Watch the video, as a plastic dinosaur gets turned into a 3D image. It's too soon to call 3D imaging affordable for the masses, but with this $299 3D Capture Stage (the small, gray-and-white cylinder supporting the dinosaur), HP's closer than anyone else to making it attainable.
You can see tantalizing glimpses of 3D imaging in virtual reality products like Oculus Rift, and augmented reality technologies like Microsoft's HoloLens, but all within the context of specialized applications like games and professional collaboration. Announced Thursday, the 3D Capture Stage works with the company's Sprout PC, which comes with applications designed to help artists and everyday people use sophisticated images.
Using the Sprout, you can digitize objects using the system's overhead cameras and scanner. You can manipulate the images easily on the Sprout's Touch Mat using your hands, encouraging a more artistic and intuitive approach to creative work than a mouse and keyboard do.
But the Sprout still struggled to capture 3D images, because its 3D Snapshot software could take only one side of an object. The new 3D Capture Stage comes with an upgrade to 3D Snapshot called 3D Capture. As the video shows, the software walks you through scanning an object at multiple angles and knits the images together to make a 3D rendering. It still involves multiple steps, but the results look far better than what I achieved with the Sprout using its earlier software.
Add the $299 3D Capture Stage to the $1899 Sprout, however, and you still have a hefty hardware investment. At a time when $300 laptops are bestsellers, the Sprout and its impressive talents are still out of reach for many people. HP won't reveal how many Sprouts it's sold so far, though the company has seeded units to a small group of users to get their feedback and build grassroots support.
I'm still waiting for HP to have its own 3D printer, but the 3D Capture software exports to OBJ format for use with third-party hardware. The software will be available to all Sprout users in July, even if they don't buy the 3D Capture Stage, which ships at the same time.