Microsoft reveals Surface Studio, Windows 10 Creators Update and more

Panos Panay Surface Book
Microsoft corporate vice president of Surface device engineering Panos Panay reveals the new Surface Book PC. Image: Blair Hanley Frank/IDGNS

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27 October 2016 | 0

Microsoft unleashed a ton of Windows and Surface news on the world from New York on Wednesday, revealing new Windows features and brand new hardware.

Here’s the run-down on the biggest news from the company’s two-hour presentation, more or less in order of appearance.

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Windows 10’s Creators Update
While the Surface Studio emphasises creative output of PCs, the Windows 10 Creators Update is supposed to bring creation capabilities to the masses.  The update will be available this spring for Windows 10 users everywhere and will bring a host of new capabilities.

One of the major emphases of the new release is a focus on creating 3D content. MS Paint is getting a refresh that adds support for creating and manipulating 3D models. Those models can be shared with the world using Microsoft’s new Remix 3D community, which will host models shared from Paint 3D, Minecraft and Trimble’s SketchUp.

Windows’ venerable Paint app is being dragged into the 21st century. The Windows 10 Creators Update adds Paint 3D, a Windows Store app designed from the ground up to create 3D images even out of 2D pictures.

Paint 3D includes numerous tools for editing three-dimensional images. It also integrates with a new Windows 10 3D-scanning app dubbed Windows Capture 3D, which allows you to digitise real-world objects. Microsoft plans to introduce a ‘community’ hub on Remix3D.com for shared 3D images, plus it’ll let you drag your creations out of Minecraft. Microsoft Office applications will also support 3D images after the Windows 10 Creators Update rolls out.

You have to wonder how many non-professionals are interested in 3D image creation, but there’s no doubting that Paint 3D looks like a perfect match for the Surface Studio and Surface Dial’s capabilities (more on those later).

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Windows VR headsets
You’ll be able to view your 3D creations through Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset, or via an onslaught of Windows Holographic-compatible VR headsets from Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer.

“These headsets will be the first and only to ship with inside-out, six-degree-of-freedom sensors,” said Microsoft’s Terry Myerson. “Unlike every other VR headset on the market today, this means there will be zero need for a separate room. Zero need for a complicated setup.”

A virtue was also made of the new devices’ price points, which start at $299 – a far cry from the high-end Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and not too far off the Galaxy Gear VR – when you factor in the price of a compatible smartphone.

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My People
Microsoft wants to make your friends the centre of your Windows experience with My People, a feature that borrows from Android and iOS. In the Creators Update, five important contacts will appear as profile images in your taskbar. You’ll be able to drop files onto these contacts to immediately share items, or click the contact to interact in a specific app like Mail, Skype, SMS, or Xbox Live.

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For gamers
Microsoft’s muscling in on Twitch. The Windows 10 Creators Update adds the ability to easily start broadcasting your Xbox Live games via the operating system’s Game DVR toolbar, sending notifications out to your pals and fellow club members to let them know when you’re online. Once they hop into your stream they’ll be able to chat with you, as with every other streaming service out there.

The service is powered by Microsoft’s recent Beam acquisition and looks dead-simple to use. It’s easy to envision Windows 10 Game DVR livestreaming becoming popular on consoles, but Microsoft faces an uphill battle on PCs, where Twitch and tools like Nvidia Shadowplay and OBS already enjoy massive, entrenched user bases.

Microsoft is also planning to tie console and PC users closer together with custom tournaments powered by Xbox Live’s Arena platform. Next year, you’ll be able to create your own custom gaming tournaments, controlling everything from the games, to the rules, to the players, to the start times. Previously, Area tournaments were only created by Microsoft and its official partners.

The Xbox One S, which is itself powered by Windows 10, is adding support for bitstreaming Blu-ray audio pass-through and Dolby Atmos. Soon, those 4K videos and games will sound just as glorious as they look.

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Surface Book gets a turbocharged upgrade
Microsoft also announced a power boost to its Microsoft’s Surface Book laptop/tablet hybrid. The new Surface Book with Performance Base gets a whopping 16 hours of battery life, to help with what Microsoft Corporate Vice President Panos Panay said was a common request from users.

The basic high-performance Surface Book sports 256Gb of solid-state storage, an Intel Core i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M GPU with 2Gb VRAM. Microsoft also offers upgraded models of the Surface Book with up to 16Gb RAM and up to 1Tb of SSD storage.

That performance comes with a hefty price tag starting at $2,400. People who want the absolute top of the line Surface Book must pay $3,300 for the privilege.

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Surface Studio takes a fresh look at the Desktop PC
There were a ton of rumours about a forthcoming all-in-one Surface desktop, and Microsoft brought the thunder. The Surface Studio is an all-in-one PC with an ultrathin, 28″, 4.5K touchscreen. The screen is mounted on a pair of hinges that let it sit up vertically like a traditional desktop computer, and lower down to a drafting position, where the display is only inclined to the desk by 20 degrees.

The Surface Studio’s base is what holds the computer’s brains. The base model features a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 1Tb storage, 8Gb RAM, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX965M GPU with 2Gb VRAM. That can scale all the way up to a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 2Tb of storage, 32Gb RAM and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX980M GPU with 4Gb VRAM.

Buying a Surface Studio will set people back quite a bit. The base model costs $3,000, and the top of the line Studio costs $4,200. It’s not a price tag for the faint of heart, and means that the Studio probably won’t be the right computer for most people.

But it’s an opportunity for Microsoft to show off what a PC can do and try to spur other manufacturers to follow suit at a more affordable price point.

Most of all, it seems like a direct attack on Apple’s desktop offerings, with its focus on creative output. Macs have been the computers of choice for many creative professionals, but it’s clear that Microsoft is aggressively going after that market with this launch, trying to capitalise on Apple’s ageing product lines.

What will be interesting to see is how use of the touchscreen ages. One of the big issues with touch screen desktops is that users often keep large monitors at arm’s length, which means that touching the screen for even a short period of time can get tiring very quickly. The Studio’s drafting configuration, which brings the screen close to the surface of the table, may help alleviate some of this problem, but it’ll take long-term testing to prove that out.

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Surface Dial
The Surface Studio’s content-friendly design and Windows 10’s new content creation tools are amplified by the Surface Dial, a radical puck that can control Microsoft’s new PC. It’s primarily designed to work in conjunction with Microsoft’s Surface Pen. Priced at $100, you can preorder it now.

The Surface Dial doesn’t have any buttons of its own. Instead, using it reveals an interface wheel customised for specific applications, with selections occurring as you twist the device back and forth. You may cycle through tool-tip brushes in an image editing app, for instance, or rewind and fast-forward through written notes in Office. A virtual version of the Dial appears even if you don’t place the puck directly onscreen, letting you zoom, scroll, and adjust various options like screen brightness and volume.

Support for the Surface Dial will be baked right into Windows 10, and the accessory will be compatible with the existing Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book.

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Surface Mouse and keyboards
The niche Surface Dial isn’t the only Studio peripheral Microsoft announced, though none of the others made it onto the stage during the big event. Microsoft quietly launched a Surface Mouse and a pair of desktop Surface keyboards – one standard, the other ergonomic – to complement its premium all-in-one PC. All three match the gray aesthetic of Microsoft’s first-ever desktop PC. The Surface Studio includes a Surface Mouse and basic Surface Keyboard, however.

The question now is what will Apple spring on us later today to put it up to Microsoft’s newfound device mojo? If we’re to be treated to a new round of MacBooks and little else, Cupertino might find itself behind the curve – a place it doesn’t often end up.

IDG News Service

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