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HP Tries Something New With 3-D Scanning Computer

Hewlett-Packard Co has taken a modest step toward re-imagining the venerable personal computer, merging a 3D scanner and projector with an all-in-one PC to create a $1,899 ensemble it hopes can rekindle industry interest.

The new desktop computer, called Sprout, goes on sale online Wednesday.

In a departure for the company, HP also announced it will begin to share the 3D printing technology it has been developing for years.

The technique, which the company claims can print 10 times faster and much cheaper than current products, will be shared with select manufacturing and technology partners to garner feedback before a tentative 2016 launch.

Like many of its rivals, HP is struggling with a stagnant personal computer business that still makes up half its revenue. HP hopes a new take on the old PC can re-ignite customer interest, though it is careful to play down expectations. Several industrywide attempts to revive the market, such as ultrathin laptops and all-in-ones, initially failed to catch on.

Sprout sits atop Microsoft's Windows 8 and can be wielded via a sensor-laden mat on the desktop akin to a giant mousepad. HP is betting that users prefer touch controls at desk-level rather than onscreen.

Its biggest departure from the traditional computer is a display-mounted 3D scanner and projector that creates a digital image of objects placed on the mat. It also projects images onto the desktop, which a user can edit by touch.

HP executives demonstrated how various items from pens and cups to figurines and pictures can be scanned, tacked onto existing images or video, edited then emailed or shared through social media.

Eric Monsef, who heads the project for HP, said the initial production run will be modest but can be scaled up if needed. The key is to attract developers for a new Sprout marketplace or apps store, for specifically designed software that can to take advantage of 3D capabilities.

It will come with apps from Dreamworks Animation, Skype and Evernote, among others.

"It's about getting people excited again," Monself said in an interview. The hope is that Sprout will entice more developers as time goes by, who will in turn devise novel ways to make use of the technology, he said. "Day of launch, we're not even at the halfway point of our work."

HP's anticipated entry into 3D printing, however, will not come until 2016, after a process of feedback and refinement is completed.

The company calls its technique "multi jet fusion" because it employs a series of printing jets spraying multiple chemical agents simultaneously. It also claims it is cheaper than other commercially available technologies.

"We've been working for a number of years already. We have patents going back more than 10 years," said project chief Ramon Pastor. "We didn't want to introduce a product that wasn't a breakthrough."

(Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Richard Chang)

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