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Sony DPP-EX5 photo printer review: Sony DPP-EX5 photo printer

Sony DPP-EX5 photo printer

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
6 min read
Smaller than a breadbox, Sony's $199.95 DPP-EX5 dye-sublimation photo printer generates decent-quality photos at 4x6 inches or smaller sans PC. One of a tiny category of printers, the EX5 competes with the likes of the HP Photosmart 130 and 230 for the attention of anyone who wants a printer in the living room next to the TV, which you can actually use to control this printer. Too bad the printer doesn't make it easy to view images from Memory Sticks and that its dye-sublimation technology makes low-resolution pictures look messy. Worse, this so-called portable printer doesn't run off batteries. Traveling shutterbugs may want to give it a go anyway, if they always have access to power outlets. But the HP Photosmart 230 is more portable.

Sliding cover hides ink cartridge.
The DPP-EX5 definitely looks like a Sony product, from its silver, plastic control panel to its slim, white-and-bluish-gray plastic body. A sliding panel covers the cavity in which you drop the cyan/yellow/magenta/clear-coat ribbon cartridges, which constitute the traditional dye-sublimation marking system. (Each box of paper you buy includes a cartridge with enough ribbon for that pack.) A flip-out front panel covers the slot that holds the input/output tray, which you must attach when you're ready to print. For each print, the device sucks in the paper from the bottom tray, draws it in and out for each of four ribbon passes, then spits it out into the catch. All these retractable/removable features make the printer more compact.
Setting up the printer is relatively easy. You can either hook it up to a TV for navigating the menus via the printer's control pad or attach it to a PC through the USB 1.1 port for more traditional, driver-based operation. The DPP-EX5 comes with the required cable for connecting to a TV and an AC power adapter. But to make a USB connection, bring your own cable. As long as you know your TV inputs from outputs, the whole process is pretty much plug and play. The printer itself is light enough to carry from room to room, but its AC adapter cuts down on its portability. A truly portable printer, unlike the DPP-EX5, would be able to operate off batteries.
When it comes time to upload your pictures to the printer, you can install them either from your PC or from removable media. PC downloads follow the standard operating procedure, but installing removable media can get mildly irritating. If you've stored your photos on a Memory Stick, for example, the stick doesn't mount as a drive on your PC, so you'll need to buy a separate reader (from, for example, Lexar, Belkin, and Sandisk) if you want to see what's in it--not a deal-killer but a silly oversight.

Easy-access video and USB ports.

Concealed input/output tray.

More damaging, the output catch seems to be designed to work horizontally, not vertically as it fits into the printer. Thus, each print merely pushes the previous one out of the catch onto the floor, so unattended printing is either messy or impossible. Furthermore, if you want to change paper sizes--your options are 4x6-, 3.5x5-, and 3.5x4-inch--you have to swap in the appropriate ribbon cartridges, as well as paper. And finally, each pass makes the irritating sound of plastic wrap stretching over a glass bowl.

Lots of control buttons.
Though the DPP-EX5's array of knobs on the top control panel looks intimidating, these buttons give you one-click, albeit slightly clumsy, access to most of the printer's features. In addition to the standard one-button printing, for instance, the DPP-EX5 also lets you add a variety of special effects and will even add text to your pics via its menus. (Unfortunately, selecting letters from an onscreen QWERTY keyboard with the four-way rocker switch gets tedious.) You can also print all DPOF-tagged (Digital Print Order Format, which contains merely basic image info, such as rotation) images only or create an index print with a single button.
The Menu button atop the printer lets you adjust basic settings, such as brightness, tint, saturation, and sharpness; zoom in or out; move and rotate; insert text; and add a special-effects filter to generate a monochrome, sepia-tone, or paintlike appearance. A Creative Print button brings up different templates, such as calendars or 4-up prints, for which you select images from thumbnails. Sony also offers stickers to print on, which we have to admit sounds like a great idea for kids' parties. The firmware automatically resizes the images as needed, and you can choose the crop area, as well.
The printer can generate photos with either a smooth or a slightly textured finish; the difference is too subtle to spot without looking for it, though. More useful, Sony includes a slide-show feature that lets you parade your images across the TV screen with selected transitions.

Flat dye and paper costs.
Unlike with inkjet printers, you always know what you'll get with the DPP-EX5. Dye-sub technology has two advantages over inkjet: a fixed dye cost per page (because each page uses exactly four patches of dye: CMY and overcoat) and a fixed print time for a given page size. So, for example, any 4x6 print you create will run about 80 cents (you'll pay $19.95 for a pack of 25 sheets with ribbon), and 3.5x4 prints will cost 50 cents each. That's nice, simple math. And a 3x5 averages roughly 1.7 minutes per print--slightly longer for 4x6--regardless of whether the original is 1MB or 30MB. That's fast for this category of printers, compared with dye-sub models such as the Olympus P330N and inkjet versions such as the HP Photosmart 130.
Image quality, on the other hand, doesn't fare as well. Consumer-level dye-sub technology simply can't match that of consumer inkjet for color vibrancy, accuracy, or contrast. That's in part because there's no true black, so you get a lot of blocking in the shadows, little contrast control, and blown-out highlights. And because the printer wantonly scales all images to fit, regardless of resolution, you can end up with some very low-resolution, artifact-ridden output, particularly if you're printing low-resolution images.
The printer's 403x403dpi resolution is certainly up to the task of high-quality imagery, though, as long as you have the pixels in your image to feed it. Unretouched 16MB scans of slides came out sharp in reviewer's tests, and the subtle color ranges--blues, in particular--impressed us. Pictures taken with a 4MP camera look good enough for vacation snapshots, but images shot with a low-resolution 1.3MP camera look unacceptably digital. And if you have large, high-quality images, you're less likely to be able to fit them on a Memory Stick, which currently maxes out at 128MB. But all consumer dye-sub printers do a terrible job printing text, which comes out with all sorts of visually disturbing halos.
That said, the resulting prints are virtually indestructible. It'd take Superman to rip them in half vertically. (If you pull lengthwise, it's a different story.) And the prints are nearly impervious to scratches, spills, and fingerprints, thanks to Sony's Super Coat laminated paper.
Small-format printer color-photo speed test
Minutes to print a color photograph; shorter bars indicate better performance

Sony DPP-EX5
HP Photosmart 130
HP Photosmart 230

Photo printer quality
Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Photo printer Color image
on photo paper
 HP Photosmart 130 ••••
 HP Photosmart 230 •••
 Sony DPP-EX5 •••
Sony covers the DPP-EX5 with its fairly average standard warranty: one year for parts and labor, with fixes available at any authorized service center. The company provides the basics of online support: driver downloads, FAQs, documentation, and a searchable knowledge base.
You won't want to call tech support unless you really need to. Since printers aren't a big part of Sony's business, wending your way through the electronic prompts in search of the appropriate contact can get a bit daunting. Plus, Sony asks for your phone number, address, and e-mail, although the rep we spoke with promised it wasn't for selling or spamming. But the rep handled our call promptly and efficiently--about 9 minutes from start to finish.

Sony DPP-EX5 photo printer

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 7Support 7