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About BX-Based Laser Printers

Included in the group of BX engine printers are:

Canon BX-engine based laser printers (Go to Printer Models Table)

Select hot items to see individual data sheet and photo.

Newgen: DesignXpress 6, 8, and 12

The Printer Works: StepWriter-BX

QMS: PS 860, PS 1660

Hewlett-Packard: LaserJet 4V, LaserJet 4MV

Xante: Accel-a-Writer 8100, Accel-a-Writer 8200
BX printer

History and Features of the BX and BX II

EARLY ADOPTERS OF THE BX ENGINE

By October of 1992 five of Canon's OEM customers had announced products based on the BX engine. These included Birmy Graphics, CalComp, Newgen, QMS, and Xante. All of these companies directed their sales and marketing efforts at the burgeoning desktop publishing market. Strangely, and much to the disappointment of the target market, all of these OEMs offered PostScript compatibility, but none of them offered true Adobe PostScript at first. This was during a period when dealing with Adobe was very difficult. Adobe charged a lot and couldn't deliver product implementations for a long time, unless you were one of their very largest customers. This forced the smaller OEMs to look for or develop clones of PostScript. Users wanted true Adobe PostScript, but they bought the clone products because the desirable features of the BX engine outweighed the occasional inconveniences caused by differences between true Adobe PostScript and the clones of PostScript. Eventually, true Adobe PostScript became available on the newer BX-II models and these machines now dominate the desktop publishing printer market.

Birmy Graphics

The Birmy Model 11/17 used a video interface version of the BX printer, connected to an external RIP based on a 33 Mhz 80486 and their clone of PostScript. The Birmy printer was designed as a proofing device or quick plate maker, to be used along with the firm's line of imagesetters. It offered multiple resolutions of 400 x 400, 600 x 600, 800 x 800, 1,200 x 1,200, and 1,600 x 1,600.

CalComp

The CalComp CCL 600 also used a PostScript clone, along with an AppleTalk interface. Being a plotter company, CalComp marketed their BX-based product both to desktop publishers and to engineers who wanted a B-size printer for schematics and other engineering drawings. The CCL 600 was upgraded with the BX-II engine in August of 1994, for slightly wider format and higher speed. The new model was called the CCL 600ES. CalComp used TrueImage from Microsoft in its early offerings, switched to Pipeline's clone, and ultimately settled in with Adobe PostScript Level 2 and Peerless PCL 5 in its latest offerings.

QMS

The QMS 860, introduced in July of 1992 as the Hammerhead, was the first BX-based printer on the market. Normally, the honor of being the first with a new engine went to HP. The industry couldn't understand why HP didn't take the BX. The industry was also shocked that QMS was not using Adobe PostScript. Instead they were using their own PostScript Level 2 clone, called UltraScript. QMS had previously employed their UltraScript in the LX-based QMS-PS 410, but nether they nor Adobe wanted to admit this. (Adobe had tested UltraScript extensively and qualified it as good enough to carry the Adobe name. Adobe didn't want to let the world know that their prize possession had been so successively cloned. QMS also didn't want to tell customers it was a clone.) Eventually, users found bugs that produced UltraScript error messages, bugs that Adobe hadn't found in their testing, and the cat was let out of the bag in the trade press. But the QMS PostScript Level 2 clone was good, and the 860 became one of the biggest money makers QMS ever had.

Since HP was not yet in the market at that time, the QMS 860 was the best seller of the BX-based group of printers. QMS had the largest sales and marketing organization. QMS was also well known in the desktop publishing community for their other products for desktop publishers. These included the QMS ColorScript line and the QMS-PS 800 series of CX- and SX-based laser printers that used true Adobe PostScript, but had always offered a bit better performance than the similar models from Apple Computer. The 860 offered most everything people wanted, such as automatic emulation switching, optional network connectivity, and decent print quality. The processor used was the respectable Intel 80960CA,which is fast, although QMS 860 did not earn an overall reputation for being a speed demon. The list price was set at $4,595.

Newgen

Newgen offered a BX printer based on a Weitek RISC processor, initially with software from a now defunct company called RIPS. This processor was very fast for many jobs. Newgen eventually switched to Phoenix Page for their DesignXpress models.

The Printer Works

The Printer Works developed a BX-based printer for users of the NeXTSTEP operating system called the StepWriter-BX. This printer used the upgraded BX-I engine and SCSI interface. Rasterization was performed by the host-based Adobe PostScript interpreter that was built into the NeXTStep operating system.

Xante

Xante's BX offering, called the Accel-a-Writer 8100, started out with a 16 MHz AMD 2900 RISC processor and 12 MB of RAM, was upgradeable to 64MB using standard SIMMs. Adding more memory enabled higher-resolution printing. Xante and CalComp set the price at an aggressive (for the time) $3,995. Xante was seen as being the price/performance leader, because their version included more memory and higher resolution.

Like all earlier Xante Accel-a-Writers (such as the LX-based 4000, and the SX-based 8000) the Xante Accel-a-Writer 8100 employed the Phoenix Page PostScript emulation and the Phoenix clone of HP's PCL 5. Initially the printer shipped with PostScript Level 1, but Xante promised a free upgrade to PostScript Level 2 whenever it became available. After several years of struggles with bug fixes, Phoenix more or less stopped developing improvements to their PostScript clone, and Xante was able to licensed true Adobe PostScript Level 2. This change made life much easier for Xante engineers and sales people. Having true Adobe code for both the language and the network I/O has contributed greatly to Xante's success as a strong niche player in the laser printer business.

UPGRADED BX

In October of 1993, Canon upgraded the capabilities of the BX to compete with the rival Toshiba A655 engine, which was being sold very successfully by GCC, LaserMaster, Newgen and XLI. Desktop publishers needed "full-bleed" capability and the original BX couldn't handle it. But the upgraded BX could now handle paper up to 11.7 x 17.5 inches and the image area was increased to 11.4 x 17 inches. This was just enough of a difference to satisfy many users. The original machine had been plagued by banding problems caused by jitter in the toner cartridge drive train. Canon solved that problem by introducing an improved toner cartridge, the EP-BII. The new toner cartridge is also 100% compatible with all older BX machines, as well as the newer and faster BX-II machines. The original EP-B toner cartridges are no longer manufactured.

To take advantage of the increased print area, QMS came out with a whole new version, called the QMS 860 Plus Print System. The Plus version offered 24MB of RAM and 1200 x 600 dpi printing. The processor was also upgraded to the 25 MHz version of the Intel 80960CA. The Plus version also carried a much higher price: $5,999 for the Plus versus $4,595 for the standard version. This pricing/marketing strategy was completely opposite to HP's winning formula: always kill the old model completely and introduce the new improved model for a lower price than that of the old model. Recent history has proven that HP's approach was right and QMS's was wrong.

INTRODUCTION OF THE 16 PPM BX II

The upgraded LBP-BX is not to be confused with not the LPB-BX II. The upgraded BX fixed a few print area and print quality problems. The BX-II doubled the speed while maintaining the improved print quality of the upgraded BX.

To ease the pain on the smaller OEMs caused by the pending introduction of the BX-II based HP LaserJet 4V, Canon provided all the little guys early access to the BX-II. Most of these companies quietly introduced upgraded versions of their BX-based products, using the BX-II, during the few months before HP introduced the LaserJet 4V and 4MV. QMS called their BX-II model the QMS-PS 1660 and priced it $5,099. Newgen offered the DesignXpress 6, 8, and 12 (600, 800, and 1200 dpi) at list prices of $4,395, $5,295, and $6,495, respectively. Xante's BX-II product is known as the 8200, and its price at introduction was $6,995.

Due the greater manufacturing efficiencies created by HP's large orders for BX-II engines, Canon was able to make the price of the BX-II engine much lower than that of the BX engine to all of the OEMs as well. The small OEMs all lowered their prices somewhat, but none was ready for HP's low street prices: under 2K for the HP LaserJet 4V, and about 2.5K for the 4MV.

INTRODUCTION AND EFFECT OF THE HP LASERJET 4V, 4MV

On September 26, 1994, HP finally introduced its long-awaited BX-II based printer. Evidently, the reason HP had not introduced a BX-I based printer was that HP didn't consider the BX good enough to be a LaserJet. The long delay allowed the smaller OEMs to build healthy installed bases without competition from HP. HP's entry into the B-size market was a dark day for all the other tabloid laser printer makers. These companies had been enjoying strong sales and profit from this market segment. The killer feature of the HP versions was the street price. No other OEM could touch the efficiency of HP and its distribution partners, which were offering these machines at about $1895 for the LaserJet 4V and $2795 for the 4MV. The 4MV offers true Adobe PostScript and HP's popular J2552A JetDirect MIO card. The J2552A provided multi-protocol Ethernet (both 10BaseT and 10 Base 2), as well as AppleTalk. This interface card is considered one the very best in the entire printer business. The controller HP came out with for the 4V was also the fastest and most powerful one HP had ever used. It's based on the 33 MHz version of the Intel 80960CF processor and it can be upgraded with a matchbox-sized hard drive for a 42MB font library.

The effect of the HP 4V and 4MV on the rest of the printer industry cannot be understated. HP already owned the low-end with its IIP, IIIP, 4L/4P products. HP captured most all of the mid-range A-size market with its 4/4+ printers. HP also owned the higher-duty cycle market with its LaserJet 4Si. HP's charge into the B-size market with the 4V/4MV has essentially wiped out the competition, who were living quite happily in the only market segment that HP didn't already dominate. At the time of this writing (August 1997), shares of QMS and LaserMaster stock are trading at all time lows during the greatest bull market on record.


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