OK! NOW we're talking. Excellent discourse.
What has separated HP from the pack with the Z3100 is the current implementation of the closed-loop system of color management via the embedded photo-spectrometer. They have broken away from the rest by applying the most fundamental approach to robotics which is feedback. Closed-loop systems are by far the best in any robotic standard of machine building.
The other type of robotics are called "dumb-robots" (requiring user interface to complete processes). What also is far and above the competitors is the elegance of the solution. (Having the photospectrometer embedded is a non-kluge solution, in a way an eminent domain approach to the global problem).
This over-riding solution to the problem of color management occurs through the mechanics of linear motion utilizing existing stepper motion technology to perform precise measurements based on the feedback (printing and reading known quantity and universal color charts).
The point is, this is not a kluge (a tacked on fix) but an embedded process that takes user involvement out of the process. Less user involvement creates less risk in the process. (In this sense I refer to David Pye's writings on the nature of craftsmanship in discussing craftsmanship of certainty versus craftsmanship of risk; essentially the differences of working by hand versus working using jigs that enable repeatability with certainty.
Ultimately that is what is at hand in the chain of process in printing - the expectation of repeatabilty with certainty, lacking risk. In this quest, HP shines in their new approach which will undoubtedly spawn a revolution amongst printer builders, leading to greater and greater closed-loop systems, sans user involvement.
This is the dilemma; to what degree is user involvement required or demanded that enforces the laws of economy that are the basis of a corporations decisions versus the excellence capable of a machine that not only delivers perfection but a particular user experience that again separates it, head and shoulders from the competition (think Rolls Royce or the top end automobiles that deliver high-end performance and the ultimate user experience).
What is interesting about the Z series printers is that HP has opened an entry level position for photographers seeking to do fine art. No doubt the price point is at issue, considering the competition and market share. Ultimately what is at issue here is the nature of this beast (a machine that single end users creating fine art can afford, versus what a company can provide in attempts to address the numerous problems involved in the process of creating art).
Let's face it, the idea of 200 year longevity inks, and the long lasting substrates address these specific issues that are the realm of museums and archivists. In fact, it is the most basic premise this machine is built upon. In essence it addresses the fact that we are in a revolution in photography and photographic output that is expected to supersede previous forms upon which the art has been based.
In applauding the efforts of HP, (history will no doubt note this printer as the catalyst for future earth shaking developments) I also urge them to keep going to continue the trend of excellence in design, taking the other "elephant -in-the-room" issues by the horns and providing equally elegant solutions to the looming problems, thus keeping them leaders of the pack.
On to some more of my basic concerns:
It seems there are issues with loading and unloading. Talk about walking around and around the printer - go load the roll from behind, then come back and lift levers, press menu items etc.
What seems odd to me is that a lot of the activity is done from BEHIND the printer (loading paper) but the controls are IN FRONT, rather than where they need to be to minimize walking back and forth. Why not either have the controls facing the back (or an additional LCD for messages, minor controls specific to loading/unloading) OR, put the roll in the FRONT, where the controls and levers are?
Much of machine design occurs in evolutionary sense - incremental improvements to pre-existing design, rather than re-design of fundamental issues. (Obviously tried and true issues reign in design re-thinks) but in an age where the machines that currently make machines are so much more sophisticated, new approaches or more global changes are easier to implement.
I advocate machines being in service to users, not the opposite. When we are required to read the screen, told to lift levers, re-roll media until it shows "the blue line", we have become servants of the machine, not the other way around. Unquestionably money could easily solve these problems, as price points can and often do.
So ultimately, the question is; "OK HP, what's the real intent here into this foray into the world of fine art object producing machines?" "Do you aim to be the best, or like always with all the companies, just sell a lot of machines..."
I advocate direct and brilliant solutions to the specific problems of this object making chain of manufacture. Be assured, in every respect, each individual will stand behind the company that most willingly addresses the seemingly insignificant issues with innovation and design excellence.
In the interests of quantifying the issues it might be a good idea to categorize the areas:
1. Color Management
2. Paper handling
4. Print Protection
5. Machine maintenance
(add to list)
So that's my ongoing thinking about this great machine - if you've read this far, then maybe you have similar thoughts...