Fast installation, sharp OCR accuracy make scanner a good buy

How well does a very low-end scanner work? Surprisingly, quite well.


A few years ago, I paid $125 for a low-end, grayscale hand scanner that forced me to
open my test PC’s chassis and install an interface board—never a fun experience.


In contrast, I recently bought the OpticPro 4831P, a 30-bit, 300- by 600-dot-per-inch
flatbed scanner that simply plugged into the parallel port. I had the $61 unit running
within a few minutes of its arrival.


Nothing I can think of—not memory prices, processor speeds or hard-drive
costs—so clearly demonstrates the price-performance advantage as the 90 percent price
plunge for color scanners in only five or six years.


All I wanted was a way to capture text and line art so my PC and PostScript laser
printer could serve as a digital copier. What I got in addition was a surprisingly
high-quality color and grayscale scanner.


To connect the scanner, I plugged in its power supply and the included printer port
cable. Software installation went equally fast. The scanner then captured a printed page
that I processed with the included optical character recognition software.


OCR accuracy was surprisingly good for the clean original in a basic font. Next, I
copied a glossy color photo into an image-editing program and, after increasing the scan
resolution, got an acceptable image.


Then I plugged my printer into the scanner’s output port and turned things on
again. But now the software couldn’t find the scanner. Tweaking the port address
didn’t help.


Checking the company’s Web site, I found a list of known conflicts and a
straightforward explanation of several options. Within minutes, the scanner was working
again, and I made copies.


Their quality was almost perfect. After I had made small contrast and brightness
adjustments on the scanner’s software control panel, the copy even looked better than
the original’s faded carbon-copy text.


I ignored most of the suggestions for optimization because I change hardware often and
just wanted to get the scanner working.


That meant I never got every feature to work exactly as it should, but I produced more
than 100 copies in two days without trouble.


The only feature I couldn’t get to work right was multiple copying from a single
scan. There probably is a fix, but I tried a simple workaround instead. Opening the
Microsoft Windows 95 printer control panel, I simply changed the number of copies to
three. It worked fine and saved me time figuring out the malfunction.


Full-page, black-and-white scans and image processing for copying to a printer each
took less than three minutes, including the time to load the scanner software. A preview
scan to test alignment and other settings took 20 seconds on a 200-MHz Pentium clone PC
with 32M of RAM.


The hardware scan lasted only about 15 seconds; the rest of the time was spent
processing the image.


Boosting the amount of memory available to the program did not appear to speed things
up.


At a price of less than $100, the scanner is an incredible bargain. Software and
hardware conflicts are to be expected with such peripherals, and the manufacturer’s
Web site had lots of useful troubleshooting advice. I spent no time waiting on hold for
technical support.


The only glitch worth noting over several weeks’ testing occurred after I had
unplugged the scanner, expecting to be done for the day.


A few hours later, I tried to make some copies but got only blank pages from the
printer. The scanner software, once online, doesn’t recognize that the scanner is
powered down. It still indicates a good scan.


If you want a low-end color scanner or a fast, inexpensive way to convert your PC and
laser printer into an enlarging and reducing copier, it’s hard to fault this
inexpensive unit.


Users who need high resolution or color control will find no software color
controls—only brightness and contrast controls, which apply to monochrome, grayscale
and color images alike. If you do much color work, however, your software may handle the
job.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.

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