At a New York event on Wednesday, and followed by an announcement on Microsoft's news feed, the company have revealed a new hybrid desktop/touchscreen device - called the Surface Studio - which aims to combine the processing power and business functionality of a desktop PC with the flexibility and design benefits of a variable user interface. They have also a detailed a large, free, update for Windows 10 coming in 'early 2017' titled the 'Creators Update'. Along with the information that Microsoft have released, a video demonstrating the key features of the products on show is also available. While the focus is on the Surface Studio and Windows 10 update, the electronics giant also detailed a new, more powerful, Surface Book and a new peripheral know as the 'Surface Dial.'
The Surface Studio will feature a 28 Inch PixelSense Display which will output in 4.5K Ultra-HD, delivering 13.5 million pixels - 63% more than the average 4K TV. Microsoft's release claims this is the thinnest LCD screen on the market, though qualifies this as the average cross-section thickness across the display. The CPU will be a 6th Generation Intel Core(either i5 or i7 depending on the model) and will be accelerated by a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GPU (either an 8GB or 16GB GTX 965M, or a 32GB GTX 980M at the highest spec). Full specifications have been released by Microsoft and can be found here. In use, the device will look something like this:
As you can see above; the screen comes attached via a hinge to the base unit and at 20 pounds in weight, you can see that this is designed as a replacement for the traditional desktop PC, rather than as a portable tablet, in a similar way to Apple's iMac. The wireless keyboard, mouse and 'Surface Pen' shown above come included in the box for a retail price of around $2,999. The other peripheral you can see in the picture above is called the 'Surface Dial' and will be sold separately. Microsoft's focus in the press material seems to be on the creation and design applications of the Surface Studio. They point out the benefits of the 20-degree angled position you can see on the right, which will be familiar to artists and designers as the same angle as a standard drafting board. MS also show off the ability to use two hands on the screen at once in the accompanying video - showing an artist working with the 'Surface Pen' while selecting options with their other hand.
Staying with the focus on creative professionals, Microsoft shows the Surface Studio being used with the new 'Surface Dial' peripheral - a dial-like device that can sit on the screen of the Studio to work in tandem with various applications and give the user increased functionality based on whatever application is being used. In the video we see an artist using the dial to change brush width and colouring while drawing, and a composer using the dial to insert accents and other music notation to a score. The device also appears to work on a desk; with the example shown of a designer scrolling through and annotating plans. The dial will retail around $99, Microsoft also boasts that several high-profile partners like Mental Canvas, Drawboard, and Siemens PLM Software have already optimised their software for us with the Surface Dial and Surface Studio.
The focus for the Windows 10 Creators Update is on 3-D design, VR/AR, and gaming. Microsoft is introducing Paint 3D with the update, a new 3D art studio based on Microsoft Paint, and encouraging users to share their creations through their new online community platform Remix3D.com. According to Microsoft, the Remix 3D platform will enable 'all-new scenarios for creators' - including the ability for Minecraft players to share their 3D creations. The firm also announced they will be updating Word, Excel, and Powerpoint to be able to integrate 3D models. At the event, MS demonstrated how users will be able to capture real world objects in 3D with their phone then edit and share the 3D images.
The update also paves the way for 'mixed reality' integration. Microsoft reports that windows 10 will now support augmented and virtual reality applications through both the Microsoft Hololens and a variety of other VR Headsets from makers HP, Lenovo, Dell, Acer and ASUS coming in 2017. It seems Microsoft aims to bring mixed reality to a wider market, claiming in the press release that the update, along with the new devices, will allow VR and AR applications to work with 'affordable' laptops and PCs. They also stated that the third party manufacturers' new VR devices will have relatively low price points, starting from around $299, and will include in-built sensors to allow for more freedom of movement and ease of setup. The comments on price and convenience are made in comparison to VR devices already on the market like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. Their proof of concept for AR on Windows 10 at the New York unveiling was a joint creation with home renovation specialist Houzz and demonstrated users previewing products in their home in augmented reality through the Microsoft Edge browser using the Hololens, which is a higher price point product that has yet to see a full commercial release.
Gamers are also getting some attention in the new update. The Creators Update will feature Beam system integration for Windows 10 and Xbox One, allowing interactive broadcasting through Xbox Live. Essentially, this means that streamers on the Xbox Live network will be able to interact directly with fans, and vice-versa, in a similar way to the Twitch streaming service. The update will also bring a user-generated tournament service, Arena, to Xbox Live. This will allow players to define the rules of competition, invite friends, and keep track of tournament progress across both Windows 10 and Xbox One. This follows on from Arena's announcement at Microsoft's E3 conference earlier this year, where the service was touted as Microsoft's big push into e-sports. Partners like ESL, FACEIT, and MLG will allow players to receive notifications for, and even register to, tournaments through the Xbox live network.
The final feature mentioned for the Creators Update, called Windows MyPeople, is designed to bring together your favourite contacts onto the taskbar of your Windows 10 device. This will allow users to pin their most used contacts to the taskbar which will enable drag-and-drop file sharing, easy access to e-mails and IMs, and custom notifications known as 'shoulder taps.'
If that wasn't enough information for you, Microsoft also managed to squeeze in a new, more powerful, version of the Surface Book laptop featuring a 6th generation Intel I7 processor and twice the graphical processing power, as well as a reported 16-hour battery life. The Creators Update and most features are planned for release in early 2017, with no more specific release date yet set. The Surface Studio will start shipping pre-orders this holiday season and will be more widely available at retail from January. For full specifications for the Surface Studio check here and for the Surface Book check here. For the full press release, check Microsoft's news feed here.
With a new desktop option for professionals and the future of Windows 10 starting to take shape, do you think Microsoft are well positioned to tackle the future of computing? What about the new features for Xbox Live; will you be streaming, watching, or just playing? Let us know in the comments below.