Changing The Interface For High-Speed Scanners
More powerful personal computers reduce need for specialized cards as interfaces between high-speed scanners and personal computers.
Business Solutions, March 1998
"The central processing units in personal computers (PCs) have historically not been powerful enough to process more than 40 full-sized electronic document image files (approximately 50-100 kilobytes each) per minute. So, although there have been scanners for several years that could capture 100 images per minute, the size of the image files has had to be compressed in order for the PC which received the images to keep up with the scanner," says Dan Borrey. Borrey is the v.p. of sales and marketing at VisionShape, Inc. VisionShape, a hardware and software manufacturer based in Orange, CA, holds an estimated 5% share of the high-speed scanner market.
The compression of image files has traditionally been done with computer cards that have their own embedded CPUs. These cards act as an interface between the scanner and the PC. Popular versions of these cards are manufactured by Kofax and Xionics (see sidebar, page 127). They can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $4,000, depending on the features the cards offer. More expensive cards also perform functions such as automatic image clean-up.
Pentium Processors Allow PCs To Catch Up To Scanners
"The introduction into the mainstream market of 130-megahertz Intel Pentium CPUs for PCs reduces the need for cards with CPUs to act as interfaces between scanners and PCs," says Nicholas Morisco. Morisco is the national marketing manager of Panasonic Computer Peripheral Company's (PCPC) Imaging Products Group. "The more powerful CPUs enable PCs to do the compression of images themselves, and still be able to process about 100 images per minute."
PCPC (Secaucus, NJ) is a division of Panasonic Communications & Systems Company and a unit of Matsushita Electric Corp. of America. "Without the need for a CPU in a card, scanners and PCs can be connected with standard SCSI cards," says Morisco. "SCSI cards are available for only a couple of hundred dollars each."
SCSI Interfaces Simplify Installations
In addition to reducing the cost of a high-speed scanning system, Borrey says moving to SCSI cards will also simplify installations. "Over 90% of the support calls VisionShape receives for our scanners have to do with the connection of scanning cards," he says. "Because of VARs' familiarity with them, SCSI cards should make these connections 'plug-n-play'. Right now it's more like 'plug-and-pray.'"
Software Can Perform Features Of Scanning Cards
Morisco adds that this transition of high-speed scanning applications to SCSI cards and away from specialized scanning cards cannot be done without support from software vendors. "In order for VARs to make the transition, their software must be able to handle features, such as compression and rotation of images, that the scanning cards were performing," he says. "VARs that want to ride the early wave of this transition should start encouraging their software vendors to write these features into the products as soon as possible."
Scanning Card Manufacturer Promoting New Features
Image cleanup for growing character recognition market now selling point of cards.
"If Kofax were still competing on its scanning cards' ability to compress and rotate images, we'd be worried about the move toward unintelligent SCSI cards as scanner interfaces," says Anthony Macciola, Kofax Imaging Products' manager for production image products.
Kofax (Irvine, CA) has an advertised share of 70% in the scanning card market. Kofax employs approximately 160, and had revenues of $29.2 million in 1997.
"Our cards now offer features such as image clean-up, bar code and forms recognition, and removal of lines and shaded areas," says Macciola. "Trying to perform any of these functions with software and a standard SCSI card will slow a scanner down to, at most, 40 pages per minute."
"These features can be used to automatically index images or to prepare images for character recognition, which we see as a rapidly growing application. Character recognition programs such as OCR (optical) and ICR (intelligent) require a lot of central processing unit (CPU) power. If our boards can clean up images before they are processed by an character recognition program in a personal computer, it takes a large burden off that PC's CPU. "
Compression From Cards Still Required In Color & Grayscale Applications Macciola adds that the emergence of grayscale and color-scanning applications will mean that scanning cards will once again be required to perform compression. "The byte size of a grayscale image is about eight times that of a black -and-white image. A color image is about 24 times the size of a grayscale image," he explains. "Also, compression in cards is still needed when scanning over 100 black-and-white images per minute. PC CPUs are still not powerful enough to handle true production-level scanning, such as would be done in a service bureau."