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HP Photosmart Pro B9180

HP Photosmart Pro B9180

After the resounding silence that met the Photosmart 8750, its first foray into the enthusiast/pro photo-printer space, HP valiantly tries again, this time having learned from its past mistakes. The HP Photosmart Pro B9180 uses a new set of eight pigment-based Vivera inks with preliminary 200-plus-year fade-resistance ratings (on select papers) from Wilhelm Imaging Research.

Upside: HP's Scalable Printing Technology (SPT), first introduced in the Photosmart 8250, takes a few innovative steps forward with this implementation. First, HP creates a closed-loop calibration system--that is, between the printer and the display--for the device by incorporating a densitometer in the printhead. You print out a calibration page, then feed it back in, and the printer generates the relevant profile for each paper type. The eight-ink set includes gray and the five basic photo primaries (CMY, Mphoto, and Cphoto), as well as photo and matte blacks. Unlike other models, however, the printer can use both blacks simultaneously for a deeper tone. The inks use a resin-encapsulation technique combined with an electrostatic charge to presumably produce smoother, more evenly dispersed droplets. And for cost-conscious users, the printhead performs continuous nozzle checking and can clean an individual nozzle, minimizing ink waste. The new model offers a lot more software color-management tools, as well, including a printing plug-in for Photoshop.

Downside: HP claims a rather zippy rate of 1.5 minutes for a 13x19 photo and 10 seconds for a 4x6. I've seen HP's New Math when it comes to print speeds, however, and this model's no different. Those times are for draft mode, which very few users in this segment ever use. Instead, HP quoted a time closer to 6 minutes for a 13x19 in Best mode. Furthermore, the printer produces rather large 4pl droplets. Also, sample prints we saw from a preproduction unit showed some gloss deficit in the blacks, an issue that plagued the first generation of Epson's Ultrachrome inks.

Outlook: Slated to ship in late spring for $699, the HP Photosmart Pro B9180 looks like it'll be an interesting product to test, at the very least.

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