Friday, 17 July 2015

Understanding PFC3's New Autocapture Mode

The new automatic capturing mode in PFC3 may be the first that truly works as it should, but requires a little understanding to master it

Automatic scan initiation or "capturing" is an important prerequisite for a serious book scanner. With it, one has to just focus on flipping the pages and nothing else. All the machines that we know of have a button to initiate manual capturing and some of them have a timer mode whereby capture happens at fixed intervals. Timers greatly reduce the pain of having to hit a button for every single page to be scanned, especially when both hands are busy keeping the book open at the same time. However it has a drawback - you have to follow its pace. If you set the timer interval to be the shortest, your scans are done quickly but at the cost of higher stress level and you would most probably end up with a few bad scans because some pages aren't flipped in time (e.g. due to pages "sticking" together). That's when a longer interval would help but you would need to put up with its slower pace - a 2 second delay interval means you'd be spending 10 minutes longer flipping a 300-page book, and yet does not guarantee all pages can be flipped in time.

A superior alternative to the timer mode is the automatic capturing mode (ACM). This is how it's supposed to work - it scans instantly by itself when a page is flipped and ready, but it waits when it's not. Sounds wonderful doesn't it? But wait - actual implementation and realization of this wonder is a tough job, even in this day and age of advanced computing. The machine needs to know when a page is "flipped and ready". The "ready" part is relatively straightforward, but the problem is the "flipped" part - it doesn't take much for a human to tell that a page is flipped but for a machine? Not easy. The computer algorithm either needs to somehow "identify" the page flipping process and/or check that the page content has changed. Checking page content is definitely the easier way of the two, but it still requires a significant amount of processing time - that means the ACM would no longer react instantly, and worse still, it may not even react at all if it makes a mistake in judgment (i.e. when current page content is similar to the last). That's frustrating, and we have evidenced this behavior in at least one scanner costing twice the xcanex. Of course, the algorithm can be made so advanced that it never makes a mistake but in doing so, it would be too slow that one is better off using the timer mode.

That explains why we did what we did for the ACM algorithm in PFC3 - it no longer waits for a page flip and will snap instantly when there's an open book in the scan area (either single or dual page). What it does instead is detect for motion - once there's no motion for a split second, it'll capture. The advantage of this over the timer mode is that you can take your time to flip a page in case pages stick and it'll wait for you so long as there's motion (i.e. keep your fingers moving). If you want it to pause, simply shift the book slightly out of the preview window. So do not leave an open book fully inside the scan area without any motion - it'll continue to snap away. Alternatively, you can do it the conventional way - just hit the "A" key on your keyboard to toggle in and out of auto mode.

We understand the risk of designing the ACM to behave this way. Users may expect it to wait for a page flip after every capture before snapping the next, and gets startled when it doesn't. But we feel that users would prefer the advantage of having instant capture to minimize scanning time, and forgo the need for it to check for a page flip which incurs a delay during every capture. However to use it effectively, users need to understand its behavior - the new ACM will capture instantly when an open book is within the scan area plus no motion is detected, regardless of whether there has been a page flip. We think the lack of page-flip checking is a non-issue (once understood, that is) and users would rather have a much faster and smoother ACM. But do let us know if we're wrong and it turns out to be a problem for you.

Another improvement in the new ACM is its Autofocus (AF). There are now 2 types of AF - the normal and fast AF. The normal AF takes a few seconds to sweep the whole focusing range to cater for a possible step change in book thickness (e.g. focal point changes substantially when a 200-page book is swapped with a 1000-page book). On the other hand, the fast AF assumes that contiguous pages are being scanned from the same book, hence it just takes a split second to make minor adjustments to the focal point. This is how the new ACM uses these 2 types of AF: if a page is flipped swiftly right after a capture and the subsequent page is set and ready within a few seconds, fast AF shall be used and the capture is almost instant. However if a longer period of motion is detected (more than 3~5 seconds) before a page is ready, the normal long-range AF is used instead in anticipation of a larger adjustment in focal point due a user switching the book or skipping a large chunk of pages. So when you are scanning contiguous pages, immediately flip to the subsequent page after a capture and set it down swiftly - this will activate the fast AF and saves considerable amount of time when scanning larger volumes.

The video below shows a total of 6 captures made using the new ACM - in the first 3 captures, extended motion was intentionally applied to show how ACM would wait for the page to be set and ready before it automatically initiates the scans. The last 3 captures demonstrates how ACM reacts instantly when pages are flipped immediately after each capture and set swiftly for the subsequent scan.

It is my hope that the new ACM will improve your work efficiency, and I'm always happy to hear your feedback!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

perfecapture3: Five Years of Incremental Innovation

Release of PFC3 for the xcanex bookscanner

Faster, better scan quality, intelligent new features, smoother operation, increased efficiency and more robust than ever

 The new perfecapture3 
Building a good book scanner is so much tougher than we thought – and maybe that’s why book scanners today are either too expensive or not very useful. Some problems we face seem impossible to have answers but we know there is simply no shortcut – again and again we must study, think, create and experiment. Supposedly hours of work stretch into days, days into weeks, and weeks into months just because a desired result stubbornly avoids realization. We carry on because our mission is to create the world’s best book scanner for the masses and not anything less. To compromise is to defeat the purpose. So is the goal reached? We await your answer.

Cut the crap and give it to me

Ad-hoc footage of PFC3 undergoing final tests

Summary of changes (from v2.114)

Twice the capture speed: Added intelligence and faster autofocus reduced capture time from 6 to 3 seconds (We define ‘capture time’ as the time a page is set for capture until it’s done and can be flipped). Structural optimizations at the core of the PFC3 created the smoothest operation we’ve ever seen when scanning in large volumes.

Ultraflat text: Many page flattening algorithms produce slight waviness in text sentences after processing but we cannot settle for that. We demand scans that appear indistinguishable from flatbed scans. The new Flatpage v3.0 algorithm now analyzes page content, measures remaining waviness and makes critical adjustments to produce the finest looking paragraphs ever from a platen-less book scanning system.

Hardcover book mode: Automatic cropping and digital page flattening of hardcovers (or hardbacks) are tough jobs for software algorithms. Most scanning apps require either manual adjustments or book inserts to produce good scans. A breakthrough in our Enhanced Edge Detection algorithm changed that – any hardcover can now be scanned as easy as a paperback.

xcanex with buddies: The mountain of books used to evaluate the PFC3

PerfectPage Technology: Even after typical digital corrections to book curvature, scans made without using cumbersome book clamps/platens and without any manual post-scan corrections still suffer inherent inferiority due to distortions caused by content shifts, page dents and twists. That’s why all those manual work, clamps and platens still prevail despite the suffering they bring to people. So we cracked our brains and created PerfectPage - it works in conjunction with Flatpage and intelligently performs content centering (i.e. intelligent means it shouldn’t center what’s not supposed to be at the center) and uncompromisingly eliminates all those stubborn distortions. PerfectPage + FlatPage technologies = no more platens and manual work.

Inferior no more

10x reduction in hard disk space requirement: Thanks to advanced data compression methods, it now requires less than 5GB of hard disk space to scan 500 pages at one go. This is a big relief for smaller solid state drives.

A better automatic capture mode: Ever felt that the Timer capture mode (TC) is too demanding and the Auto capture (AC) is too sluggish? The problem with TC is that it doesn’t wait for you and the drawback of AC is that you have to wait for it. So we decided to improve the AC mode to capture instantly when you’re ready but pauses when a page is being flipped or when the book is slightly shifted out of the scan area. Learn more about it here.

Improved finger image removal: We realized that quite a lot of finger images were not automatically removed on scans of certain books. It took us a while to figure out that the culprits were page dents (due to finger pressure on softer paper) and extreme coloration (caused by paper aging). Adding intelligence to tackle them wasn’t easy, but we succeeded and the occurrence of unremoved finger image is now less than 1% (typical) on these books.

Tweaked user interface: Visual aids were added to tell users exactly when capture happens so that the page can be flipped in preparation for the next capture. The confusing capture mode icon (A/M and T/M) is now more intuitive and we got rid of that irritating translucent band jitter in the preview. The PFC3 also allows you to scroll through your scans by just clicking on any thumbnail and then tapping the up or down arrow keys.

Well that’s about it. If you have pre-installed perfecapture on your PC, just download and run the patch and it will be upgraded to PFC3 within a minute. Download the patch or full installer here.

We want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts about PFC3 by writing to us at or via our contact form.

piQx Team

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

xcanex Reborn with New Software Upgrade!

We are proud to announce the launch of our latest software update for your xcanex Scan Station.
If you haven't already done so, you can download it here!

Perfecapture addresses several issues
•Users no longer need to physically flatten book pages – the new FLATPAGE Technology will do it perfectly. Watch the introduction video here.
•The latest version of FLATPAGE doesn’t require alignment of the book gutter to the center line – just casually place the book and flip on
•Dual-page mode allows scanning of both pages of a book simultaneously. Get 100 pages scanned within 12 minutes!
•Page detection and cropping is now much more robust than ever before
•Improved page background whitening and shadow/bleed-through removal
•Increased dynamic range for photo scanning with more natural colors
Important Bug Fixes
•Resolved numerous software crash issues
•Eliminated program hung-up when used with some PC’s USB 3.0 ports (marked “SS”), e.g. Intel’s USB 3.0 eXtensible Host controller for Windows 8

DOWNLOAD NOW and refresh your experience with xcanex

Launch of piQx Imaging Forum, revamp of Weblog
- Speak Your Heart Out, Hear From Others

It is time to communicate! Our brand new community forum aims to tie xcanex creators with xcanex owners from around the world. 
Particularly since the xcanex is such a revolutionary, new-concept, full-featured product, we hope that this avenue will help fulfill our mission to bring the joy of scanning to those who find conventional scanning solutions unsatisfactory, by providing a centralized platform for our users to post questions or find solutions to frequently-asked-questions.

For example, did you know you that you can insert new scans in between 2 processed images? How about maximizing the sharpness of your scans? Or scan directly to cloud to be accessed by your phone/tablet instantly without even having to save to a file? 

Now you will be able to learn all this, and more! 

Coupled with our weblog (which you are now reading), we hope to bring out the various features and uses of the xcanex through fortnightly posts.

Delay no further, get feedback, share your experiences, or even your scansConnect with us now!

So what actually happened from Perfecapture V2.000 to V2.107?

In short, a lot.
FlatPage, our page-curve correction feature in PerfecaptureTM basically underwent a major overhaul since being launched in Oct 2013. Now, it no longer requires the book gutter to be aligned to a center line – gutter position and book skews are automatically detected and you can place books (of page size A5 and smaller) anywhere on the xcanpad so long as the camera is able to see the whole book. We figured that it would be a big plus to let users flip pages without having to worry about repeatedly aligning the gutter. Curve correction is now more precise for texts printed near the gutter. Page Detection and Cropping reliability have improved tremendously, and so has Finger Image Removal – now you will hardly need to use the manual cropping or finger image removal features. Page Background Whitening (shadow + bleed-through removal) is now more robust to deep shadows caused by very curved pages. Refinement was done to post-scan text enhancements, and you now get better dynamic range when scanning photographs.

On to the bugs. To tell the truth, the first software released with FlatPage was quite buggy. In fact I was responsible for one of them – while initially implementing book curve correction, a split second memory loss left a variable corrupted and this was used within the super-important perspective correction codes (yup, you can imagine I went nuts when I got to know about it). So if you are the curious type and still have the early V2.000 version of software, you can try tilting the camera way up to gloss mode and place a photo or receipt skewed maximally around 45 degrees (to create heavy perspective error). The scan should turn out so distorted you might have been looking through the eyes of a drunk person.

If you happen to be a software developer, you might empathize with us a little more. You would know certain bugs don’t just show up in the labs, they reveal themselves during demos to your customers or when your backs are turned. Here is an example: V2.000 had some bugs which caused crashes (when you see “PerfeCapture has stopped working”, that means it has crashed) and we worked hard to fix them. We put the software through rigorous tests, scanned thousands of times on different PCs and different versions of Windows OS-es, with hundreds of different combinations and sequences. We were determined not to let another crash occur. By the time V2.105 was released, we were pretty confident we had solved them all, but oh boy we were wrong.

A few days later a user wrote to us and said “The software crashes a lot”.  A lot? The only logical explanation was that he hadn’t updated to V2.105, I informed him. “I just did. Still crashes a lot” was his reply. What was going on? We had to delve deeper. The reports of any software crashes ate at me and I was determined to get to the bottom of the problem. Examining and re-examining our lab evaluation procedures, we finally narrowed down to one possibility – we had limited evaluation PCs with USB 3.0 ports (marked with an “SS” symbol). Although xcanex worked flawlessly on those USB 3.0 ports that we had, their USB chipsets and drivers were all from Fresco Logic. We learned that most new Windows 8 PCs were subsequently installed with Intel’s USB 3.0 eXtensible Host Controller. Believing this to be the cause, we procured a new test PC and true enough, a crash occurred by the 5th scan! Logically, it should not have posed a problem because USB 3.0 hosts are supposed to be backward compatible with USB 2.0 devices. Nevertheless, we were finally able to work around this and V2.107 should no longer crash with USB 3.0 ports driven by the eXtensible Host Controller. This case was not strictly caused by a bug in the codes but it does illustrate how much the team and I put in to V2.107 and for that, try it you must!

Relationships Take Time To Build.
Don’t Let xcanex Be Misunderstood.

We urge you to hear us out and you will be rewarded with a perfect scanning tool that will assist and accompany you for a long time to come. During these past months we have been observing, listening and analyzing the possible bottlenecks that could prevent you from truly enjoying the use of your xcanex. With the launch of our new blog and forum we will be providing you with useful information, tips and tricks that will help you to maximize the potential of your xcanex. Time to get those stunning results and scan to your heart’s desire. It really IS quite simple.

Some mentioned topics include:

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Hello and Welcome

Hello and welcome to piQx Imaging's new weblog.
An avenue for current (and future) xcanex users to keep up-to-date on our latest updates, useful scanning and IT tips as well as new product / software launches.
All this would not have been possible without you, our first users, who have given us the confidence and encouragement to continue on this journey to bring to you a revolutionary scan station that we hope will one day change the face of scanning as we know it. 
As we continue to work toward delivering an even better product and user experience, we hope that this site will be a beneficial source of information to all our followers.

As always, happy scanning!

The piQx Team