The HP Sprout Pro is an updated version of the innovative PC that HP launched last year, this time aimed at artists, designers and modellers – professional and at school. (The first edition was aimed at home users).
We got some hands-on time at the Sprout Pro launch at the Saatchi Gallery in London – so here's what we thought (beyond that the name is a bit of clunker for is, as while it's might have connotations of growth and new life for its US-based creators, we associate it more with the veg you try to avoid eating at Christmas).
If you've not seen the Sprout before, it's an iMac-like all-in-one PC with a 23-inch touchscreen. Below the screen sits a 20-inch 'Touch Mat' that you can draw on with the bundled Adonit Jot Pro stylus or touch with your fingers. This mat is projected onto by the 'Illuminator' that sticks out over the top of the screen, essentially turning the mat into a Cintiq-style tablet/display. The Illuminator also includes a 3D camera to capture flat objects like sketches and essentially 3D scan anything you put underneath it.
Images: All photos taken using a DxO One camera attached to an iPhone 5s. Read our DxO One review.
There are many ways you could use the Sprout Pro as a creative pro. Illustrators could scan in drawings, then apply digital brushwork or colouring directly onto the artwork on the Touch Mat – while also being able to see what they were doing without their hand in the way on the main screen.
3D artists could mould objects out of clay as tactile sketches, which could be scanned using the Autodesk-developed 3D Capture app – which outputs them as OBJ files that can be used in pretty much any 3D application (as well as Photoshop).
HP was keen to show off that captured objects could be returned the real world using low-cost 3D printers such as this £850 Dremel model.
Of course, scanning objects to create identical copies is a bit dull – so HP showed off how a model of an elephant could be quickly scanned then adapted into a centaur-type figure, which was then 3D printed.
3D scanning objects can be fiddly, so HP sells the optional Capture Stage for £182.50 plus VAT. This rostrum rotates and tilts to capture all of the details of a model (though obviously you do have to turn it over half way through to capture the bottom).
While now marketed as a 'Pro' version, the Sprout Pro isn't any different to the original Sprout in concept: it just has a faster processor (a 'Skylake' Intel Core i7 chip that's two generations on from the original Sprout's 'Haswell' Core i7 chip) and RAM (DDR4 rather than DDR3). There's also a more powerful graphics chip – a Nvidia Geforce GT945A with 1GB of graphics RAM, which strangely is half that of the RAM of the GT745A in the first sprout.
For 3D pros, this could cause issues as tools like Maya demand a workstation-class graphics chip such as Nvidia's Quadro line.
The usefulness of the Sprout Pro to Digital Arts readers is also helped by key software developers like Adobe, Autodesk and The Foundry starting to add support for the Sprout's numerous input and control mechanisms to (at least some of) their apps.
Autodesk's current Sprout-friendly tools are the SketchBook drawing software (shown here) and the TinkerCAD tool for, well, tinkering with 3D models.
SketchBook Pro works across both of the Sprout Pro's screens, and you can capture real-world artworks using the Illuminator.
Adobe Illustrator has some support for the Sprout – essentially just working across both screens. An HP representative told us Adobe is working on adding this to Photoshop, though wasn't able to say if that includes capturing 3D models (though you could just capture models as OBJs using Autodesk's 3D Capture app and then import them into Photoshop
The Foundry's Mischief digital sketching tool (shown here) also supports the dual-screen setup and artwork scanning.
HP's Sprout Pro is a brilliant concept but it still feels like the software for creative pros isn't quite there yet. We'd need to see more tools from Adobe and Autodesk before the Sprout Pro is released in March for it's real potential to be anywhere near reached.