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What to look for when buying a fax.

It's often difficult to select a facsimile machine that meets every office need. If the available options aren't fully understood, the buyer may pay extra for options that aren't needed or may discover the one option an office needs is lacking. Here's the information essential to avoid these problems when buying a fax machine.

Compatibility. Fax machines come in four types: groups I, II, III and IV. Faxes must be compatible to communicate with each other. Most faxes in use today are group III machines; they are the safest choice for most situations. Groups I and II machines are obsolete--"bargains" to be avoided. Group IV machines are especially powerful, transmitting fine print and graphics; they need special phone lines.

Thermal vs. plain paper. Fax documents are recorded on cut-sheet plain paper, roll plain paper or roll thermal paper. While thermal-paper machines are cheaper than plain-paper units, cost should not be the only consideration. For example, thermal paper costs more than plain paper; images on thermal paper aren't permanent, so they must be photocopied on plain paper before storage; thermal paper curls up, making it more difficult to write on and ffle; and many people don't like the slippery feel of thermal paper.

Transmission speed. A fax machine's transmission speed is measured in bits per second (bps), the number of characters transmitted per second. Naturally, the faster this occurs, the lower the telephone toll charges. However, actual transmission speeds depend on the receiving unit; a document sent from a high-speed to a lowspeed machine will transmit at the slower rate. Before purchasing a fax machine, a buyer should check if most of the office's transmissions are going to slow machines. If so, paying a premium for a high-speed unit is not cost-effective.

Image quality. When a fax machine receives an incoming document, it reconstructs the image in lines of tightly spaced dots. The more lines per inch (lpi), the clearer the image. Group III machines offer three image-quality levels: regular resolution at 100 lpi, fine resolution at 200 lpi and superfine resolution as high as 400 lpi. Superfine resolution is necessary for clarity when documents contain small print and fine graphics. Some machines producing superfine resolution also can adapt to lower resolutions. This flexibility ensures the best possible image quality when receiving from lower-resolution fax machines.

Error correction. Occasionally, telephone equipment distorts data, making the received message unintelligible. Some machines are capable of an error correction mode (ECM), a feature that corrects transmission errors. But it works only if the machine it's communicating with also has an ECM feature.

Contrast control. This feature improves the faxed document's quality when the original is either too light or dark. Some machines have manual controls; others have sensors that make automatic adjustments.

Halftone adjustment. A user who plans to fax photographs and complex graphics should consider a unit with halftone adjustment to handle gray shades. The best machines can handle up to 64 shades.

CONVENIENCE FEATURES

Many fax machines have features that make them easy to use. Here are some of the most popular:

* Automatic voice-data switches eliminate the need to dedicate a separate telephone line for a fax machine. The unit determines if an incoming signal is from a telephone or another fax, routing the call accordingly.

* One-touch or speed dialing allows the user to store frequently called numbers in memory.

* Automatic redialing will keep calling a busy fax number until it is free.

* Alternate-number dialing automatically dials another fax machine if the first is busy.

* An automatic document feeder allows for unattended transmission of multiplepage documents.

* A paper cutter typically is found on thermal-paper fax machines, automatically cutting each received page from the roll.

* Some fax machines offer copying capabilities as well, eliminating the need for a separate office copier.

* Some units are capable of determining that a fax it has sent has been successfully received.

MEMORY OPTIONS

More advanced fax machines with internal memory can be programmed to perform functions automatically. Here are just a few ways memory can increase productivity and efficiency:

* Fast scan to memory. This time-saving option lets the user scan a document quickly into the machine's memory and then walk away with it in hand; the fax machine transmits the document later from its memory.

* Substitute receive to memory. This is a reverse of fast scan to memory. If the receiving fax runs out of paper, the transmission is saved to memory and printed out when the paper supply is replenished.

* Sequential broadcast. With this a user can send a document to several locations without reloading the document each time. One model can handle 149 locations.

* Relay send. This option allows the machine to receive a document from one location and automatically retransmit it to other fax machines.

* Polling. With this feature, a machine can call another fax and request the transmission of certain documents stored in its memory or loaded in its automatic document feeder.

* Dual access to memory. This allows a machine to do two jobs at once (for example, sending a fax while also making a copy of the document).

* Security options. Many machines with internal memory also can protect sensitive information. Confidential mailboxing restricts access by storing documents in internal memory and allowing a user to retrieve a document only after entering a code. Or an encryption device can be added to the machine to prevent electronic eavesdropping on telephone lines.

THE FAX--PC TEAM

If a majority of documents are computergenerated, an office manager may consider adding facsimile capability to personal computers; that eliminates the need for a separate fax machine. Adding fax capability is easy: The user simply snaps a fax board (an electronic component) into a computers internal slots and adds special software. The computer then is able to convert any of its documents into a code that can be understood by fax machines and sends the data via its modem to a fax machine.

However, fax boards have limitations. Documents not stored on the computer must be loaded into the computer first. If the document is on paper, a fast and convenient way to load it into the computer is to use an optical scanner, a device that reads words and graphics, translates them into computer language and uploads them.

Another option is linking a PC to a fax. Special software converts a computer file into fax-compatible data and allows the user to perform such functions as sequential broadcasting and polling right from the computer.

In addition, if an office has a local area network, a variety of products is available that allows faxing from workstations.

Equipped with an understanding of these features, an office manager can select a fax machine that meets the office's needs. A fax machine with the right features can lighten the burden of a heavy workload.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:A Special Report on Office Equipment
Author:O'Hearn, Brian
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:1132
Previous Article:How to tune up a computerized information system.
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