HP introduced a new Windows PC called Sprout in October last year but it isn't just your average desktop computer, it is an immersive computing platform that combines an all-in-one desktop with a natural user interface to provide an entirely touch-input experience.
The US has had the Sprout by HP available for a couple of months, but the company has now announced it will be available in the UK, with pre-orders starting on 18 February in selected London retailers. It's not cheap, starting at £1899, but from our time with it, we'd say it is worth splashing out for.
The Spout by HP has three main components - a 23-inch display, a 20-inch capacitive touch mat that replaces the traditional keyboard and mouse scenario, despite these still being included, and a capture and projection system called the HP Illuminator that allows you to merge physical and digital worlds seamlessly.
First up, the 23-inch wide-angle viewing white-LED backlit, LCD display is 10-point touch-enabled and offers a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. It delivers bold and bright colours, crisp and sharp images and it responds quickly to your finger. It has a lovely sleek design with a metal body that provides a premium, sophisticated look and feel.
The monitor itself is not as slim as the Apple iMac, and when you take the chunky rear into consideration, it makes it a rather large computer but you would still be happy to have it sitting on display in your house. All the necessary ports are on the sides and rear of the main display, including a HP 3-in-1 Media Card Reader that supports SD, SDHC and SDXC, dual USB 2.0 ports, dual USB 3.0 ports and a powered port for charging phones and other USB devices.
On top of the 23-inch display is where you'll find the built-in HP Illuminator, which is powered by the HP DLP Projector. and includes a built-in LED desk lamp. It is a capture and projection system that combines an array of devices including a HP High-Resolution Camera with a 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor and an Intel RealSense 3D Camera for the capture of 2D and 3D objects. It means you can take items from the physical world and merge them into the digital workspace and it is not only extremely easy to do, but its results are brilliant.
The HP Illuminator works in conjunction with the 20-inch, 20-point touch-enabled mat that sits in front of the desktop display and attaches via a connection point and magnet. The projector within the Illuminator sits at the back and bounces off the mirror onto to Touch Mat. Just millimetres thick, the Touch Mat sports a 1920 x 1080 in resolution like the main display and features an ultra-resistant top coating that is a delight to touch. It is silky smooth and it feels a lot more natural than the glass you would find on a tablet, with a speedy response time that makes it a pleasure to use.
The HP Touch Mat is where all the magic happens. Not only can you use it as a Wacom tablet of sorts, sketching and creating with your fingers, but you can also scan 2D and 3D objects thanks to the HP Illuminator and while 3D takes a little longer, 2D is instantaneous. It doesn't matter what it is, a plastic flower, rubber duck or your own hand, as soon as you press capture, you'll find a digitised version of the object on the Touch Mat under the physical object itself. You can then use your fingers of the accompanying Jot Pro stylus to move and manipulate the scanned objects as you see fit. The stylus is also magnetised and attaches to the top right-hand side of the 23-inch display.
When it comes to 3D objects, you need to go into a specific Sprout app and although it takes a few more seconds than the 2D image, it is simple to do and it offers a range of possibilities. The 3D render can be imported into various software applications including Photoshop and AutoDesk Mesh Mixer for editing, as well as 3D printing. HP is looking to integrate the 3D capabilities deeper, but we were still impressed with what is already achievable.
We took a 3D render of a rubber duck on top of a world map, as well as a 2D image of a plastic gold fish we managed to work everything after only a couple of minutes seeing it in action. In the demo we had, a masquerade mask was transformed from cardboard into a wooden version and a clay version on the large display and the detail of the 3D image was great.
All 2D and 3D images are stored on the computer in the Workspace section of the Sprout so they are easily accessible and if you want to use one, or any of the preloaded images, you simply flick it down. It will then appear on the mat and you can enlarge, reduce, rotate and edit the background, as well as draw, type and layer. Getting rid of a background on an image isn't quite as precise as the Magic Wand on Photoshop, but the Sprout can remove backgrounds by colours so it is certainly quicker than the cut out tools. You can also search online for images and Sprout is integrated with Microsoft Office too so if you want to add an image or creation to a Powerpoint, you just copy and paste. You can also take a picture of yourself with the front-facing web cam and then you use the mat to draw doodles, add other images or insert captions onto that picture, which we had great fun doing.
The Touch Mat works with a variety of HP Sprout-specific apps, which are currently limited, but HP has said there will be more coming in the future. There are currently already a couple from Crayola that are great for kids, as well as a Dreamworks one that enables real time rendering and a Origami app that teaches you how to make a boat and all of the ones we tried were good fun.
At top of the Touch Mat where it connects to the desktop screen you will find three buttons. The left button will pull up a touch-controlled keyboard on the Touch Mat, the middle button will take you Home, which brings up all your creations and images, and the right button will turn off touch capabilities, as well as the projection altogether when held down.
The main display can be used as a normal desktop computer with a mouse and keyboard but the Touch Mat is touch-enabled only. For those that share creations or ideas regularly, it's also worth mentioning that the Sprout allows you to simultaneously edit when you share it with another user through the My Room platform.
We could be here all day explaining everything we saw on the Sprout by HP. It's a fabulous device that will likely appeal to a range of different people from graphic designers and schools to the average family that wants more than just a traditional computer. It's simple, sophisticated and a truly fascinating product. Sprout's inventor described it to us as the "fuzzy front end", allowing you to move from "thought to expression in an instant" and we'd totally agree from the short time we have spent with it. Sprout by HP is an inspiring device that encourages creativity and we can't wait to review it in full.
Sprout by HP features a 4th generation Intel Core i7 processor, Windows 8.1 software, 1TB of storage and Nvidia GeForce GT 745A graphics. It will be available for pre-order on 13 February from PC World on Tottenham Court Road, Harrods Technology, Peter Jones and Dixons Travel in Heathrow Terminal 2. Selected Dixons and John Lewis retail stores nationwide will have it available from 26 February.