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Hands-on with the HP Sprout, an imaging powerhouse built into a touch-friendly PC

Melissa Riofrio | Feb. 4, 2015
The Sprout, HP's innovative new PC, towered above my desk. An array of cameras and a projector (collectively called the Illuminator) loomed over its 23-inch touch display.

Drawing programs already exist, as do photo-editing applications. The Sprout's touch interface and especially the Touch Mat make these tools feel more intuitive, but I realize some people still won't be impressed. The Sprout's image-capture technology is completely unique, however, as is the way its Workspace software pulls it all together.

I downloaded a photo of gargoyles from Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Once an image is in the Workspace on the main display, you can "flick" it onto the Touch Mat just as easily as it sounds: The image slides from the main display to the Touch Mat. You can move as many images there as you like and start using them to assemble your own creation.

Tool icons that appear on the right side of the Touch Mat let you move images to the "front" or the "back" (similar to the layering system in Photoshop), and tool icons on the left let you use ink and text tools to draw or write on the image. 

In my case, I took the gargoyles image, then flicked down my image of the toy (the Twitter bird). I positioned it on the railing next to one of the gargoyles, and voila: The Twitter bird was photobombing the Notre Dame gargoyles.

This may seem gimmicky, but think about what the gimmick means. The combination of the imaging hardware and the image creation and manipulation features gives you a lot of freedom to make things as banal as birthday cards or as fun as digital murals, all with the more natural feel of using your hands or a stylus.

Looking ahead to 3D printing, augmented reality

The Sprout's 3D image capture technology is still in beta as of this writing. HP is supposed to release a final version this week, and we'll delve into it further when we do a full review.

For now, the Illuminator can create a partial 3D image — basically, the top of an object. It comes out looking like a shell that you can rotate to see the underside.

The early apps that come with the Sprout show further potential. There's the Story Producer game, based on the animated film How to Train Your Dragon 2: You choose different backdrops and characters, then their "motivations," such a cheer or anger. The characters act out a short scene accordingly.

You could get bored with this in two minutes, or you could see a future where you can put in your own backdrop, and 2D- or 3D-scan in your own characters, and set them in motion. Maybe you'd use the PowerDirector video editor that comes with Sprout, which currently lets you do rudimentary beginning/end cuts, and add various effects and transitions. It's nothing out of the ordinary, but packaged with the Sprout, you might someday be able to customize your videos, pulling in images or footage from other sources. 


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