Raising the Bar
Let’s face it: printers (and by extension, multifunctional printers) are hardly the most exciting gadget in the home or office. Most of the time, it’s tucked away at one corner of your work desk, and hooked to your PC by way of a USB cable. Unlike a smartphone or laptop, direct interaction is few and far between. Perhaps the only time you’d cast your eyes on it is when you go up to it to collect the printouts. Yet, no one can deny that this boring product is an extremely important (and for many, indispensable) business tool.
Apart from the efforts to bring down printing costs, printer manufacturers have recently been focusing an awful lot on improving both the form and function of their offerings. Nicer designs, esoteric materials, and touch panels aside, many printers (inkjet ones, especially) now come with memory card slots to make it easier for you to print your own photos. Next comes built-in Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you print from anywhere on the network. And of late, the ability to connect the printer to the Internet so that it can print anything you’ve stored on the ‘cloud’. However, when it comes to the core functions (that is, printing, scanning, and copying), not much has changed, technology and implementation-wise.
But that’s not to say manufacturers are resting on their laurels. Once in a while, we still see printers that break the rules of convention. The Lexmark Genesis S815 inkjet multifunction printer (MFP) is a great example. In short, instead of using a flatbed scanner, it uses a combination of LEDs, a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor, and a lens to photograph the document. The result is super-fast scan speeds not seen in other MFPs.
The HP TopShot LaserJet Pro M275 that we’ve here is a laser MFP that also tries to re-imagine the scanning function - in particular, when it comes to a 3D object. Also missing is your typical CIS-based flatbed scanner; in its place is an 8MP camera that snaps a picture of what you wish to scan or copy. (HP’s implementation is quite different than that of Lexmark, but more on that later.) Besides being a color ‘3D scanner’, the TopShot M275 is also a color laser printer (16ppm black/4ppm color) and copier (16cpm black/4cpm color), with a top resolution of 600 x 600dpi.
Armed with a Camera
The magic of the TopShot M275 lies with its hinged arm, which you raise when you need to scan or copy items. Embedded in this arm are a camera, three LEDs, and a couple of light diffusers. The aspect ratio of the 8MP CMOS sensor is 4:3, similar to the aspect ratio of most compact digital camera sensors. During scanning or copying, the LEDs along the arm will flash in succession to light up the subject from different angles for the camera to capture. These three images, along with three more taken under ambient lighting but with varying exposures, are then used to create a single image.