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A 55-inch Surface Hub. (Microsoft Photo)
A 55-inch Surface Hub. (Microsoft Photo)

A computer in every home, on every desk, in every pocket … and on every conference room wall? That is a big piece of Microsoft’s vision for the future of business collaboration. Actually, it’s giant.

Microsoft corporate vice president Mike Angiulo.

Standing beside a massive 84-inch, Windows 10-powered Surface Hub computer in a Redmond conference room, Microsoft corporate vice president Mike Angiulo removes the digital pen from the side of the display, and the screen instantly transforms into a whiteboard with an infinite canvas that can be shared with other devices in the room and in remote locations.

“We have to be as easy as paper, we have to be as powerful as a VTC (video teleconferencing) system, and we have to be as easy to connect to as a regular TV,” explains the veteran Microsoft executive, sketching out a matrix on the screen to show how the Surface Hub compares to those competitors.

After unveiling the Surface Hub in January at a Windows 10 event in Redmond, Microsoft this morning is announcing the first details about pricing, release date and distribution. The 55-inch Surface Hub, with an Intel Core i5 processor, will sell for $6,999; and the 84-inch version, with a Core i7 processor and NVIDIA graphics, will sell for $19,999. They will be available for order July 1, shipping in September.

Those prices might sound outlandish when compared to traditional PCs, but these won’t be sitting next to normal Surface tablets at the local electronics store. Microsoft will be selling and distributing the large-screen computers through corporate resellers and conference room technology specialists. In that context, the company is pitching the screens as an affordable alternative. Corporate budgets for conference room technology can exceed $38,000 in the size of conference room where the larger Surface Hub would be appropriate.

Even so, the Surface Hub faces competition from a variety of lower-priced alternatives, including advanced video-conferencing and collaboration apps for standard tablets and smartphones, and specialized devices such as the SMART kapp connected whiteboard.

The launch of Microsoft’s new conference-room computers follow the company’s acquisition of large-screen computing pioneer Perceptive Pixel in 2012. (Perceptive Pixel founder Jeff Han is now an executive at Microsoft.)

The devices are engineered and manufactured in Wilsonville, Ore. (Tech journalist Harry McCracken interviews Han and visits the factory in this Fast Company piece.)

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A 55-inch Surface Hub with its smaller cousin, the Surface Pro 3. (Microsoft Photo)

One thing they didn’t mention at the Windows 10 event where the devices were unveiled: The Surface Hub can connect with a wide variety of platforms — including Mac, Android and iOS — using technologies including Miracast and Skype for Business. For example, users can project the contents of a device screen onto the Surface Hub, make changes on the Surface Hub display, and have those changes reflected and stored on the original device.

Microsoft has paid close attention to detail, tuning the capabilities to conference rooms and meetings. For example, the display switches intelligently between wide-angle video cameras on either side of the display, depending on where the main speaker in the room is standing. And the surface of the display has been engineered to sound like pencil writing on paper when someone uses the digital pen to write on the screen.

The company is also banking on the fact that this is a full-fledged Windows 10 powered machine, able to run the universal apps being made for the updated version of the operating system. That means that Surface Hub can easily run apps that were originally designed for tablets, for example.

Microsoft says the Surface Hub will launch in 24 markets, including the U.S. Canada, Japan, Australia and many European countries.

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