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Hands-on with the HP Sprout: The world’s first immersive computer

Sometimes the only way to explain how disruptive something new can potentially be is to experience it for yourself. That’s the case with the HP Sprout.

HP unleashed what it calls the world’s first ‘immersive computer’ on the UK back in February, but the biggest challenge they face is putting across the thinking behind such a distinctive machine. Why should you spend £1,899 on the Sprout when other, similarly powered machines can be had for a lot less?

What does an immersive computer look like?

The HP Sprout is comprised of several important elements that mean it really stands out from the crowd. At its heart it offers a powerful Intel i7-processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hybrid SSD and an Nvidia GT 745A graphics card, it’s no slouch, but it’s on the outside where things genuinely get interesting.

The screen itself is a 23-inch, 10-point touch-enabled Full HD LCD, but beneath the display where you’d usually expect to find a keyboard and mouse sits an expansive 20-inch, 20-point touch-enabled mat. Think of it as a huge, advanced trackpad that doubles as the Sprout’s main workspace.

HP Sprout Illuminator

The HP Illuminator, as the company’s named it, overhangs above the screen and conceals a 14.6-megapixel camera, Intel’s RealSense camera system, a DLP projector and a lamp. Together this strange protrusion above the display works in conjunction with the mat underneath, letting you capture and scan objects and 2D and 3D and manipulate them in a virtual workspace with physical inputs.

What can you do?

Once you’ve captured a real-world object, the Sprout is designed to let you interact with it as a potter does sculpting clay on a wheel, with your hands. It’s one of the most tactile experiences I’ve ever encountered on a computer.

HP Sprout with ArtJaz
ArtJaz from the GraffitiKings using the Sprout to create a stop-motion animation of his art.

Lay an object down on the mat, scan it with the Illuminator and then take the object away to interact with a virtual copy projected where its physical counterpart once lay. HP’s developed a software layer running on top of Windows 8.1 called the Sprout Workspace, which lets you save and organise the things you capture and the projects you develop using the system.

There’s also an app store that currently has a handful of titles from developers including Crayola, that focus on elements of art and design, but the Sprout’s capabilities could be adapted to work in a myriad different of environments, from architecture to animation.

Who’s it for?

Speaking of which, HP brought in Graffiti Kings artist Julian (aka ArtJaz) to show off one workflow that he found immensely conducive to his creative process. Listening to the man highlights exactly whom the Sprout is for.

Anyone looking to create; those who don’t necessarily care to use a mouse and keyboard as the sole methods of input on a computer, those who want faster, easier more tactile ways of integrating physical elements into a digital composition, those are the people who will appreciate the Sprout’s unique skill set.

As we mentioned at the start, the Sprout is available as a self-contained machine right now, but we don’t see why, down the line at least, the company couldn’t potentially offer a ‘Sprout kit’ to let users retroactively fit much of the more exotic hardware to a modern Windows 8.1 machine (provided it packs enough power and a touchscreen), in its current incarnation.

It’s hard to put across why the Sprout is such worth its price, but we urge you to find one in a store and try it out for yourself. You might be surprised by what you can create, we were.

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