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Why Surface Hub is more interesting than HoloLens

Mike Elgan | Jan. 27, 2015
By the time Microsoft ships their augmented reality headset, it will be an also-ran banality. Their re-invention of "desktop" computing is what really matters.

The real star of the show this week was Microsoft Surface Hub, a 4K, big-screen Windows 10 computer for enterprises.

The Surface Hub comes in two sizes: a big-screen 55-in. computer and a very big-screen 84-in. device.

The Surface Hub can be controlled with multi-touch, voice, in-the-air gestures, pen and keyboard. It's got sensors galore, including two wide-angle 1080p cameras, microphone, motion sensors and touch sensors.

And the interfaces are advanced. The multi-touch technology, for example, can recognize 100 touch points at once and precisely. Five people can be touching it on one side while several people are drawing with the pen on the other.

To start using it, you simply walk up to it. The Surface Hub knows you're there. Just choose between three options: Call, WhiteBoard or Connect.

It's a Windows 10 machine, so it ships with Word, Excel and PowerPoint, plus the OneNote whiteboard and Skype for Business. (At minimum, it's a full-fledged PC, video-conferencing system, phone, presentation system, TV and white board -- it's basically everything you might find in a meeting room besides a table and chairs, including the assistant (of course Surface Hub will be a great Cortana device).

The Microsoft Surface, the tablet, stole its name from the Surface project, which was a big-screen TV. Then an app group stole the "Surface" branding for a pen-configuration app called Surface Hub for the Surface tablet.

Now, the big-screen people at Microsoft have stolen the name back by calling the new computer system the Surface Hub.

Surface Hub comes from Microsoft's Perceptive Pixel group, which has been shipping giant touch screens for years to the military, media and others. Microsoft acquired Perceptive Pixel in 2012. Those "Magic Walls" used by CNN are Perceptive Pixel computers. The CEO and founder of that company was Jeff Han, a visionary pioneer in the field of large multi-touch computers. Today Han is general manager of Perceptive Pixel hardware.

And guess what? Han uses his big-screen touch computer at an angle, like a drafting table, not on a wall or vertically mounted on a stand.

That's the future of big-screen computing. It's not a "desktop computer." The computer replaces the desk entirely.

Microsoft is targeting Surface Hubs at enterprises because they will initially be too expensive for consumers. But give it a year or two, and the prices will drop and consumers will start buying them.

I believe they will replace TVs or, looking at it another way, TVs will get PC operating systems and multi-touch.

It's worth noting also that only touch-computing and other close usage patterns justify any screen resolution higher than 4K. At CES this year, we saw monitors reaching the 8K level, which is overkill for watching TV. From a couch-to-TV distance, it's almost impossible to detect the difference between 4K and 8K. However, if you're going to use the screen for close-up use (as you can use the Surface Hub), the super high-resolution screens pay off.


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