Microsoft Surface Hub to cost $7K to $20K, begin shipping July 1

The enormous touch-screen monitors meant to replace entire conference room setups may put you back the price of an entry-level sedan. But that's cheap, Microsoft says.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
4 min read

The Surface Hub is designed to allow for multitasking, letting you hold a video conference call while running other Windows 10 apps that will push on-screen information to everyone's device.
The Surface Hub is designed to allow for multitasking, letting you hold a video conference call while running other Windows 10 apps that will push on-screen information to everyone's device. Microsoft

Microsoft finally has a number for how much it will cost businesses to outfit their conference rooms with technology of the future: Up to $20,000.

For that price, companies can purchase the Surface Hub, a touchscreen computer that comes in either a 55-inch, 1080p-resolution model for $7,000 or an 84-inch model with speedier hardware and a 4K display for $20,000. The device starts shipping in 24 markets starting July 1, the company announced Wednesday.

Microsoft says the Surface Hub, which can be wall mounted and operated with your hands, a stylus or your voice, is a viable replacement for a majority of current conference room technology. It can be used to hold video and audio conference calls or it can be transformed into a whiteboard for taking notes and brainstorming. The device is also equipped with motion-sensing cameras and microphones and will understand where you are in the room to better collect audio and transmit video.

It sounds like an eye-popping pair of numbers, but Microsoft is confident the prices will be attractive to large corporations and specific industries, like architecture, finance and energy, which routinely spend tens of thousands of dollars rigging up complicated and, in Microsoft's eyes, unnecessary audio and video teleconferencing equipment and projector and display combos. Early customers in talks with Microsoft to utilize the device include Chicago-based law firm Bartlit Beck and SHoP Architects, the New York-based firm that designed the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

At its core, Surface Hub combines visual and technical elements of Microsoft's Surface tablet line and Kinect motion camera for the Xbox game console with the capacitive touchscreen technology of Perceptive Pixel. Microsoft bought Perceptive Pixel two years ago, letting the startup shift from selling $80,000 displays to TV media organizations like CNN and Fox News to figuring out how to migrate Microsoft software to a powerful touchscreen computer the size and shape of the most expensive televisions on the market. Microsoft originally announced the Surface Hub at a Windows 10 event back in January.

Yet more than anything else, the device symbolizes Microsoft's vision for Windows 10, the software maker's upcoming operating system overhaul designed to power devices of all types, including the Surface Hub. Microsoft no longer cares what device you use or even what underlying software powers that device. It only cares whether you or the company you work for prefers to do its most important work on Microsoft-made software.

Microsoft is billing the Surface Hub as a device for on-the-fly inspiration and collaboration, either with a stylus or just with your hands. Microsoft

The Surface Hub will let any device, including Android smartphones and Apple iPad tablets, communicate with it to share files, log in to a conference call or mirror whatever is on the device's screen. It will also run so-called Windows 10 universal apps, meaning any piece of software in Microsoft's enterprise app store will be useable on the Hub. App makers can further optimize the program to make use of the larger screen and multiple touch inputs as well.

"We can't tell people, 'Please change your device if you want to collaborate,'" said Hayete Gallot, a senior director on the Surface Hub team. "For us, it's important for people who have never seen Microsoft software. We want to make sure they use our stuff."

In that sense, the Surface Hub is another avenue by way of which Microsoft can make it easier to use, return to and rely on its software -- whether you're using the Outlook email app, Skype videoconferencing software or its traditional Office products.

Sure, a $20,000, 84-inch touchscreen monitor is a bit of an excessive way to make that point, but Microsoft has practical business plans for the Surface Hub.

Gallot says that the collective cost for a projector, high-resolution display, audio and video conferencing system, and other necessary equipment for modern business meetings averages around $38,000. For $20,000 or as low as $7,000, Microsoft wants to offer businesses one device that does all of it.

Microsoft says it is also working with the makers of corporate-grade lighting and sound systems to ensure the Surface Hub can be integrated into already-existing conference room setups that are wired to a building's utilities.

One concern, however, is how many customers may be willing to bring the Surface Hub into the fold. It may cut costs and introduce a vast number of software shortcuts to starting meetings faster and collaborating more easily. But large operations cannot easily turnover entire conference room setups or simply replace existing technology that many employees are familiar with to put in Microsoft's device.

Microsoft says it is working with a large number of suppliers and contractors that businesses go to when they need to upgrade building technology or when designing a new space from scratch. The goal is to make the Surface Hub an attractive option that's pitched to companies.

Yet for Microsoft, the mission goes deeper.

"With this, we think we can be as transformative for group productivity as Windows was for individual people," Gallot said.