Microsoft Scratches the Surface Again with the Surface Studio

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Microsoft held a press conference today, and made some announcements that while seemingly benign, may change the way we use Windows-based computers for everyday tasks. The company also showcased a brand new all-in-one computer that will shuffle us into a new generation of 3D ideation. With the focus on gaming and user interaction, Microsoft is well situated to be the arbiters of a brave new world of computing.

It was obvious from the beginning of the press conference that Microsoft was aiming toward some fusion of gaming and 3D productivity. Didn’t the company buy Minecraft for, like, a bazillion dollars last year? Minecraft was also mentioned as a starting point for new 3D software, basically turning the world-renowned MS Paint program into MS Paint 3D. Although the features exhibited reminded me a lot of what the HP Sprout was touted for (I even wrote an article about it here), you could easily see this as a starting point for a vastly different 3D-infused environment, where simple things like emojis and pictures of friends can be turned into 3D images on your social media pages. Microsoft even showed what 3D imaging can do in a PowerPoint presentation, rotating an image of a tree so that it can be seen from all angles. PowerPoint just got a little bit more interesting—I can see a couple of office ingénues using this feature to dazzle their bosses in the near future.

Naturally, this all means a load of content for VR as well. Microsoft demonstrated how the 3D programs will work with Hololens, Microsoft’s foray into virtual reality (although, interestingly enough, there were no Hololens units on display; instead, headsets from manufacturers like HP, Lenovo Dell, ASUS and Acer were showcased). A bit of interesting news: these headsets are untethered, meaning they won’t have the bulky and sometimes restrictive wiring that plague Oculus and HTC Vive.

Microsoft also touched on gaming, and specifically, on its Twitch-killer streaming and broadcasting capabilities using the recently acquired Beam broadcasting technology purchased in August. You can instantly broadcast your gameplay in Windows 10 by simply hitting the Windows button and “G” key, and just like that, you’re broadcasting your game. Friends and followers can now instantaneously see how annoyingly good (or bad) you are. You can also create custom tournaments for fighting games like Killer Instinct, and using the Xbox Live platform, you can invite your friends to play along. Also on the gaming front, the Xbox One S will support Dolby Atmos sound, just another reason to pick one up this holiday season.

But all of this was just a tease. Everyone knows that Microsoft came out today to talk about a new Surface lineup. They got what they asked for with this tease—the new Surface Pro Book has a better fan, longer battery life, and more processing power.

And then, the reveal came: a new Surface product that combines a 28" Pixel Sense display, a 6th-generation Intel® Core™ i5 processor, 1TB of built-in storage, 8GB of RAM and a 2GB GPU. There’s also an option with a Core i7 CPU and 16GB RAM, or a higher-end version with a Core i7 processor, 2TB drive, 32GB RAM and a 4GB NVIDIA GeForce 980M graphics card.

With a wafer-thin (12.5mm) 28" touchscreen display that reaches at least 13.5 million pixels, and a sleek and minimalist design, the new Surface Studio looks like a Surface Pro on steroids. The Surface Studio is also touting a new color technology called TrueColor, which will be essential for photographers, videographers, and designers (allowing you to switch between DCI-P3 and sRGB without recalibrating the monitor) with a 3:2 aspect ratio at 192 pixels per inch. It also has a load of connectivity options—audio, SD card, Mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, and 4 USB 3.0 ports—all contained in a small forged aluminum box under the screen. There’s a linear mic array on top of the Surface Studio, along with a webcam. Also shown at the event were what looked like a new wireless keyboard and mouse.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Microsoft showcased the way the screen can be angled downward (up to a 20-degree angle), much like an artist’s easel or a photographer’s lightbox. Company reps also introduced the Surface Dial, which was made with the Surface Studio in mind, but also works with the Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Pro. The Surface Dial is a radial sensor in a small cylindrical housing that can sit next to the computer, or in the case of the Surface Studio, can be placed directly on the screen. The dial serves up a host of goodies, including switching color palettes, or rotating and resizing options. Also shown was a new Surface Pen for the Studio, which had a faster response time and better organic usability than the previous Surface Pens (which were already top-notch in their field of stylus devices) and a linear mic array. The linear mic array is only important because it can catch voice commands from across a room, so Cortana suddenly becomes relevant again, although the Amazon Echo already does the same thing.

Combined with Microsoft’s solid push for 3D creation and integration (the reps repeatedly mentioned the Minecraft generation, as if that’s a new subset of civilization), the new Surface Studio is an obvious attempt by Microsoft to get in on a very lucrative sector in the fading home computer market—creatives and content generators. Previously the domain of Apple, this new all-in-one PC from Microsoft is setting itself as the standard for a new generation of creative professionals that want the ease of Windows without the headaches of Windows. Are they going to get it with the Surface Studio? The answer is: we’ll see. 

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I might be two years late but, I can remember the Surface Studio was launched with dated components, that's what kept me from buying in, well the high priced configurations too, but why isn't B&H selling them no more?

In my personal opinion, the big problem with this product is "windows". It's a excellent idea, concept hardware and function... but work with windwos systems is terrible.

Nice to see that Microsoft is offering it own version of awesome machine for the masses while still just selling the software. They have always had a software platform that was a vanilla enough regarding just about all hardware you could throw at it. It is nice to be able to open the lid and change out parts, download some drivers and boom you were ont only back in the game if it was a repair or you have just upgraded your machine instead of having to purchase a whole new unit. Great to see that there is enough ports to plug in you devices, 3D and 4K support added. Now if this version software they have built into the new Surface is to be made available to the rest of us old school Windows under the hood tinkerer's as an update would be nice, since some of us are hardware ready for whatever comes down the pipe app wise.

Stupidly overpriced hardware ( even more than Apple )  running and likely BIOS locked to Spyware 10. Yay.

I am not familiar with Surface products and the one big question I've had is if the Surface pen can be used like a Wacom tablet in PS. The surface looks very interesting with the biggest drawback (for me) is the windows OS.

I use a Wacom tablet on my desktop system and the Microsoft pen on my Surface Pro 4.  The Surface Pro pen is very close to the Wacom pen, there is perhaps a little less sensitivity with the Surface pen, but it's not enough to really make a difference.

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Mike Krahulik, the artist for Penny Arcade, states he has been drawing digitally for "6-10 hours a day" for more than a decade. After using the Studio for a week, his partner asked what he thought, "...drawing on the Cintiq now felt like drawing on a piece of dirty plexiglass hovering over a CRT monitor from 1997."

They have included the Wacom functionality for a couple of versions of the Surface Pro now. It may have started with the Surface Pro 2. Whichever one it was, I remember him writing about it and waiting on Adobe to update their program to take advantage of it, which they eventually did. In the meantime he used a different program that worked with the pressure sensitivity better.

The pen with the Surface Studio supports 1024 levels of pressure.  Functionality would be similar to a Wacom tablet.  

This is very interesting stuff. I'm a die-hard Apple User but like so many others have mentioned Apple seems to be going down a strange road when it comes to their desktop and laptop ranges. 
MS have obviously put some thought and effort into the Surface Studio and I'll certainly follow developments closely from here on.
My only question at this moment would be the quality of the display - some PC displays are truly horrible and do not allow the user to see subtle differences in tone and colour (which is essential to any serious creative professional). Reflectivity is also key - Apple have, over the years, managed to get their displays to be pretty damn awesome. The second hassle is of course Windows itself. I'm not sure I could sacrifice the ease of use of Mac OS for Windows. No creative wants to be bothered with the hassles of Windows. MacOS allows the user to focus on their work and not on the actual OS. Until Windows get their act together and produce a really impressive OS I doubt if I would consider changing - no matter how much better their hardware is than Apple's.

I'm honestly not sure why the Mac vs. Windows argument is still happening. At my desk at work I use both, and I have worked with both systems for the better part of 7 years now. I have the Adobe CC Suite on both machines, and it seems to work the same on each, with minor UI differences. In working with both OSes I've only noticed that they seem to be getting closer to each other, to where the choice becomes work with what you're most comfortable. At work I prefer to use my iMac for editing video, since it is the more powerful machine, but when it's my own money, I look to the cost savings of PC. Last month I could have bought an Acer laptop from Costco with an i7-6600, 32GB RAM, 4GB nVidia GTX 960, 1TB HDD+256 SSD, and a Bluray burner with a 17.3 inch 1080 IPS screen for thirteen hundred dollars with Windows 10. It also had a Thunderbolt port.

I love the fit an finish of Apple machines, and they have been a pleasure to work with, but I have had just as many issues with crashes on Mac as I have on PC. I haven't been able to reconcile the cost difference for that premium feel, so I think the days of one being definitively better than the other are passed.

Also, I'm not sure the usual "hassles of Windows" will be an issue with these devices, since they are the most Mac-like Windows machines I've seen. These are first-party machines all the way. Microsoft isn't trusting the Surface brand to third-party hardware companies like Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, etc. A large part of that hassle is that the OS has to work across a wide variety of hardware configurations that MS has no control over. If the Surface Studio works like they say it will, I doubt we'll see any of those issues, since everything else you might use connects through standard interfaces like USB. I'm a little sad to see no Thunderbolt port for future-proofing, but maybe USB 3.0 is enough.

Bill G is right (but of course he always has been). I've been doing video editing on the Mac with Adobe for a number of years, and tried working with Windows 7 and Adobe Premiere. The Windows side just wasn't as integrated. Now, with Apple deciding for us that the brand new Macbook Pros are not able to be purchased with 4GB ram cards or 32 GB of RAM, just as 4k video editing is  becoming standard, makes me want to try migrating my Adobe work to Windows. I own an iMac with 32 GB RAM, a MB Pro with 16GBs and a 2GB nVidea Gforce video card, and would love to feel that it's time to migrate from the iMac to one MB Pro, but I find that Apple again feels like they are justified in telling me that 16 GB and 2GBs of video RAM are all I'll need. That they solder in the RAM and make it impossible to upgrade means that I will not buy these machines. Ever. That forces me through the hassles of switching to Windows and moving all my drives to NTFS. OK So now here comes Microsoft with a fabulous desktop computer, with 32GBs of RAM and a 4 GB video card.The monitor can slide down for when I shift to Lightroom and I can manage my stills like an old light box. 

What is happening at Apple? Once they knew who their audience was, and what their needs were Now, no upgrades to the Mac Pro, limits to the MB Pro, make me wonder, "why should I continue to support them?" 

I will definitely take a close look at the new Windows desktops. 

History really does repeat itself. Older graphics professionals will remember when Tektronix literally owned the creative graphics marketplace. They grew complacent and along came Silicon Graphics (SGI).  SGI was the darling of Hollywood, map makers, computational chemists, engineers and other creatives until it, too, became complacent and was replaced by a newer generation of computers running Windows NT and boasting high-performance graphics from folks like Nvidia, at a fraction of the price of an SGI Workstation.

Then Apple, with laser-like focus, produced cutting edge systems for photographers, video editors, designers and other creative professionals. They quickly "owned" that market for the better part of two decades, until their founder and visionary, Steve Jobs passed on. With Steve's passing, Apple lost its way and has become just another consumer electronics company (can you say Sony?), and once again, left the door open for competitors to replace them in the creative professional segment. It looks like Microsoft is stepping up to fill that void this time. The lesson: nothing stays the same, and as sure as Apple was able to reach the top...they can also coming crashing down by ignoring the customers who made them a success to begin with.

After more than 25 years of using Macs for video, photography and design, I'll be moving to Windows or Linux when I replace my current Macs. The Surface Studio certainly looks like it's worth a try.

When is this coming on BH and whats the price for the core i7 2TB 32GRAM 4G GPU

We currently do not have an ETA on when this will be available at B&H and with which configurations.

Apple at one time was the de facto standard in making computers for graphics professionals.  No more.  They have fallen by the wayside in their quest to make products with universal appeal.   The new Macbook Pro 15" (at it's highest, decked out version) will cost as much as the Surface Studio ($4299 + tax).  Yet the Studio has better specs and can do more.  I was an Apple fan for a long time but the last 7 years has been dismal and so much so that I am now a Windows convert.  Kudos to Microsoft for building niche products.  

Isn't the Apple iMac 27" Retina 5K the more natural comparison to the Surface Studio?  As you noted, it is probably not possible to configure a MB Pro to quite as good a spec.

You are one of the very few who has reported on the Surface Studio with a clear understanding of its potential. The contrast between what Apple and Microsoft are doing to advance productivity couldn't be starker. My bet is on Microsoft when it comes to leading the way in worker productivity, especially for creative professionals.

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