Few PC makers, if any, can make innovative claims in the current desktop computer market. Computers manufactured by most companies are coming out faster and sleeker, but none has been making big waves into the future as much as Hewlett-Packard (HP).
At a media event in New York City on Oct. 29, HP announced a five-year-old skunkworks project that could be the future of desktop computing, and it becomes available in November for $1,899. For that price, users don't just get faster processors or higher-resolution screens. They get something that HP says is an entirely new product category itself.
Meet Sprout, HP's modified Windows 8.1 desktop PC equipped with a top-of-the-line Intel Core i7 processor, an NVIDIA GeForce GT745A graphics card and a 1TB hybrid drive.
Sprout, however, is more than a high-end desktop computer. Above the 23-inch full HD monitor is the Sprout Illuminator, which has a DLP projector and a 14 MP camera. Also included with Sprout is a flexible 20-inch Touch Mat that is placed where the keyboard normally goes.
The Illuminator and Touch Mat together bring the user a brand new kind of computing experience that HP describes as "immersive," with the Illuminator's projector beaming the computer's interface into the Touch Mat, and the camera able to capture 3D objects placed on the Mat.
"It takes the physical world and digital world and merges it into one space," says (video) Brad Short, distinguished technologist at HP's immersive computing platforms business. "It's taking down all the barriers of the typical tools that computing has conventionally."
The possibilities of what users can do with Sprout are so many that HP says it is still discovering what functionalities its new invention can accomplish.
Short, however, demonstrated some of the cool new tricks the computer can do, such as scanning documents, photos and 3D objects, which are digitized into 220 dots-per-inch resolution that users can then rotate, resize and move around using the touchscreen or Touch Mat.
At the moment, 3D objects can only be captured from one side, but HP says it is working on updates that would allow for 360-degree scans. The Touch Mat is also fully compatible with a stylus to allow them to draw, write or paint.
Eric Monsef, vice president of immersive systems at HP, says Sprout is targeted toward artists, designers and the "makers in all of us," but there is no denying the computer could also prove to be a big hit with other people, including collaborators, who can work together on their designs via HP's MyRoom real-time remote platform.
Sprout also holds appeal to children, especially with the Crayola app built into the system, and virtually anybody who uses a computer, with the possibility of doing tasks on an interface that requires both the physical and digital. For instance, the computer can let users play online chess on a projected chess board using real chess pieces.
Several app makers have already signed on to Sprout, including Microsoft Office, Evernote and StoryProducer. However, one application that could prove to be a total game-changer for Sprout is the ability to print out creations in 3D. In fact, along with Sprout, HP also introduced a new 3D printer that it says is 10 times faster but 50 percent less expensive than current printers.
The printer, which will be available in 2016, runs on what HP calls Multi Jet Fusion technology that can spray 350 million drops of thermoplastic or other printing material from 30,000 nozzles in a second. HP demonstrated its potential by printing a chain link in 20 minutes and using the same chain link attached to a crane to lift a car off the ground.
"We will forever change the landscape of 3D printing and will indeed create the tools that will trigger the next industrial revolution," says HP executive vice president of printing and personal systems Dion Weisler.