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The new world Polaroid machine

February 10, 2005

Hewlett-Packard Co, better known as HP, has in recent decades tried to live down the moniker "printer company", as it tries to crack up its revenues from other product lines such as servers, storage, desktop and notebook computers and even services.

For better or worse, that nickname is stuck and HP is still, to industry veterans, a printer company.

I'm hardly a veteran, but do too see HP as a great maker of printers from the early days it used to be engineered to take the weight of a well-fed man to the more contemporary "optimally engineered" delicate boxes.

I have a HP multi-function machine (printer, scanner, fax and copier) sitting at my work table and am quite happy with its performance and its thriftiness with ink.

Last fortnight, I was sent an interesting combo for testing: the HP Photosmart 325 printer and its sibling, the Photosmart R707 digital camera. The PS325 printer is a small and cute box, weighing in less than 1.3 kg (without a carry-on battery).

It turns out excellent results on HP Premium Plus glossy paper, a kind of special paper designed to take photo prints. Be warned that the paper is expensive at about Rs 800 for 20 sheets of 4" x 6" dimensions. This paper resists fading and has a longer life than photos processed with traditional equipment.

The PS 325 comes with a 1.5" colour LCD panel, which allows the user to view and select photographs for printing. Besides its 32 MB memory, it comes with a multi-slot memory card reader that can take flash memory cards used in most cameras.

Also, the PS 325 comes preloaded with HP Image Zone software allowing camera users to edit and enhance photographs before hitting the button. An additional feature thrown is a Bluetooth wireless printer adapter that enables wireless photo printing.

The PS 325 is designed to be carried around by the digital camera enthusiast while on holiday or on the road. While I don't see many using it for those ends, I do see a reasonable market for the product in mobile photo-studios in semi-urban India and its villages.

For instance, I have seen a few digital camera-PC-printer studios that are low-entry barrier opportunities for enterprise in two small towns in south India I recently travelled to.

Apart from the high cost of consumables (paper and photo cartridges), the PS 325 is a handy tool for such applications where entrepreneurs can shun expensive photo developing and printing equipment and don't even have to invest in a PC. The only disadvantage with this printer is that it cannot print photos of sizes more than 4" x 6".

The PS R707 digital camera makes up for the package. It is also sleek and stylishly designed with a steel and black matte body. This 5 megapixel camera with its 3x zoom has some innovative features built in, making it suitable for less experienced users.

For instance, it has something called adaptive lighting technology that helps balance brightness relationships between bright and dark areas in a photo, preserving gentle contrasts while compressing harsh contrasts.

In a typical example, the camera adjusts high-contrast photos to bring faces out of shadows and details out of backgrounds. This is a useful feature, though the on board DSP (digital signal processor) chip takes a couple of seconds to render this reduced contrast.

The software loaded on the camera also has an "image advice" feature that actually gives tips of advice to the user. For instance, it will flash a warning message on its LCD display while taking a high exposure shot in low light to use a tripod.

Or, provides details of help menu options available on the camera while composing a frame. The "red-eye" reduction feature works at two levels: one, there is a pre-flash that goes on before the flash pops and, two, the camera analyses an image to check for potential red eyes and alerts the user.

The PS R707 also boasts of a 10-second video recording option in MPEG format. The video mode has its own button, enabling a quick switchover from still mode for that candid video, but there are two minuses here: you cannot zoom while recording a video clip and the processing of the image takes ages.

Such minor cribs apart, the camera is a neat piece that fits snugly into a pocket. The PS 325 printer retails at Rs 8,500 plus tax, while the PS R707 camera is more expensive at Rs 13,000 plus taxes.

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