HP's future has been slightly murky, as the company has faced serious competition and recently announced that it's splitting itself into two companies, one that would focus on printers and PCs and one that would be dedicated to the enterprise. Many have wondered about the fate of those respective parts. The enterprise segment seemed strong, but would HP's consumer side wither and die? Would it be sold off to a competitor such as Lenovo?
It looks like neither is happening any time soon. Today, HP revealed two new intriguing technologies that are designed to rock the market: one is a 3D printer, and the other is a unique approach to personal computing and creation, but together HP is calling them a "blended reality ecosystem."
On the consumer side, the most compelling of the two by far is a curious system called sprout. (Yep, lower-case "s" to increase its adorableness.)
Although fundamentally sprout is an AIO with a 3D camera strapped to it, the system is built to enhance users' ability to create, particularly in 3D. There is an optical mouse and a keyboard (a chiclet-style item with volume control and Windows 8 hot keys), but sprout relies heavily on a special 3M-designed mat called the HP Touch Mat for input. The 20-inch mat supports touch input, but you can also use the included stylus, the Adonit Jot Pro.
One of the main components of sprout that makes it unique is the 3D camera, the HP Illuminator. It's powered by an HP DLP Projector to give users that second "screen" on the Touch Mat, and it includes a 14.6 MP camera and an LED desk lamp to further illuminate your work. HP also sneaked in an Intel RealSense 3D Camera to allow for 3D scanning, which is a key element of the system.
The 23-inch (Full HD) AIO (which has a Texas Instruments-made display) itself is powered by a 4th-gen Intel Core i7-4790S CPU, as well as Nvidia GeForce GT 745A and Intel HD Graphics 4600. It has 8 GB of DDR3-1600 SDRAM (2 x 4 GB) and can be expanded to 16 GB. For storage, the system (model number 23-s010) uses a combination of a 1 TB SATA 6 Gbps SSHD (with 8 GB of flash acceleration cache).
There's a PCI-e x1 mini-slot for expandability, and other ports include a 3-in-1 card reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC), two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI out, gigabit Ethernet, and separate audio line out and headphone/mic jacks. For video chat, there's a 1 MP HP webcam.
The machine also offers integrated Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n with MIMO technology. There are "premium" stereo speakers with DTS Sound and dual digital MEMS microphones.
There's plenty of software on the sprout. Windows 8.1 is the OS of choice, and thus the system will come with everything you'd expect to be bundled with the OS, but the company also included HP Workspace to help users get the hang of creating with the system. There's also CyberLink PowerDirector for making movies, Fresh Paint, HP Connected Photo for accessing images across all your devices, HP Connected Music, Microsoft's Project Spark, and more.
You don't have long to wait to see sprout; the system will be on sale on November 9 at several outlets including Best Buy, B&H, HSN (really?), the Microsoft Store, and HP's own site. The starting price is $1,899, which seems to place it at the level of a professional-class system. It's hard to imagine that the average household will be willing to drop that kind of scratch on a system that, while functioning perfectly well as a family PC, is loaded with (powerful) gimmicks that most families won't often use.
HP Multi Jet Fusion
The 3D printing market is growing rapidly, and HP does not want to be left out; in fact, HP plans to dominate. Not to put too fine a point on it, but HP said that its new 3D technology is "A tool to trigger the next industrial revolution." However, if everything HP said today at a launch event is true, the company may be on to something.
HP announced a 3D printer that's designed to solve the problems of print speed, printed quality, and cost. The printer uses a new technology called "multi jet fusion," which HP said will be able to offer faster print speeds than any other device on the market by a factor of 10.
HP also said that it can also offer higher precision and greater strength than its competitors and do so with a device that is inexpensive to purchase and costs less to own. Those competitors are not so much the consumer-grade MakerBots of the world, but more like Stratasys; which is to say, this technology is aimed primarily at commercial applications. Of course, these sorts of innovations tend to trickle down, so anything exciting you see happening with multi jet fusion on the commercial side will surely end up in your home office in due time.
HP played a short animation that showed how the process works. There's a high-resolution, page-wide "print bar" that lays down multiple types of liquid material, and then a second arm slides over and selectively "applies energy" (which is such an engineer-like way of describing it) to fuse that material. That selectiveness allows the printer to adjust elasticity within a part or change its texture. HP also said that its new printer will offer a wide array of colors for powerful multi-color prints.
HP is supremely confident in the strength of its printed products. To that end, the company showed a video of a large printed chain link supporting the weight of a car being hoisted by a crane. The car actually belongs to one of the engineers who worked on the product, and after the demo the car was returned to him unharmed. (HP didn't mention whether or not there were previous failed tests with the vehicles of unluckier HP employees.)
Like some other 3D printers in the market, HP's multi jet machine can print some of its own parts, and thus it's a (semi) self-replicating device.
This multi jet fusion will be an open platform. HP wants partners to come in and innovate on its IP to push the technology further; exactly how "open" it will actually be remains to be seen. The company did not specifically say, for example, that it would be open source. (We doubt that would be the case.)
It's taken HP some 20 years of R&D to get to this point where it has combined its 2D printing IP (such as HP Thermal Inkjet) and developed it to create this 3D printing technology, and the fruit of that work is nigh. Partner companies will work with HP for the rest of this year and into 2015, when they'll be a seeded beta version of the printer. In 2016, the printer will go into full production.
Together, sprout and HP's Multi Jet Fusion technology are designed to usher in a new era of "blended reality," and HP appears confident that it's the vanguard.