Peripheral vision

If you like to have all the latest toys for your computer but don't fancy waiting for them to clear customs, you can buy locally. Kristen McQuillin details how to get a peripheral purchased in Japan to work with your computer.

Fundamentally, hardware is hardware no matter where you buy it. Scanners, printers and CD burners don't care what language you speak. The connections (USB, IEEE1394 and SCSI) between your computer and your peripherals are international standards with a language of their own. That's very good news because it means you can buy printers, digital cameras and other peripherals here and save money on shipping and customs duties.

What is language-specific is labeling on buttons, the instruction manuals and, most importantly, the drivers (software used by your computer to communicate with a peripheral) and the programs to configure and run the device. Although some peripherals, like keyboards, don't need drivers, most do. Often you can run your printer or scanner with a Japanese driver, but you'll discover that the menus and dialogue boxes are nothing but gibberish.

Not every peripheral for sale in Japan is available outside Japan. You must find a model that is sold in America, Australia or the UK. Why? So that you can get drivers and software in English. A little bit of homework will ensure that you find a peripheral and the right drivers to meet your needs.

In the beginning
Before you begin, it helps to have an idea of what features and specifications you're looking for. If you're thinking of a printer, do you want color printouts or black and white? Is resolution or print speed important to you? You'll need to make sure the device works on your platform (OS) and has the right connector. And of course costs, including ongoing costs like replacement ink or toner, play a major role.

Armed with your list of specs, visit your favorite computer store and window shop. Pick up brochures or take notes about which models you like. You may want to check on older models (which can be a bargain) and avoid the very newest models, which haven't been introduced outside Japan. Don't buy anything yet.

Back at home, start your web browser and visit the manufacturer's website. The first order of business is to match the Japanese model number with the international one. Not all products have the same name in Japan and elsewhere. For example, Epson's "Colorio" printers are called Color Stylus in Australia and the US. Canon's "Wonder BJ" line is referred to as Bubble Jet in the Americas.

Hewlett Packard and Brother are generally consistent about model numbers on their printers; Olympus, Nikon and Fuji also use the same model numbers worldwide. Canon seems divided - some products are the same and others are not.

Unraveling these discrepancies will be the most challenging part of the process. This is where your notes and the brochures you picked up will come in handy - having the exact specs and a photo can help you to identify the correct model.

Drivers wanted
After you've determined the model number of the product you want to buy, browse the "Software and Drivers" or "Downloads" section. Or use one of the resources below to go directly to the right area of the website.

Brother - homepage
Canon - homepage
Epson - homepage
Fuji Film - homepage
HP - homepage
Iomega - homepage
Kodak - homepage
Nikon - homepage
Olympus - homepage
Ricoh - homepage
Yamaha - homepage

Download the drivers and software for the peripheral, but don't install them until you have the product attached to your computer, as some drivers refuse to operate unless they detect the presence of the device.

Pick up a copy of the manual while you're downloading. Fuji Film, HP, Brother, and Olympus have instruction manuals that you can save to your computer or read online. If there isn't a manual available online, you can call or email the manufacturer and ask to have one mailed to you. Most companies are willing to do this, but be warned: Canon is not cooperative on this point.

Finally, you're ready to go shopping. Now that you are confident that you have (or can obtain) the correct English-language driver, software and manuals, you can carry home your new toy and start playing.

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