Year in Review: Imaging hardware

Manufacturers of imaging hardware, such as Hewlett-Packard, Epson and Olympus, appear to be practicing the equivalent of Moore's Law as new, inexpensive printers, scanners and digital cameras keep surpassing the capabilities of old ones. This was especially true in the digital camera market, where new models broke the three- and four-megapixel barrier. Here's a roundup of the year's highlights in digital imaging peripherals.

Digital cameras

Digital cameras continued their move toward ever-higher resolutions, with some models surpassing four megapixels. Other notable trends included higher-quality lenses, and the ability to adjust aperture and ISO settings, as well as capture motion video, sound and time-sequence shots.

One of the hottest new cameras of the year was the four-megapixel E-10, a $1,999 single-lens reflex model from Olympus. The camera features SmartMedia and CompactFlash slots; an all-glass, f2.0 to f2.4 aspherical 4X zoom lens with rings on the lens barrel that allow manual focusing and zooming. Olympus and Polaroid also raised eyebrows in August with the introduction of the C-211 Zoom Digital Printing Camera, a $799 model that produces Polaroid photo prints.

Other highlights include Canon's three-megapixel PowerShot G1, which can capture 2048x1536-pixel still images or up to 30 seconds of digital video (320x240-pixel AVI files with audio) at 15 frames per second. Kodak launched the $799 DC4800, featuring a titanium-finish body, 3.1-megapixel resolution, and a 3X optical zoom lens that's threaded to accept 37mm optional lens. Fuji rolled out the $999 FinePix 4900 Zoom camera, which boasts a cylindrical body design and Fuji's 2.4-megapixel "Super CCD" image sensor to capture JPEG or TIFF images at a maximum resolution of 2,400x1,800 pixels.

Scanners abound

Despite the growth in digital cameras, there still appears to be a strong market for image scanners. Epson and Microtek both had major rollouts in the fall, with each unveiling new flatbed models.

Epson's Perfection 640U, a 36-bit, 600 x 2,400-dpi flatbed with a legal scanning bed, sells for $149. The other models, the Perfection 1640SU and 1240U, feature 42-bit scanning capabilities, optical resolution of 1,600 x 3,200 dpi and USB and SCSI connectivity. The 1640SU is available in three configurations, ranging from $299 to $499. The 1240U, aimed at SOHO users, sells for $199, or $299 with a transparency adapter.

Microtek introduced the ArtiScan 2500, a $4,495 scanner with dual lenses, 1,250-dpi optical resolution and a 3.4Dmax; and the ArtiScan 4500t film scanner, a $7,995 model that features 2,571-dpi optical resolution and a 3.9Dmax.

Kodak's Professional $1,299 RFS 3600 Film Scanner scans 35mm film and slides at 3,600 dpi with a 3.6 dynamic range. Polaroid introduced the $3,995 SprintScan 120 film scanner, which scans 35mm film and most 120 formats at 4,000 dpi. For budget-minded users, the compact (1.65 lbs.) $199 PrimeFilm 1800 from Pacific Image Electronics scans 35mm film and slides at 1,800 dpi and offers specific settings for scanning Kodak, Agfa and Konica film.

Desktop printers

Printer vendors also kept busy. Epson launched the Stylus Photo 2000P, a six-color, tabloid-size inkjet color printer designed to create archival inkjet prints using Epson's pigmented archival ink and media. The $899 printer has a maximum resolution of 1440x720 dpi and handles sheet fed paper up to 13x19 inches. However, the issue of print durability became a sore point for Epson as it admitted to an ink-fading problem -- caused in part by ozone pollution -- in its Stylus Photo 870 and 1270 printers.

Later, in September, Epson rolled out the Stylus Color 980, a $249 printer featuring maximum resolution of 2,880 dpi and maximum print speeds of 10.5 ppm in color and 13 ppm in black-and-white. That same month, Hewlett-Packard introduced the DeskJet 990Cse/Cxi, a $399, 2,400-dpi inkjet printer that produces photo-print quality through HP's PhotoREt III technology. Rated print speeds are 13 pages per minute (ppm) in color and 17 ppm in black-and-white in draft mode.

Kodak made a foray into the ink-jet market, offering the Personal Picture Maker 200, a 1,200-dpi, USB printer based on Lexmark's Z-32, but driven by Kodak firmware and software.

In October Xerox launched a new tabloid-size color laser printer, the Phaser 790, which replaced the Phaser 780 in Xerox's product lineup. The 600-dpi printer has a maximum print speed of 6 ppm in color and 26 ppm in black-and-white. And, showing that there's new life in what some might consider old technology, Olympus introduced the P-400, a $999 dye-sublimation that prints on 8 x 11-inch photo paper.

Images on display

With the growth of the Internet, people are spending more time than ever in front of their monitors, and as a result, displays are getting more attention as critical components in a computer system.

At Macworld Expo in July, Apple introduced three monitors -- 15- and 22-inch LCD monitors and a 17-inch CRT -- that use the new Apple Display Connector, which combines a video, USB and power feed. The monitors feature a stylish design in keeping with the look of other Apple products.

Outside of Cupertino, numerous other vendors introduced new LCDs and CRTs. LCDs keep falling in price, but CRTs remain a comparative bargain. Among the most interesting CRTs: Sony's 21-inch, $1,899 Multiscan F520, and 19-inch, $799 Multiscan F420, featuring silver-colored cabinets and a four-port USB hub; Viewsonic's $599, 19-inch P95f and $455, 19-inch G90f; Samsung's 22-inch, $1,100 SyncMaster 1200NF; and CTX's 21-inch, $859 PR1400F, and 19-inch, $449 PR960F, both based on Sony Trinitron tubes.

Viewsonic and Samsung also launched new LCD monitors. Viewsonic's $1,999 VG175 features a 17.4-inch, 1,280x1,024-pixel screen that uses new LCD material (SuperClear MVA) to improve brightness, clarity and viewing angles. Samsung's $2,449 18-inch SyncMaster 180T, and the 17-inch, $1,399 SyncMaster 170T, feature a 1,280x1,024-pixel screen resolution. The $849 SyncMaster 150T features a 1,024x768-pixel screen.

The year saw one big merger of monitor manufacturers as NEC and Mitsubishi merged their display businesses into a new joint venture, NEC-Mitsubishi. And a new technology called Organic Light-Emitting Diode emerged, with the potential to someday offer better-than-LCD quality at lower prices.

Click to read the other sections in our Year in Review:

Finance
Expos
Hardware
Software
Games
Imaging
Video Cards

This story, "Year in Review: Imaging hardware" was originally published by PCWorld.

  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon