Avision 260C Plus flatbed scanner

Review date: 25 November 1998.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.



You can’t expect too much from a flatbed scanner that sells for about $180 (Australian dollars). So it’s rather nice when you find a genuinely good unit for this entry-level price.

UPDATE - $AU180 was the price when I originally wrote this review a year ago. Now they're only $AU109!

Cheap scanner!

The Avision 260C Plus is a small flatbed scanner with A4 capacity - 8.5 by 11.96 inches maximum scan size, to be exact. Its maximum optical resolution is 300dpi, its mechanical resolution 600dpi - the box, as usual, proudly trumpets the ludicrously high interpolated resolution. The 260C scans 30 bit colour, too, which is quite impressive for such a cheap unit. It weighs less than three kilograms.

The scanner’s entry level status shows in a few areas. It has no power switch, or indeed any controls other than the sliding scan head lock on the underside. If you want to turn it off, you have to unplug its power pack. It also connects to your computer via the parallel port, which makes it a PC-only product (Macintoshes have no parallel port). If you’ve got an antique computer without a modern high-speed bidirectional parallel port (we’re talking 486 or worse, here), you’ll have to buy a parallel interface card, or put up with very slow scanning. This matters, because the parallel interface paralyses your computer while the scanner’s doing its thing.

Avision quote a ten second time for a full-bed scan at 100dpi, which is slightly optimistic; by my measure it’s more like 13 seconds of PC paralysis from the time you click the scan button. A preview scan takes 12 seconds.

You’ll have to wait rather longer if you want to use higher resolutions. A 300dpi full-bed greyscale scan, producing an 8.5Mb image, took 56.5 seconds. The scan speed is clearly limited by the 150 kilobyte per second transfer rate of the Avision scanner's parallel interface; a 300dpi colour full-bed scan, which is three times as much data, took exactly three times as long. Pushing the scanner to its highest useful output resolution, 600 by 600dpi, would therefore give you more than 11 minutes of sitting about – probably rather more, as the more than 100 megabytes of data generated will cause many PCs to do a fair amount of drive thrashing. Modern EPP and ECP parallel ports can move a lot more than 150 kilobytes per second, but it would appear this scanner can't.

Fortunately, you don’t often have to scan a whole A4 page at high resolution in colour. The smaller, simpler jobs most scanners are usually called on to perform will leave you sitting around for a lot less time.

Coin scan test

The Avision's results on the old shiny-coin test are good, for a low end scanner.
(Note for non-Australian readers - the animal on the coin's an echidna.)

The Avision’s output quality is excellent, considering its price. On the dreaded scan-a-shiny-coin test, it produced a recognisable image – many cheap and cheerful scanners balk badly at reflective subjects and produce a white circle. I’ve seen much better results on this test – expensive scanners produce a perfect image – but, again, for the money the Avision’s brilliant.

The Avision also delivers quite even scans, but it's hard to tell how even. All desktop scanners have colour casts and slight lines on their scans, which can be emphasised by doing a full-bed scan and using a paint program’s level adjust feature (canonically, Photoshop’s Equalize command) to stretch out the middle range of pixel values and exaggerate the flaws. In a decent scanner, the flaws are invisible to the naked eye, and only come out when you start using image adjustment tools in the scanner software or a paint program later on.

The Avision 260C has no noticeable flaws of this type. None. And there's a reason for that - it artificially pulls near-white values in its output to pure white. It didn’t matter how much I stretched and tweaked; the only faults visible on a plain white scan were dust particles on the scan bed. Hardware white-clipping like this is not as good as having a truly clean scanner, but in a low-end model like this, which is likely to be used by people who don't know much about cleaning up scanned images, it's an acceptable design decision. But don't be fooled into thinking that the apparently perfect white scan means this scanner's the equal of far more expensive professional models.

The 260C's colour scan quality is, overall, quite good. Not fabulous, even with careful adjustment of gamma values, but perfectly adequate.

Docs and software

The 260C’s manual is very, VERY slim, because most of the documentation is in Adobe Acrobat files on the included CD-ROM. This online manual is perfectly adequate, and explains the operation of all of the included software.

driver_s.GIF (7955 bytes)

Avision’s driver software is as cheerfully non-standard as drivers for most other cheap Tiawanese hardware (the scanner's driver’s called "Mr Scan"…). Fortunately, the funny looking interface actually works tolerably well.

Besides the TWAIN driver (which includes Windows 3.x and Windows 95/98/NT versions), you also get MGI Photosuite SE, an undistinguished image editing application in the great tradition of undistinguished image editors included in software bundles. For OCR (optical character recognition) there’s TextBridge Classic. "Classic", in this case, means "made in 1996", but despite its age this is an OK OCR package, and gives good results on clean text in various fonts and, often, useably accurate output from lower quality documents (coloured backgrounds, dirty pages and so on), although you may need to tweak the brightness slider one way or the other.

The software bundle also contains PaperCom, one of those document filing systems with thumbnail viewing and various categorisation options, which could be quite useful if you have the energy to scan in all of your clutter-paper, but is otherwise just your basic image sorter.

The Avision CD-ROM also features near-useless non-interactive rolling demos of the bundled software. This bundle pack would be lousy if it came with a $500 scanner, but at this price point it’s a darn good deal.


I've said it before, I'll say it again - for the money, this is a very good scanner indeed.



  • Can't beat that price!
  • Good overall performance
  • Image quality not good enough for professional work
  • Bundled software resolutely average


ECP: The Enhanced Capabilities Port is the most capable flavour of parallel port. It allows printers and other peripherals that support the standard to send information back to the computer while the computer's sending data to them. An ECP port, however, requires a DMA channel to operate, which simpler interfaces don't.

EPP: The Enhanced Parallel Port is faster than the old-fashioned one-way ports, which managed only 40 to 50 kilobyte per second transfer speeds and could only send data to peripherals, not receive. EPP supports communication in both directions at speeds from 400 kilobytes to one megabyte per second.

Gamma: Adjusting the "gamma" of an image or of an image acquisition device gives you a way of brightening or darkening without losing as much detail as a straight brightness adjustment. Gamma adjustment works by changing the brightness of pixels according to how bright they currently are - the closer a pixel is to the extremes (black and white) the less it's changed, with the largest changes for pixels at the 50% grey level.

Interpolation: Every cheapo scanner in the world has some preposterously high resolution figure on its brochure, which tells you the maximum image resolution you can dial up in the scanner driver software. The actual maximum resolution of the scanner is determined by its optical and mechanical resolution, but the software can duplicate pixels to give the impression of much higher resolution.

smiley.GIF (58 bytes) smileybig.GIF (2120 bytes)

The smiley face on the left is an 11 by 11 pixel image, blown up to 55 by 55. The image on the right is an interpolated 55 by 55 version, in which the darkness of each pixel is determined by means of a clever algorithm that works from the darkness of its neighbours. 

Mechanical resolution: Flatbed scanners move their scan heads past the document to capture its image. Since the document isn’t changing, taking lots and lots of horizontal-line snapshots of it and sticking them together gives the same result as a far, far more expensive capture mechanism that could grab the whole image at once. The mechanical resolution of a scanner is the smallest step by which it can move the head, and it thus determines the maximum number of these skinny snapshots that can be taken. Mechanical resolution does not have to be the same as optical resolution.

Optical resolution: A scanner’s optical resolution is the number of dots per inch (dpi) its scan head can detect. A scanner with 300dpi resolution and a scan head 8.5 inches wide, like the Avision 260C Plus, has a scan head 2550 dots wide.

30 bit: Most cheap colour scanners are 24 bit; they digitise each of the red, green and blue channels with eight bit resolution, making a total of 24 bits per output pixel. 30 bit scanners add another two bits of resolution to each channel, increasing the number of distinct colours they can output from 16777216 (two to the power of 24) to 1073741824 (two to the power of 30). This 64-fold increase is invisible to the naked eye, but it means the scanner can use only a portion of the colours it detects and still maintain full detail. If, for instance, you push up the brightness of the scan in the driver software by 20%, the top 20% of pixel values will all run "off the top" of the permissible output values, and become pure white. A 24 bit scanner, in this situation, has to stretch the remaining 80% of pixel values into a complete 24 bit gamut, reducing image quality, but a scanner with 30 bit resolution has values to spare.

TWAIN driver: TWAIN stands for Technology (or Toolkit) Without An Interesting Name. No, really, it does. Who says programmers have no sense of humour? Anyway, a TWAIN driver is a piece of software that a paint or optical character recognition or other graphic-related program can call upon to deliver an image. The image may come from a scanner or a digital camera or anything else; the driver talks to the hardware and provides the user with its own interface, then delivers the final picture to the invoking program.

Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)