In what's becoming an annual affair, Microsoft recently held an event in New York City to talk both hardware and software. Highlighting the presentation was the Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC for digital artists launching this holiday, and the Windows 10 Creators Update, bringing 3D creative tools to everyone in early 2017. Here's what you need to know about what was announced at the event.
Surface Studio and Surface Book
From the beginning, Surface has been about making people more productive, to provide the technology and tools for anyone to make anything. As Panos Panay said at the event, "[Surface] moves seamlessly throughout your day. It's about you at the center." The Surface Studio is a high end all-in-one computer, Microsoft's first desktop computer, aimed at digital artists.
The Surface Studio differs from many other AIO PCs by putting the components in the base, which ranges from an Intel Skylake core i5 and Nvidia GT965M up to an i7 and GT980M. Paired with this is a 28" 4.5K (4500x3000) 3:2 touchscreen display. It also supports the DCI-P3 color space, which is the most possible of current display technologies. (However, at only 350 nits, the Studio doesn't support any HDR video standards.) One last important aspect to the display itself is its 192 DPI. This, along with scaling done by Windows, makes for a true to life scale on screen. In other words, one inch on screen is equal to one inch in the real world. The Surface Studio starts at $3000 and ships this December.
Of course, there's more to it than just that. The screen is on what Microsoft calls a zero-gravity hinge, allowing the display to effortlessly move from upright, down to a drafting angle, and any position in between. The palm rejection software in Windows even allows for you to lay your entire arm across the display for when you really want to get into something with the Surface Pen.
The Studio seems to be at its best when paired with a new accessory called the Surface Dial. This small, palm sized puck is able to tie into software applications and make tools more seamlessly accessible. Clicking it in will bring up a radial menu of selectable items reminiscent of what could be found in older tablet versions of OneNote. Spinning the Dial then changes options or properties within the program you're using. This can be as simple as moving through pages in a Word document, or as complicated as dynamically changing colors while simultaneously drawing.
When used with a Surface Studio the Dial can be placed directly onto the screen and the radial menu will appear around it. Owners of a Surface Pro 3, Pro 4, or Book can also use the Dial with the menu appearing at a fixed point on the screen. The Surface Dial will run you $100 and comes out November 17th.
And the Surface Book is getting a refresh with the Performance Base. As a quick refresher, last year the Surface Book launched with Skylake core i5 and i7 processors, and higher end models also included a custom Nvidia GPU that was the equivalent of a GT940M. The new Performance Base model takes the i7 models and upgrades the GPU to a GT965M, which Microsoft claims is a doubling of graphics performance.
Now, it is slightly thicker than the original model. However, Panos Panay and his team redesigned the thermal system in order to keep the device cool. They also added more battery capacity to the new keyboard base and claim up to 16 hours of use. These Surface Book's will start at $2400 and come out November 10th.
You may have noticed that neither of the very expensive computers Microsoft announced come with Intel's latest Kaby Lake processors or Nvidia's Pascal GPUs. It's possible that both products were in development and planned for release before either could be incorporated. However, given Microsoft's target release date of Q4 2016, they might have chosen not to include them at all. It's well known that both the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, two products that were first to market with Skylake processors, had severe performance and battery problems for months. It's likely Microsoft is waiting until 2017 to launch products with these new technologies in order to avoid similar issues.
Windows 10 Creators Update
The next major Windows 10 update, dubbed the Creators Update, is focused on the student, the artist, the gamer, and everyone inbetween. This update aims to make 3D creation more accessible to all. Microsoft is primarily doing this through Paint. No, this isn't a joke, I'm serious! The new Paint 3D app will allow you to create and manipulate objects in 3D. Microsoft has put in a lot of work to simplify the UI and tools compared to other 3D software, while still giving users with many options.
A new community hub called Remix3D will allow people to share their own works and explore other user creations. It will even let Minecraft players import models for 3D printing. Microsoft has partnered with Trimble to have SketchUp content, a popular 3D modeling application, in Remix3D. They're also working on a phone app that uses the camera to scan objects in the real world and create a 3D model from that scan.
Now Microsoft of course has a way to view 3D digital objects in the real world with HoloLens. But that's a piece of hardware only available to developers for $3000. At the event they announced that HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer will be coming out with VR headsets that support Windows Holographic and this new 3D Windows content. While these headsets are more like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive than HoloLens, they'll be different in a few key ways. First, they use inside out tracking with everything built into the headset; no need for cameras or fancy laser boxes. The headsets will still need to be plugged into a computer, but the range of hardware they're usable with will be much greater, and includes laptops. And most importantly, these headsets will be much cheaper, starting at $300.
Office and Xbox
Now, Microsoft is still Microsoft. Office will get some love in the Creators Update. Inking was a major part of the previous Anniversary Update, and those features will be expanded in this update. Many of the pen integration features with the Office apps previously shown in 2016, such as quick highlighting and deletions in Word, are finally coming. The built in, on screen ruler, my most anticipated feature, will be added to Office programs, starting with PowerPoint. And the new 3D models created from Paint 3D or gathered from Remix3D will be supported in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
The update will bring new features to Xbox as well. Microsoft recently purchased video game streaming service Beam. While Twitch is established and known by many gamers, Beam has the significant advantage of almost no latency between the person streaming and those watching and interacting in chat. With the Creators Update, Beam will be integrated with Windows and Xbox. Also, the previously announced Xbox Live Arena feature for creating and taking part in tournaments will additionally be coming to Windows.
Microsoft is clearly taking on the Wacom Cintiq's of the world, and not the iMac, with the Surface Studio. Compared to even the best Cintiq display, the Studio has a lot of advantages. For about the same price you're getting a much better display, not to mention a PC as well. But with the Studio using last years Surface Pen, Wacom arguably still has a much better drawing experience, the most important part for artists.
Speaking of artists, Paint is one of the most used Windows programs. I'm sure everyone on Tested has made a drawing or two in it at some point. Paint 3D leverages Microsoft's Windows Holographic technology to make something a little fun for everyone. And more affordable VR headsets will always be tantalizing. The Creators Update will of course add much more than 3D objects, and we'll be testing all of it. Norm was at the event, so be sure to check out his thoughts, and stay tuned to the site for more soon.