Mitsubishi TV Printer; new from Mitsubishi Electric. David H. Ahl.
Most major hotels prepare a booklet, week or monthly, for their guests. It describes the facilities; lists hours, phone numbers, and scheduled entertainment; and may carry ads from the hotel shops. Booklets in Japanese hotesl also have several quasi-commercial pages which describe scenic attractions, and the accomplishments of companies in the area.
Thus, it was from the booklet in the Palace Hotel in Tokyo that I learned of the Mitsubishi screen printer. The information was sketchy at best, so when I visited Mitsubishi to inquire about their computer operations, I asked to see the marketing manager for the screen printer.
Frankly, I was so impressed with the device that I bought one on the spot. Well, not quite; I had to return the next day--on my way to the airport--to pick it up. In Seattle, the customs inspector didn't quite know what to make of it since nothing on the box or unit was in English. He finally classified it as TV equipment and charged me 4.2 percent duty.
A screen printer is simply a device that accepts a composite video signal, massages it a bit, and prints it. The concept is nothing new. There are boards for the Apple and other computers that take the contents of the video memory of the computer and put it in a form suitable for a dot matrix printer. In contrast, the VP-51 from Seikosha is a self-contained device that takes any NTSC composite video signal and prints it onto 5" wide thermal paper.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to each of these approaches?? Pros of a plug-in board are that it works with any dot matrix printer; the image can be scaled, rotated, reversed, stretched in one or both directions; and it may have a print buffer. Cons are that it is very time-consuming to do a dense print; the image must be still when it is being transferred into the memory on the board; and boards are available for only a few computers. Also, the process of transforming colored areas to black and white is not particularly good.
Pros of a screen printer such as the Seikosha VP-51 is that is can be used with practically any computer. The image can be normal or reversed and single or double size, and print time is relatively fast (less than 15 seconds). Cons are that there is no shading (a color either prints black or not at all); the image must be still during the entire print process; and the resolution is relatively low.
Okay, what about the SCT-P50; how does it stack up?? Like the Seikosha, it can be used with any computer, the image can be normal or reversed, and the print can be normal or reversed, and the print time is 15 seconds. Like the plug-in boards, it has a memory buffer; in addition, it has a frame grabber that will grab and freeze a moving image. Resolution is a mediumhigh 280 x 234 pixels with an image size of 100 x 84mm (approx. 3.9" x 3.3"). Moreover, it had 16 gray levels so black and white or color images are accurate.
Disadvantage of te SCT-P50 are that it can't shrink or enlarge an image. The image size is smallish, and it isn't available in the U.S. Indeed, the only English sentence in the instruction booklet reads, "This printer is designed for use in Japan only and cannot be used in any other country."
The unit is promoted as a TV printer. Indeed, the promotional literature shows a young lady wrapped in a long printout of scenes from a James Bond movie. Nevertheless, the instruction booklet includes diagrams for hooking it up to a VCR, video camera, and personal computer.
The device is available in two configurations: built into a console containing a TV set and VCR, or as a stand alone unit. The console sells for $1147, and the SCT-P50 alone for $310.
A door on the front opens for paper loading. The unit accepts rolls of 4-1/2" wide white thermal paper. Each 25m roll will produce 220 images and costs about $3.55.
Nine touch button controls are on the right of the front panel. They include power, print image, repeat print of last image, three controls for intensity (light to dark), paper feed, reverse image, and print direction (top to bottom or bottom to top). Also included is a remote control print image button on a 20-foot cord.
We found that for normal images, light or medium intensity produced the best images, while for reversed images, dark intensity was most satisfactory. Although intended for use with Japanese NTSC signals (very close to the U.S. standard) and for 100 volts, the printer worked fine with no modofications at all.
Inadvertently, we gave it a tough test of operational ruggedness. A visiting child was using the computer to which the screen printer was connected and decided to push the paper back into the unit. After pressing the print image button four or five times, she finally decided it wasn't working. Needless, to say, the paper had wound around the roller causing a horrible jam. Moreover, the roller gears permit it to be rotated in one direction only and that was the "wrong" way for removing the jammped up paper.
So I removed some screws, cut the paper off the roller with an Exacto knife, reassembled the unit, and prayed. After an anxious moment when I pressed the button and nothing happened, I realized I had forgotten to reset the paper feed latch; once this was done, the unit worked fine.
All in all, the SCT-P50 Screen Printer from Mitsubishi Electric is a fine unit. Operation is silent, image quality is good, and the frame grabber capability is a real plus. And at $300 or so, the price is right. Now all we have to do is wait for Mitsubishi to bring it over.