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HP is trying to turn its Sprout PC into a 3D modeling playground

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Sprout is HP's attempt at a new take on the desktop computer, one that doesn't have a mouse and keyboard and instead tries to blend its digital world with what's on your desk. The all-in-one computer, first introduced last year, has a scanner and projector jutting out on top that beams a second screen in front of it, which could show an additional desktop, a specific app, or a virtual keyboard. A core use is supposed to be modeling, however, and now HP is upgrading that in a major way.

Sprout will start 3D scanning in July, and an accessory will help

At launch, the Sprout could only scan objects from a single side, but HP said today that it'll release a free software update in July enabling full 3D scanning. It'll also release a $299 peripheral that'll allow a person to automate the scanning process and record all sides of an object.

Sprout is certainly an interesting option for people involved in modeling. HP imagines that both hobbyists and professional engineers could use it to work, allowing them to continually redesign and tweak parts by hand — both physically and digitally — throughout their process. Once the Sprout can scan in full 3D, it should be far more useful.

Owners of the Sprout won't need the scanning accessory, called the 3D Capture Stage, to perform 3D scans, but it'll make the process much easier. The stage tilts upward and then rotates around as the Sprout's camera scans what's on it. Objects have to be flipped a couple times so that all sides can be scanned, but the software is supposed to handle stitching it all together.

The downside to the 3D Capture Stage is that it's a $299 spinning plate that only works when it's paired with a specific $1899.99 computer. You could, alternatively, buy a fully functional stand-alone 3D scanner that works with any computer. That's typically going to cost more than the Capture Stage, but it's also more versatile. That also points out the limitations to HP's approach: fancy rigs may be needed for quality 3D scanning today, but it's already looking like future smartphones will be able to take their place, at least for hobbyists. That means something as involved as the Sprout won't be necessary for people to get started with modeling.

On the other hand, Sprout still seems like an engaging way to work with models. It's not clear how many people have decided that it's right for them — HP declined to share sales figures — but it's a compelling look at how easy it's becoming for the average person to start working with 3D models.