Cheap scanners are good buys
March 5, 1999
by Christopher Lindquist
(IDG) -- No longer a task reserved for art and document management departments, scanning is breaking in to the mainstream. With prices dropping rapidly, executives may find scanners worth having by their desks, whether it be for digitally recording a business card or contract, adding an update to the intranet or simply scanning in a child's photo for use as a desktop screen saver. Regardless, most executive uses require taking printed documents and putting them on a screen -- often the corporate intranet. "Even the inexpensive scanners probably provide more resolution than you need" for that purpose, says Rob Enderle, vice president in charge of desktop and mobile technology at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
And inexpensive scanners are everywhere. Several vendors, including Umax Technologies Inc., Artec/Ultima International and Agfa Corp., have flatbed models that sell for less than $100 -- far less, if you shop around. Scanners in the $200 range are starting to offer options such as transparency adapters (which let you scan slides and larger transparent images) and automatic document feeders that previously were reserved for far more expensive devices.
Add another hundred dollars or so to the total, and you can buy a scanner with image quality that will suffice for all but the most serious graphics professionals.
And while prices drop, basic scanner technology keeps improving. Even the least-expensive models scan with enough color depth and resolution for most uses. Scanners with Universal Serial Bus (USB) connections -- which started to arrive this past year -- don't take up printer ports or require an SCSI card. And though most desktop scanners use reliable but relatively delicate Charge Coupled Device scanning technology, upcoming Contact Image Sensor models promise to make scanners smaller and tougher.
The following is a review of a scanner that goes beyond the basics, and a review of one that won't break your budget.
HP ScanJet 6200C
Hewlett-Packard isn't known for building the least-expensive scanners on the market, but it does build good ones, and the ScanJet 6200C is a prime example.
Installing this 36-bit, 600-dpi resolution color scanner was a snap. The included setup poster lists a quick six steps, and the USB connection meant no time wasted installing an SCSI card (an SCSI model is available, if you prefer).
Dropping the software CD-ROM into the drive started a simple installation process that took 20 minutes.
Unlike some less-expensive scanners, HP offers extra features, including a power saver that shuts the scanner down after 10 inactive minutes and the option to share the scanner over a network.
Once it's installed, you won't be unhappy with the scanner's output. It performed admirably, producing sharp text and bright graphics without manual image tweaking.
The included slide adapter even let me take acceptable scans of color slides (though they were darker and far less-detailed than those scanned with a dedicated slide scanner).
HP bundles the scanner with a suite of scanning tools, including a file manager, an image editor and optical character recognition (OCR) software.
Artec ViewStation AM12E Plus
The most amazing thing about this product is its price. The Artec ViewStation AM12E lists at a mere $99.95 for a 36-bit, 600-dpi resolution color scanner, complete with all the software you need for basic scanning tasks.
Simply attach the AM12E Plus to your parallel port (it includes a pass-through so you can still use your printer). Plug in the AC adapter. Install the software, which includes device drivers, TextBridge Classic 2.0 OCR software, the Ixla Photo Scanner Suite, a photo editor and an online manual. Reboot your system, and you're set.
Unlike some inexpensive scanners, the AM12E Plus is relatively quiet. It isn't fast enough for production work, but it's more than sufficient for scanning the occasional image.
The scanner's configuration software offers a wide array of options to help tweak images -- everything from color depth to resolution to hue and saturation to color levels. A button on the front lets you prescan, or scan and print, documents.
If you want an easy-to-use, inexpensive scanner for creating Web pages or noncritical business documents, the AM12E Plus will deliver.
Scanner tech wars
Although most scanners today use Charge Coupled Devices (CCD) at their core, Contact Image Sensor (CIS) models are starting to appear on the market.
CCD scanners are "optical reduction" devices. They reduce the original image with lenses and then send it to a light-sensitive CCD for conversion to digital format. With high-quality optics, CCDs provide exceptional results, even if the original isn't completely flat. But those optics rely on perfect focus, making CCD scanners prone to damage.
CIS scanners skip the sensitive optics. Instead, a row of lights (often light-emitting diodes) and sensors pass directly over the original document. Such scanners can be extremely small, light and durable. Current models tend to produce less-detailed images than CCDs, and they have trouble with documents that aren't totally flat.
CIS technology isn't new, but it's just finding its way into mainstream scanners. Look for it to improve dramatically in the coming months.
Lindquist is a freelance writer in Moss Beach, Calif.
Pen scanner reads, translates
RELATED IDG.net STORIES:
Photo printer needs no PC
Agfa Direct Online Store
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.