by 16 by 16.7 inches, and the 15HX is 14.3 by 14.1 by 15.3 inches. Especially nice is the 17HX's effortless tilt/swivel action, which makes its 47 pounds of heft seem not so unwieldy. The 30-pound 15HX's tilt/swivel movement was merely adequate.

These monitors are nearly identical, save fewer image controls on the 15-inch model. The 17HX boasts an impressive array of on-screen image-adjustment controls that really do make a difference. The controls include red and blue levels, white color-balance temperature adjustments (broadcast, publish, standard), side-bow, keystone, rotation, moir..., horizontal/vertical size/position, contrast, brightness and power save. There's also a degauss button and a reset button, to return to factory presets. The 15HX has most of the same controls, minus the rotation and moir... adjustments and the degauss button. A 30-minute warm-up time is recommended for both before you adjust color and image. The monitors save your adjustments automatically.

Both models hide the user controls behind a flip-down panel in the casing below the screen. The on/off button is located on the front of the monitors.

The user guide with both models is a great help. And since both monitors ship with an AC power cord and signal cable, setup is a breeze. They're covered by a 3-year parts and labor limited warranty.

Both monitors comply with the VESA DPMS standard and with Sweden's MPR II guidelines for maximum emissions, but neither is TCO-compliant.

The only drawback: the price tag. You can find comparably priced 17-inch monitors with even more features (like ViewSonic's 17GA with speakers and headphone/microphone jacks for $50 more), and lower-priced 17-inch monitors with similar features (such as Princeton Graphic's Ultra17+ for $150 less).

That reservation aside, either of these monitors from Mitsubishi would be a great addition to any system.

Info File
MitsubishiDiamond Scan 17HX and Diamond Scan 15HX
17HX, $950; 15HX, $450
Pros: On-screen controls
Cons: Price
Mitsubishi Electronics America
800-843-2515, 714-236-6352
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

ArtMedia monitors TN2185, TN1885 and TX1864

Trio Pitches Near-Perfect Pictures

By Joel T. Patz

ARTMEDIA'S 1996 Trinitron monitors don't disappoint. They offer the high quality and high performance I've come to expect from this company (see ArtMedia Monitors TC1864 and TG1882, in the January issue). I was impressed by the two new 17-inch models and a 20-inch monitor I tested. Each of these flat-screen monitors offers on-screen capability for fine-tuning what I found to be already outstanding image quality out of the box. As an added benefit, they support Windows 95 Plug and Play.

The TN2185 20-inch monitor, with its 19-inch diagonal viewing area, offered a very good level of sharpness and clarity. Though I did notice a slight darkening on the screen's lower-right side when running DisplayMate's color panel test, it's unlikely you'll notice any problem when working with actual applications. The monitor offers screen resolutions from 640x480 to 1280x1024 at 77Hz. I tested the monitor in 800x600 mode, and it passed DisplayMate's battery of tests with flying colors. From the geometry and distortion tests to the sharpness and resolution challenges, the ArtMedia TN2185 provided outstanding detail with a 0.31mm trio pitch (roughly equivalent to a 0.30mm aperture grille pitch).

At higher resolutions, the 20-inch screen size means that you'll be able to run two or more applications and see each in a full window on your screen-no more flipping back and forth as you have to do with a 14-inch or 15-inch monitor. ArtMedia also provides an on-screen display (OSD) for controlling horizontal and vertical convergence, rotation and pincushioning, vertical and horizontal picture size and position, brightness and contrast. You can make adjustments by using the buttons hidden behind a protective panel on the monitor's front. The OSD also shows the vertical and horizontal frequencies, as well as the current color temperature (5000, 6500 or 9300 degrees Kelvin). You can also adjust the red, green and blue components. A tiny recessed reset button returns all settings to the factory configuration. I found the factory setting of 6500K perfect as is. An on/off button rounds out the controls.

On the back, you'll find the AC-in connector, as well as two types of video inputs: a traditional 15-pin VGA connector and a set of five BNC input connectors to use with the included video cable. In its normal state, the monitor uses 140 watts of power; this drops to 15W in a suspended state and not more than 5W in the active off state. The monitor supports VESA DPMS protocol and is Energy Star compliant. It meets the TCO/MPR II low-emissions standard.

The TN2185 measures 19.5 by 18.6 by 19.75 inches and weighs approximately 65 pounds.

If you can't spare the desktop space, consider the TN1885, a 17-inch model with a 16-inch diagonal viewing area. This Trinitron monitor's performance with its 0.25mm aperture grille pitch is similar in every way to that of its big brother. It measures 16.9 by 16 by 17.75 inches and weighs 44 pounds.

If you're on a budget, but still want Trinitron quality, I'd strongly suggest you take a look at ArtMedia's TX1864. This 17-inch monitor (16-inch diagonal viewing area) also hides its controls behind a protective panel, but instead of pressing the control you want and then a plus or minus control, each control comes with its own plus and minus setting. You can control tilt, pincushioning, vertical and horizontal size, placement, brightness and contrast, but not convergence. There's also a re-cessed reset but-ton. When you adjust contrast or brightness, the on-screen display also shows the vertical and horizontal frequency.

Like the TN1885, the TX1864 sports a 0.25mm aperture grille pitch, but it maxes out at 1280x1024 at 60Hz. It supports only one color temperature (9300K), but I found that perfectly adequate. At its normal power consumption, the TX1864 consumes 130W but drops to 15W in suspended state and no more than 8W in the active off state. Like the other units reviewed here, it is Energy Star compliant. The TX1864 measures 16.9 by 16 by 17.9 inches and weighs just under 42 pounds. The monitor connects to your PC via a permanently attached, 15-pin cable.

All the monitors degauss on start-up and have a tilt-swivel base and antistatic and antireflection silica-coated screens to assure ergonomic comfort. Each carries a three-year warranty. Color rendition would please the most demanding user.

If you're a business user running the standard set of word processor/spreadsheet/presentation programs, you'll certainly be pleased with the TX1864. If you're a more demanding graphic artist and need to adjust colors and/or convergence, then by all means step up to the TN1885. But, if bigger means best-and here it does-and your budget can stand an $1,800 hit, go for the TN2185.

Info File
ArtMedia monitors TN2185,TN1885 and TX1864
TN2185, $1,888; TN1885, $1,088; TX1864, $888
Pros: Sharp, bright, adjustable images
Cons: No convergence adjustment on TX1864
ArtMedia, USA
800-Art-Media, 408-980-8988
WinMag Box Score: 4.5

Toshiba Satellite 100CS

"Volks-book" Offers Good Value

By Jim Forbes

Toshiba's new Satellite 100CS notebook computer and the venerable Volkswagen Beetle have a lot in common. Both represent basic technology, good value and reliability.

Toshiba's 100CS is the company's first Pentium-based value-line notebook for the masses. I like its basic configuration: 8MB of EDO RAM, a 75MHz Pentium processor (but no level 2 cache), accelerated local-bus graphics with 1MB of video memory and a 504MB hard drive. There are also the usual bevy of ports and a self-contained, internal battery charger. The 100CS uses Toshiba's 82-key keyboard and is available only with a 10.4-inch dual-scan passive-matrix screen. It has two vertically stacked PCMCIA slots, which allow you to install and run either two Type II devices or one Type III device.

The 100CS uses keyboard commands to adjust video and other attributes. Some users may not like the fact that the serial, parallel and video external expansion ports on the back of this machine are exposed. As someone who has snapped more than a few plastic port covers off the back of notebooks, I rather like this idea myself.

At 2.2 by 11.8 by 9.1 inches, the Toshiba 100CS is slightly larger than other notebooks. But its total travel weight is only 6.9 pounds, which is slightly lighter than most Pentiums I've tested. It has an AccuPoint pointing device with controls on an integrated palm rest. I used this machine in place of my desktop at home and on two road trips during the three weeks I tested the unit. I found it easy to use, although I don't like the way the cursor disappears when it's moved quickly across the screen.

The screen is bright, which is surprising in that it's not an active-matrix display. This computer supports only 640x480-pixel, 256-color displays on its internal monitor, although it will drive an external 256-color display at resolutions as high as 1024x768 pixels.

The battery pack consistently delivered slightly more than three hours of power and took about the same time to recharge. The self-contained battery charger means there's one less cord to carry.

This machine's performance was about what you would expect from a design that doesn't use level 2 cache. The processor delivered an average of 132.33MIPS for each of three passes, its hard disk had an above average uncached throughput of 1.53MB per second and its local-bus video delivered 4.6Mpixels per second. The Toshiba 100CS took 26 seconds and 69 seconds to run WINDOWS Magazine's 32-bit Excel and Word benchmarks, respectively, which is just about average for a machine with this price and configuration.

Info File
Toshiba Satellite 100CS
Pros: Price; performance;battery life
Cons: No level 2 cache; video
Toshiba America Information Systems
800-999-4273, 714-583-3000
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Diamond Supra NetCommander ISDN

ISDN for I-net Super Surfers

By Jim Forbes

Imagine sending huge graphics files in seconds, not minute s, or calling up Web pages nearly as quickly as you can surf the Net. Diamond Multimedia's Supra NetCommander ISDN modem makes this performance possible.

I tested a preproduction version of the internal, 16-bit ISA card on several Pentium machines, including a Dell Dimension XPS, a Compaq Presario and a Canon Innova MT9310. My ISDN line runs to a DMS 100 Custom phone switch residing at a local PacTel office.

This ISDN modem works only with Windows 95 machines. Installing the modem and software took under 20 minutes on each of the three test machines, though I was never able to get it to work with the Dell Dimension XPS. This problem was caused by an early version of Diamond's software.

The Supra NetCommander's Setup Wizard is accurate and useful, and this ISDN modem can be used with conventional phones, fax machines and other modems. The maximum data speed of ISDN modems is 128Kbps, although I tested it at just under 64Kbps using one of its two lines for voice and the other for data.

Before you purchase an ISDN modem, you should know that ISDN service is not available nationwide. Where it's offered, it carries a premium price tag. And, if you're trying to access the Internet instead of your company's RAS resources, make sure that your Internet Service Provider supports ISDN.

I recommend the Supra NetCommander to anyone needing a high-speed connection.

Info File
Diamond SupraNetCommander ISDN
Pros: Installation; documentation; 128Kbps data transfer
Cons: Works only with Win95
Diamond Multimedia Systems
800-468-5846, 408-325-7000
WinMag Box Score: 3.5
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