Hewlett-Packard unveils improved Color LaserJet

Hewlett-Packard Co. last week announced a dramatically improved color laser printer, which will soon be available through the General Services Administration schedule.

HP's Color LaserJet 5 replaces the company's Color LaserJet product, released in 1994. The product, like its predecessor, employs a 300-dots-per-inch printer engine. But the new model features an HP image-enhancement technology that the company said boosts the quality of output to the 1,200-dpi level. The Color LaserJet 5 also comes with 20M of RAM standard, as opposed to the 8M offered on the Color LaserJet.

The GSA schedule price for the Color LaserJet 5 will be a couple of hundred dollars more than the earlier model, which sold for $5,464 on Government Technology Services Inc.'s GSA schedule. GTSI will carry the upgraded model on its schedule contract.

"It is a solid offering in a rapidly growing category," said Tony Colangelo, director of marketing at GTSI. "Networked color printing is one of the strongest growth areas for new products in the federal government market," he said.

The Color LaserJet 5 features HP's Image Resolution Enhancement technology (Image REt) 1200. Image REt 1200 provides an image that is as good as one produced by a 1,200-dpi product, according to HP. There are no 1,200-dpi color laser printers to provide a comparison for that claim, but the Color LaserJet 5's output is demonstrably better than that produced by the previous model and better than 1,200-dpi monochrome printers at showing small details.

Image REt 1200 takes a different tack on image quality. The conventional wisdom has been that better resolution provides a better-looking document. A 1,200-dpi monochrome printer, for example, produces dramatically sharper images than a 300-dpi device.

HP's approach is an obvious, but technically difficult, improvement to how the printer creates colors. The previous Color LaserJet model placed colored dots on the page so that, from a distance, the cyan, yellow, magenta and black dots look like the intended color. Image REt 1200, however, lets the Color LaserJet 5 mix the toner on the page before the ink dries. This provides solid colors that make better images than do colored dots.

HP researched higher resolutions and multilevel color when it planned the Color LaserJet upgrade. The company chose multilevel color because the technique provides a better result, said Todd Birzer, program manager of HP's Color LaserJet Division. "You can get a lot more benefit out of multilevel printing," he said. "You get nice solid colors and not patterned or dithered colors."

"I'll go along with them on that," said Charles LeCompte, editor and publisher of the "Hard Copy Observer," a Newtonville, Mass., newsletter. "This pretty well demonstrates that there is more to it than dots per inch."

The hard part for HP may be in convincing customers to consider the Color LaserJet 5. There are two reasons for this, LeCompte said. First, customers are accustomed to comparing resolution numbers when printer shopping, and the new HP will fare poorly when the numbers are compared because it is still 300 dpi. "Customers buying products tend to look at numbers," LeCompte said. "That is probably a mistake."

Second, HP's other problem is that the previous model established a reputation for poor image quality. "The problem will be overcoming the original perception that the other one was a dog," LeCompte said.

"The original Color LaserJet was a bit of a disappointment," GTSI's Colangelo agreed. "We are...excited about the new product."

Also, many customers steer clear of color laser printers because of their traditionally high cost of operation. HP hopes that its high image quality will attract buyers' attention and that new, low-cost supplies will convince them to make the switch to color printing.

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