HP reveals Sprout: A 'blended reality' Windows 8 PC with 3D scanning and a projected second screen (hands-on)

A large projected touchscreen. 3D cameras and scanning. Dual-screen apps. Meet HP's bizarre approach to the creative, collaborative PCs of the future.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Scott Stein
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Editor's Note: This preview has been updated with new features announced by HP on June 11, 2015.

A forthcoming update for the HP Sprout will soon let users scan objects in full 3D by combining updated software with an optional accessory called the 3D Capture Stage.

The 3D Capture Stage is a rotating turntable set at a 15-degree angle that connects to the USB 3.0 port on the Sprout and automatically rotates your objects around a 360-degree axis. At the same time, the Sprout's built-in camera will capture the full spectrum of texture, color and shape to create a virtual 3D model of the object.

You can then use the 3D Capture software to make edits to the design, upload images to social media, or send projects to friends and colleagues that include an embedded animated GIF of the rotating object.

Consumers will also be able to send their projects to one of HP's print service providers and order 3D prints by mail, or they can export the .OBJ files to a 3D printer to print at home.

Sprout will push the next version of the 3D Capture app as a free upgrade in July, and users that want to automate the scanning process can pick up the 3D Capture Stage accessory when it goes on sale at the Sprout Website and select US retailers for $299 next month.

Our original hands-on preview of HP Sprout continues below.

HP's newly announced 3D printing technology isn't exactly targeted at your average consumer. But the company's other "blended reality" initiative, dubbed Sprout, aims to bridge the gap from the real world to the virtual one, allowing the home user to interface with 3D products and hands-on creation.

Sprout is a Windows 8 desktop. But it's also a dual-screen creative console with its own projector, a giant touch-enabled screen and a 3D-capable scanner. The product is the result of a partnership between HP, Microsoft, Intel and 3M.

It may be innovative and revolutionary, but it's not cheap -- it will be available November 9 in the US for $1,899. You'll find it in retail stores including Best Buy and the Microsoft Store, and it will be on display as soon as this weekend. Availability in other countries wasn't revealed, but that price translates to about £1,175 in the UK or AU$2,150 in Australia.

Sprout by HP blends Windows 8 PC, projector and 3D scanner (pictures)

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What is it?

HP imagines Sprout as an immersive new computing platform rather than a particular product -- something to "blend reality" from physical to digital and back again. It's the first product in HP's planned "Blended Reality" ecosystem.

It's a 3D scanner and a projected second touchscreen bonded to a Windows 8 all-in-one, with its own customized suite of software. It could eventually be a workspace for augmented-reality apps, but right now it looks like it's only being used as a scanner.

The product was publicly announced today, but I was able to get an early guided tour of Sprout from Brad Short, its inventor, at HP's New York City headquarters earlier this week.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Second screen: Projector meets Touch Mat meets Kinect

On top of the Sprout's 1080p, 23-inch monitor is an armature called the Sprout Illuminator. Inside it are LED lights, and a combination projector and quad camera. It projects a 20-inch, 1,024x768-pixel display onto a large capacitive touchpad, called a Touch Mat, that sits on your desk, where your keyboard and mouse would normally go.

Drawing on the projected display, on top of the Touch Mat. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Illuminator also has a 14.6-megapixel camera, to identify documents and objects you place on top of the projection, such as papers, or your hand, or a toy. There's also an Intel RealSense 3D camera, which combines depth-sensing and infrared cameras to determine 3D data. Much like the Kinect, the Sprout can see in three dimensions.

The magnetically docking Touch Mat below the Illuminator handles input. It has 20-point simultaneous touch, so four hands can collaborate at once. Despite the display being projected, its response time feels instantaneous: I tapped and dragged puzzle pieces around, played virtual piano, and resized and placed images using the included Adonit Jot capacitive stylus (any other capacitive stylus works, too).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Scanning, even in 3D

That Illuminator projector also acts as a scanner: drop anything down, and it can be replicated at the tap of an icon. Both 2D and 3D objects are reduced into flat graphic assets, but a 3D scanning app (currently in beta) also produces quick, rough 3D scans in a pinch. Right now, the Sprout only scans the top half of objects -- the part facing up toward the Illuminator's cameras -- but sometime next spring, HP promises support for full 3D scanning. There's also a plan to have the Sprout send its data to 3D printers, too.

Future 3D printer compatibility will allow direct scanning, but not yet. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a shame that 3D printer support isn't coming until next year, because it seems like it could be one of Sprout's killer apps. The rest of its scanning options, while sometimes clever, rely on HP's suite of Sprout creative apps to store and edit assets. Once made, they can be flicked from the lower display into existing Windows 8 apps, including PowerPoint.

Trying a piano app with projected keyboard. Sarah Tew/CNET

Work on the bottom, see on the top

The idea of the Sprout is to write, scan and work on the bottom projected screen, and use the top display as your application space. When using a capacitive stylus to create art in one of HP's custom apps, it felt a little like a giant Nintendo DS.

The top part of the Sprout is a full, regular Windows 8 touchscreen PC, reminiscent of recent ones from HP. You can touch it to maneuver through Windows 8.1, or pair a keyboard and mouse and detach the magnetic touchpad (or leave it on a desk cover: the surface, designed in partnership with 3M, is wipeable).

When spreading my hands out on the Touch Mat and working with projected images, it felt a little odd at first, rather like one of those interactive science museum exhibits, or those mall novelties where you step on bubbles projected from the ceiling. The immediacy of the touch response, and the crisp brightness of the projector, even in a regularly lit office, set it apart though. But some people will inevitably ask, why not just use a tablet, or pair one with a PC as a second screen? Good question.


HP's MyRoom software, which allows multiple users to teleconference and collaborate across PCs, Windows and Android phones, and soon iOS devices, works with Sprout and its creative apps. I used the Create app to make some art alongside someone on another Sprout, and someone else on a Windows 8 tablet.

Sprout will work with other Windows 8 apps, too, like Skype: while Skyping, or using other teleconferencing apps, you can switch between your own face and the projector's camera view.

Crayola's art app looked much like ones on the iPad. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apps: A small assortment, so far

The Sprout has its own SDK, and built-in APIs to support its scanner tool in future applications. A handful of apps were demonstrated during my briefing: a Crayola kids coloring-book app that felt like a glorified version of what's already on iPads; a Gestureworks app for creating quick customized control pads for games using the Touch Mat (I played the game Teslagrad with it); and a piano-playing educational app called Piano Time which, again, felt like more of a tech demo than something that you'd spend nearly $2,000 on an experimental PC for.

HP's built-in apps include a collaborative tool, Create -- a painting and collage program -- and a beta version of a basic but not yet complete 3D scanner. The problem with the Sprout's apps, and its software, which collects graphic assets for drag-and-drop use, is the problem with all platforms for developing technologies: the killer apps are bound to be few and far between. It's a little reminiscent of Leap Motion , another innovative interface technology that was also incorporated by HP into PCs.

One of the bigger third-party app partnerships is with Martha Stewart, whose scan-friendly Martha Stewart Craft Studio will be available from the start.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Specs: Yeah, it's a Windows 8 PC

The Sprout is a fourth-gen Core i7-4790S desktop PC, with Nvidia GeForce GT745A graphics, running Windows 8.1. It has 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive with 8GB of cache. There are four USB ports, and the rest of the standard PC ports you'd expect: HDMI, Ethernet and so on. The real differences are that added Sprout Illuminator armature, the Touch Mat, and its potential software.


About that price: the HP Sprout's $1,899 price tag is a hefty one to swallow. You could buy a very capable Windows 8 desktop all-in-one, with touch, for $1,000. Or you could buy an iMac and a good iPad and still pay less than this.

The Sprout is an attempt by HP to show how new interfaces could be used in PCs, and how scanners could be integrated in clever new ways. Immersive computing will be a platform for HP, extending from consumer to small business to commercial: but Sprout is the first product in that chain. As a future front-end design for 3D printers, Sprout could be what a design studio resembles in a few years. But handheld 3D scanners cost less than this, and for many Windows users who are creatively curious, there's no reason they couldn't achieve something similar enough with their own hardware and accessories.

The Sprout's clever scanner/projector arm isn't an accessory, sadly, it's part of the PC itself. That seems like its greatest weakness. As a separate, more affordable peripheral for desktop PCs, it might make more sense.