Conclusion: Great Idea And Acceptable Results!
Epson has come up with a great idea, and the results are very acceptable. It is almost certain that we will see other printer manufacturers follow Epson's lead and design printers that can handle the thicker media and print on printable optical media. While there is slightly more time involved in the setup preparations required for the printer prior to the printing process, this offers results that are far better than adhesive labels could ever deliver.
Of course, the cost of printable optical media and the ink will be more expensive than it would for adhesive labels. Still, we found the end results far better than adhesive labels: there were no air bubbles, no peeling label edges, and better balance due to less weight on the media. Although the pictures of the printed media do not really provide justice as to the look of the end product, we were very pleased with the results.
The trouble required to prepare the printer in order to print the media was far less when using the Model 960. The 960 was easier to align consistently on a regular basis, which provided a better end result. We also determined that the print quality of the 960 is better than that of the 900. (And since the 960 costs more than the 900, we would expect it to be better.) We found the front loading advantage of the 960 to be far ahead of the 900. The 900 was more difficult to align each time, and the rear loading feature means that you have to allow more room for this printer than for the 960; this could be a consideration depending on the space you have for a printer.
The biggest question is: "Does this front loading feature found on the 960 alone make this printer worth the money?" - Depending on how much media you want to print will dictate how much this feature is worth to you. For the occasional user who doesn't mind slightly less quality and a little more challenge due to the rear loading alignment, the 900 should be considered. The 900 is solid and able to print printable optical media without problems, and is easy to use.
The 960 costs much more than the 900, and users that intend to print light to medium amounts of printable optical media will be happier with the 960. The front feed method for the 960 is far easier and quicker to use than the rear load method of the 900. This front load feature also come with the added benefit of far better and easier alignment than that of the 900. The added bonus of a slightly better print quality may be evident in things printed with this printer. We also want to point out that the 960 uses individual ink cartridges that are only replaced as needed; the 900 uses a two cartridge black/color design, which can lead to replacing the color cartridge well before all of the colors are empty. This feature of individual ink cartridges alone could save quite a few dollars over time.
We recommend the Stylus Photo 960, as its little extra details make this printer more of a pleasure to use. These details also will contribute to an overall better user experience. However, the Stylus Photo 900 should not be ignored, but it is important to understand what you are gaining and losing by electing the 900 model or the 960 model.
Ink jet printing on optical media gives the media a professional look that labels can't deliver. While the 960 is suitable for users wishing to produce a medium amount of printed optical media, we believe that users wanting to produce larger volumes will gravitate toward the traditional higher end optical media printers, as these can deliver higher output and a higher quantity of printed discs. For the average consumer or small office user whose needs are far less, these options from Epson produce fine professional end results for the money spent, and also provide the added benefits of an extra printer when you are not printing optical media. It will be interesting to see which particular printer manufacturers follow Epson's lead and what these companies are able to produce with similar technology.