Okay, profiles built, test images printed and even printed up a real image.
First print impressions are very positive. Image quality is essentially equal to my epson 7800 and using custom paper profiles the continuous tone grayscale slice looks perfectly neutral. Image is very sharp yet remains smoothness. In short, it appears to produce identical prints to my 7800.
Eric asked about a running diary: I really don't have the time to devote to that this time around, so will rely on this forum to post updates and share ideas.
Paul asked if this printer is "linearized" like the 4/7/9-800: I really don't know -- maybe Michael does?
Ethernet: I did not connect mine that way, but there was a separate set of instructions to DL off the software CD that appeas to explain it pretty well -- they did mention the need to select that port in both the driver and on the printer's LCD menu.
Firmware and Driver updates: Mine shipped with FW 02468 and Win Driver 5.51 and I do not see any updates on the US site for either.
The only fly in the ointment so far is a minor nit. Standard papers like Premium Luster can be multi-sheet fed through the main feed port. When you print on thick Fine Art paper, you need to single-feed through the rear tray. You also need to manually build and select a custom paper type for the thicker paper. You can build 10 presets via the LCD panel or using the "Remote Panel" where you set paper type and thickness, platten gap and custom align the head-gap to that specific paper -- a spiffy set of options for maximum print quality, especially considering the variables in different fine art papers.
However, when switching from type of paper to the other, the feed tray option will automatically change (you get notified in the print dialog) and the Mk/Pk ink will switch over automatically, but the custom paper parameters do not switch. You need to set them manually, even to get back to the default "standard" setting.
A minor annoyance is all, but one that needs to be considered lest you waste a few sheets of paper if you forget. Nonetheless, an annoyance I'll live with for the abilty to easily switch between paper types and Mk and Pk inks!