And now, finally, for something completely different. As it always is with different, we don’t know whether or not the HP Sprout is necessarily good, but it looks like it’ll be an awful lot of fun to play with while we wait to find out.
The HP Sprout eschews the keyboard/mouse paradigm (although a chiclet keyboard is included), instead planting a capacitive touchmat in front of a 23″ all-in-one computer. Sprouting from the top of that 23″ display is the Sprout Illuminator, which combines a DLP projector with four cameras, including one 14.6 MP camera and one Intel RealSense 3D camera, which can capture 2D and 3D objects. Put all that in front of a creative person, and HP hopes magic will happen.
We’ve seen Intel’s RealSense technology in action before, but this is one of the first commercial uses of it we’ve seen. It fits in well with HP’s philosophy behind the Sprout—blending the physical world and the digital world. Using RealSense technology, Sprout will be able to scan 3D, physical objects placed on the touch mat, then project those images, where they can be manipulated at will on the 20-point touch mat. An Adonit Jot Pro stylus is also included, so you can scribble text or drawings on the mat and manipulate that with your fingers, as well.
As you might have guessed, the Sprout is only going to be as intriguing as the software designed for it. The Sprout Marketplace will be a dedicated storefront for Windows 8.1 apps made just for Sprout. Before you check that out, you’ll want to use HP’s Sprout Workspace, which is where you’ll be able to get a feel for what you can do with Sprout. Using Workspace, you can scan physical images, manipulate them, and cut and paste to make your own digital scrapbook or collage, but in a much more tactile, hands-on way than you’d be used to when working with computers. Early third party apps include Microsoft Office, Castle Crashers, Dreamworks Story Producer, Trine2, Skype, Evernote, and a handful of others. We noticed a few games on the list, which makes us think it’d be possible for the touch mat to be used for gaming similar to how the Wii U controller is used as a second screen for Wii U games.
It’s a gamble, but it’s a bold one—the Sprout won’t be gimped by watered-down specs. The 23″ 10-point touch display is in 1920 x 1080 resolution. Inside, there’s an Intel Haswell Core i7 processor with a pretty solid 8 GB of RAM, which can be expanded to 16 GB—hugely important if this is to be used by creative types, as HP is expecting. In addition to Intel HD Graphics 4600, which is native to the chipset, the Sprout will also have a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 745A graphics card with a 2GB DDR3 RAM cache. For internal storage, you’ll get a 1 TB SATA hybrid drive with an 8 GB flash memory cache, for faster boot and load times.
For connectivity, the Sprout has Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with 2×2 MIMO technology. Ports and slots include a PCI-E mini socket slot, an SD card slot, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI-out, Gigabit ethernet, an audio jack, and a combination audio/microphone jack. There’s also a 1 MP 720p webcam and DTS sound. Coming with the computer is the 20″ 20-point touch mat, the Adonit Jot Pro stylus, a wireless chiclet keyboard, and an optical mouse.
A lot of the technology packed into the HP Sprout has been around for a while—3D scanning, projection, touch mats, and the like. This is really the first time that all of those things have been put together in a single package that looks like something people can actually use to create digital works that are not just unique, but would be difficult to create on any other single device. It definitely doesn’t look like it’ll have widespread appeal, but digital artists everywhere would probably do well to at least swing by an electronics store sometime to play around with a display model, and go from there.
That said, there might not be a lot of display models around. HP is starting with a limited launch on November 9, when only select (and unspecified) retailers will start carrying the Sprout. But, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can pre-order one directly from HP starting today for $1,900. It’s a high price, but probably an inevitable one considering how much technology is being crammed into the Sprout.