The objective was to try out a couple of new HP color inkjet printers with wireless connectivity.

With more consumers getting broadband Internet access, I thought it would be a good idea to try something many of you might like.  Let’s say you have multiple computers in your home, home office or small office outside the home.  Let’s say the computers share the broadband Internet connection in the most convenient way, through a wireless broadband router.  This is what I do here at Gadget Central.

With multiple computers, I thought it would also be a good idea to explore the idea of sharing at least one inkjet printer that would be recognized on that network.  With such wireless connectivity, the printer becomes simply another device on the network.  It could be placed anywhere convenient to all the users. In my case, that was in an unused bedroom upstairs.  That way, all of us in our upstairs bedrooms (or from anywhere in the house) could select to print to this remote printer and share it.  This, I thought, would be something many consumers would find useful, a better idea than having to buy multiple inkjet printers, one for each user. I could get a high-performance printer for less money and hassle than buying multiple $100 printers and also have the luxury of not taking valuable space in each room (bedrooms in my case) where the computers are located.  I could also get another high-quality and versatile wide format four-color printer for photo-quality output and for more business-oriented heavy use, not unlike many of you may need in your daily situations.

My motives were sound.

I chose the $370 (retail) HP cp1160, as the networked family printer.  This is a four-color photo-quality printer with resolution up to 2400×1200 dpi (on premium photo paper).  Designed for heavy use, it was chosen for its capability to handle several users and still keep going strong.  It features individual printheads and two separate ink reservoirs. (Full specs are HERE.)  So, instead of replacing printheads with every cartridge as with most of the other HP consumer models, I could get just the ink cartridge. That means less money than for ink cartridges that include the printhead. Also included in this package is an automatic duplex assembly.  Translation: this printer can automatically print on both sides of a sheet of paper!

The cp1160 includes the now standard parallel and USB ports, plus the convenience of a front-facing infrared port for wireless printing from compatible laptops and from some digital cameras.  I did not use this capability.

The cp1160 is also rather large as compared with other brands of printers and with some of the other more consumer-oriented lighter-duty HP models.  This was not an issue in my case.  There is one advantage to the size and design.  With a large, flat top and front-loading ink, the top is a great spot to place papers and other items.

The network capability comes from the HP wp110 wireless print server, $300 (retail). (Complete specs are HERE.)  Connected through the parallel port on the cp1160 with a standard parallel cable, the wp110 allows secure wireless connection between multiple PCs, Macs and the printer, without wires!  So, not only could I share the printer, I could put it anywhere.  Does this make sense in your situation, too?

For my high-quality wide-carriage printer, I selected the HP cp1700d, ($600) with 20 MB of onboard memory, an auto-duplexer and with optional 250-sheet input tray ($130).  This is a wide-format (up to 13×19-inch) workhorse printer designed for fairly high volumes, such as what one might experience in a busy office.  It was not to be networked, but it could be, as could any of HP’s printers that have a parallel port.  Overall print quality is specified to be the same as for the cp1160.

So, these are the players.  Now, here is what occurred.

First, I set up the cp1160 and connected and then attempted to set up the wp110.  I experienced difficulty setting up the print server.  The instructions were not complete for the Mac, hence it could not be recognized by my wireless network.  After spending about one and one half hours on the phone with an excellent and knowledgeable HP tech support person, not a free call, I finally was successful.  I was told that they were working on a better printed version of the instructions, though, as of this date, I am not certain it has been released to the public.

I soon discovered that the black ink was not flowing consistently on the cp1160.  After numerous cleaning cycles through the built-in utility software for the printer, and upon further examination, I discovered that the printhead was suspect – it was dry and the others were wet.  I called my PR contact to get another printhead.  I did not call normal tech support.

I am not sure if this is the reason it took more than three weeks to get the requested replacement printheads.  Luckily, though, as I was to discover, it was a good thing that extra printheads were sent for both printers.

Once the new printhead was installed in the cp1160, printing was fine.  However, shortly after things began to work normally, the wireless connection seemed to be lost and I could not re-establish it.  Back to tech support and another long call.  This time, it was determined that the print server itself was suspect.  Another was sent.

Once the replacement wp110 was received and installed, things seemed to work just fine. On each computer, Mac and PC, I had installed the appropriate software to print to the cp1160.  Operation was totally transparent.  That is, all that was needed was to select to print to that printer.  It was as if it was hard-wired and connected directly to each computer.

Performance was very good.  By the numbers, at normal quality, this printer is rated at eight pages per minute (ppm) for black text and seven ppm in color.  In draft mode, this increases to as much as 17 ppm for black and up to 16 ppm in color.

I was particularly impressed with the photos printed on old copy paper and not even inkjet-specific paper.  The quality was worthy of a WOW!  Photo quality using both HP paper and third party paper was excellent.  Colors tended a bit toward the red, but I really liked the output.  It is as important with this as with other printers to select the proper paper settings for each job.  If unsure, the cp1160 has an automatic paper selection feature that did an excellent job at determining the paper type and performing accordingly.  This is a wonderful capability ideal for most users.  Anything that takes the guesswork out of such things as paper settings is desirable and to be applauded.  In addition, this optical sensor driven by a little and visible blue light is pretty cool to watch as it travels back and forth with the printhead.  It has a decidedly hi-tech look.  Automatic paper selection can also be disabled.

The black text was indistinguishable from laser printing. In draft mode, the quality was acceptable for most text printing and obviously saves ink. I used that setting for all but the most critical black text printing projects.

Speed to print is also something that was interesting.  While it sometimes seemed as if it took a long time to get started, once it began to print, it flew through the jobs.  Of course, this is in varying degrees of speed, depending upon whether I was printing in draft mode or cranking out an 8×10 glossy.  It seemed to crawl when I printed a highest resolution 8×10 photo on premium photo paper.  However, it should also be noted that the quality at the highest quality setting was not noticeably different from the normal setting.  That speaks well for this printer, very well indeed.

The front-facing display was a pleasant and welcome indicator of the status of each ink tank and of the job status and errors, such as paper jams.  On most other printers, you are at the mercy of the software to warn of low supplies.

Color output was also outstanding even if, to my eyes, it tended to accentuate the reds.  Otherwise, colors were accurate and brilliant. Resolution was superb, especially on photo-quality glossy paper.

I found the software to be easy to use as well as comprehensive.  No beefs here.

Operation was also pleasingly quiet.  The only clicking sounds were from the mechanical actuation of the paper handling mechanism. Otherwise, printing was whisper-quiet, just the way I have become accustomed to HP inkjet printer operation.  It was the printer’s “signature” from that bedroom.  When we heard the faint clicking coming from that bedroom, we knew that someone was printing to the cp1160.

The automatic two-sided printing was lots of fun and a joy to behold.  For reports and projects, this is a very useful feature that operated flawlessly.  This feature made itself indispensable on several occasions.  If you’ve got school-age kids, you would learn to love this feature.  Reports will look professionally produced.  Of course, this feature is also perfect for you business moguls!

Another feature available, although I did not use it, is the ability to connect through the USB and parallel ports simultaneously.

I certainly did not do anything that could remotely be construed as a scientific test.  I did, however, perform many familiar everyday tasks and, so, compared this printer to others in this way.

My final word on the HP cp1160 is this: I have never seen better output from an inkjet printer and I can only hope the printhead problems experienced are not common.  (You will also see that these same difficulties plagued our cp1700d sample.)

The HP Wireless Print Server wp110 was another piece I could get used to for its convenience.  Once we got the bugs ironed out and everything started to operate smoothly, I came to rely on this feature more than any other.  Its enabling characteristics can not be overstated.

The technology behind it is the same as for my household wireless network, referred to as 802.11b.  This is the same technology that allows all of us to share our wonderful PacBell DSL service among every computer around here.  As far as the network is concerned, the printer is simply another computer on the network.

In the package for the wp110 is the print server which has inside of it a wireless 802.11b PC card.  There is also a power supply adapter and an adapter for connecting the parallel printer cable (not supplied) to the covered and deep parallel port on the back of the printer.

Data flows wirelessly to the printer from any computer at speeds that do not impact performance.  The only time things slowed down was when lots of data was flowing over the network, such as when file sharing or downloading large files.

Now, I will not go into more detail regarding this wireless printing scheme.  I will say this, though: it was not as easy to set up as I had hoped.  For those users familiar with networking and not easily frustrated, it is certainly worth a try.  Had I not had a defective product that needed to be replaced, my overall perception may have been different.  If I could do it all over again, I would still try it, despite the frustrations experienced.  The convenience, print speed and versatility make it worth considering for any of you who could benefit similarly from what these capabilities can offer.  Put a pencil to it and see if it makes sense in your home or office.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

The cp1700d was set up for an entirely different purpose, and for its test, I asked my good friend (and outstanding graphic designer) Jim Needham to step in.  In his business, there is the need to print accurate, graphic-intensive large-format documents and also high-quality photos.  Jim has a great eye for color.  Here are his impressions and comments on that printer:

“I have extensive experience with Epson photo-quality inkjet printers, so by default, I couldn’t help but make comparisons when evaluating the HP cp1700.

The first thing I noticed was the huge footprint of the cp1700. It really takes up a good chunk of real estate on your desk. Also, there is a lot of bulk to the unit. I set up the printer with the optional 250-sheet paper tray which fits perfectly underneath. Although I had the duplexing unit available to me (the “d” in cp1700d), I did not install it during the test period I had the printer.  I am sure its operation would have been comparable to Steve’s positive experiences with this feature in the cp1160.

To the credit of the printer’s design, paper goes in and comes out from the front of the unit. That means you can station the printer with its back side against a wall (something I cannot do with my Epsons).

Initial set-up was slightly more complex than I was used to, but not difficult. The printer uses four separate ink cartridges and four printhead cartridges. The big advantage to having a separate ink cartridge for each color is that when one color runs out you only have to replace that one. (My Epsons use one cartridge for black and one for all the rest of the colors. When one of the colors runs out, the whole cartridge gets trashed.) The capacity of the black cartridge is about two-and-a-half times that of each of the color cartridges. The ink capacity seemed very generous. With all the color test prints I ran, the level of the ink did not budge, at least as shown by the LCD display graphic.

The printer was connected directly to my Mac via a USB cable. I downloaded the latest software from the HP website and installed that (good advice for anyone installing a new printer, and good advice for everyone to periodically check for updated printer software). Operating the printer from my computer was as easy as using any printer. The surprising difficulty was that frequently, but not every time, as soon as the image was done “spooling,” the application I was printing from would quit unexpectedly. The printer would proceed to print the image.

I tried a few simple things to resolve whatever conflict was causing the problem, but to no avail. I did not take the time to seriously troubleshoot it. If this were my permanent printer, I most certainly would want to get to the root cause as it was very frustrating to have Quark Xpress or Adobe Acrobat quit most times I printed from them.

Overall I have mixed feelings about the software interface and behavior. While it was not quite as easy or straight-forward as I would have liked for my “custom-tweaking” needs, I know it would more than adequate for most consumers, especially if you stick with HP paper to print on. There are optimized pre-sets for all the HP papers.

I really liked having the big, 250-sheet secondary tray to keep my plain, multi-purpose paper at the ready. In the upper paper feed area I would put the specialty papers, generally glossy photo paper for high quality prints of photo images.

As Steve mentioned above, the printer is quiet. Compared to my Epsons the HPs are real dreams. (To be fair, I have not tried the newest generation of Epsons.) You can actually talk on the phone right next to them while they are printing. And, as Steve said about the cp1160, the cp1700, too, is relatively speedy. Of course, when doing a large color print at highest resolution, you are going to have to wait a bit. But for those color prints, the wait will be worth it. If you have a good, high-res image, the cp1700 is very capable of knocking your socks off with its quality and resolution. My only complaint with the output is the same as Steve’s with the smaller printer – too much saturation in the red.

The most impressive surprise for me was the amazing quality the printer could achieve on plain multi-purpose paper printing color photographs. Certainly it does not compare to printing on glossy photo paper, but the detail and dynamic range on plain paper is astounding, unlike anything I’ve seen previously.

I’d been using the printer regularly for about three weeks when the yellow printhead died. This was indicated to me by the LCD window on the front of the printer which is a convenient feature for conveying printer errors and problems. Fortunately there was a new yellow printhead in the extra box of supplies Steve was sent. Replacement was fairly easy, so I was back in operation quickly. Then, two days later in the middle of the night while working, that new yellow printhead died. Before getting a replacement for that failed yellow printhead, I got the request to return the unit.

The frustrating part was that the LCD did not indicate a printhead problem initially. It kept telling me there was a paper jam. I kept going through the motions of clearing non-existent jams. Then it indicated there was something, such as a paper jam, preventing the entire print head assembly from moving correctly. I looked and looked but could find nothing. After more than an hour of trying everything I could imagine (such as multiple cleaning cycles, unplugging AC, disconnecting from computer, etc.), the LCD began to indicate a bad yellow printhead. If it had indicated that in the beginning, I would not have spent all that time trying to fix a non-existent problem.

Bottom line question is: would I recommend you buy this printer? Hmnmm? Not sure. Certainly the output is impeccable. The speed is good for an inkjet. The quietness is wonderful. One negative concern would center around the software glitches causing applications to quit unexpectedly. Though a definite inconvenience, this to me would be a lesser concern as I’d assume it was a compatibility issue that could be resolved. My biggest concern would be with the printheads going out. Steve had one fail and I had two go in short order. Cost is about $40 each – kind of pricey. Before I plunked down my hard earned cash for this printer, I’d do some research to find out what is the anticipated life expectancy of printheads and what causes them to fail. And I’d try to track down reviews by other owners of similar HP printers to read of their experiences. I’d try to find out what I was getting into.”

So, there you have it – two opinions on two HP printers and a wireless network add-on.  Do YOU have something you want to share about your own experiences with HP inkjet printers, these or others?  Let me know HERE.

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