In a product category — PCs — that does not see new form factors very often, Dell formally introduced Canvas, a novel type of workspace for creative people, at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles Aug. 1. Brought out by Dell’s workstation group, Canvas builds on Microsoft’s Creators Update, the Windows 10 edition being sent over the wires this summer to qualified hardware.
Canvas is essentially an additional work surface for a workstation. The main workstation display, which can be really anything, sits back where it normally does (Dell recommends its U3417W UltraSharp 34 curved ultrawide monitor). The auxiliary “canvas” lays flat or slightly tilted on the desk in front of the user and is used for a combination of input — via pen, touch, or “totem” (more about this in a minute) — and visual output.
Microsoft Creators Update by itself doesn’t have much of a visible manifestation. I got it myself a couple of weeks ago, and changes seem minimal. But it does enable certain features, like the totem capability. The totem is a round piece of plastic that looks more or less like a fancy upside-down cup and sits on Canvas. Wherever the totem is, the operating system picks up its presence and triggers a round control application, making it into an active dial. For example, the user can be dialing precise color changes with one hand while drawing with the other.
The highly integrated Canvas surface is a 27” sheet of anti-glare Corning Gorilla Glass with QHD resolution (2560x1440 pixels). Canvas can support more than 1 billion colors and the full Adobe RGB color gamut. In terms of input, it supports 20 points of touch (that’s all your fingers AND all your toes — at the same time!) and an electromagnetic-resonance driven two-button Dell Canvas Pen. For touch and pen, it can detect 2048 level of pressure, making for natural, finely graded input.
The main display and Canvas divide the labor neatly into intermediate or final output (main) and control systems (Canvas). For example, Canvas can have controls for movie editing laid out on it while the actual movie is playing on the main screen. This type of immediate feedback allows creative people to work quickly, adjusting things and seeing the results in real time.
Naturally, Dell didn’t just invent a new input device and drop it into the market place. The workstation team spent years working with not only Microsoft but a host of application software providers (92 at launch). This latter group — which includes all the usual suspects: Adobe, Autodesk, Avid, Dassault, and others — helped do things like populate the totem icons and hook them up to software functionality. But Dell was “the center of the wheel,” as Rahul Tikoo, vice president and general manager of Dell’s Precision Workstation division put it.
While Hewlett-Packard (HP) does have something like Canvas, the Sprout Pro, it relies on cameras to track gestures. HP will likely bring out a new version of the Sprout to take advantage of Microsoft Creators Update. Lenovo has nothing in this category.
Canvas is available as of Aug. 1 in the United States starting at $1,799.