HP's PC group cranks up design, gaming efforts ahead of spin-off

HP's PC group is trying to establish a strong brand identity before it splits into a separate company

HP Pavilion desktops

HP Pavilion desktops

HP's PC group doesn't want to be a "screwdriver" PC maker making look-alike laptops and desktops, and it is focusing heavily on design and new innovations as it prepares for a spin-off into a separate company.

The company is focusing on cutting the plastic and adding metal and new colors to the chassis of its laptops and desktops. HP also is expanding its hardware options for consumers, businesses and gamers, and focusing on a future when virtual reality will be an important part of the computing experience.

PC makers need to update the devices because customers are paying more attention to how devices look and function, said Mike Nash, vice president for consumer PC and solutions at HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group.

The gradual changes come ahead of Hewlett-Packard's split of its PC and enterprise groups into two separate companies. The PC group will be known as HP Inc., and HP's goal is to establish a committed fan-base for its PCs, much like Apple. The spin-off is expected to be completed by the end of fiscal 2015.

One example of changes to the PC group is the company's new Pavilion desktops, which will ship in the coming month with a metal chassis and in multiple colors. That's a change from decades of plastic chassis, and the metal finish provides the PCs with a classier look. But with prices starting at $349, the desktops are also more expensive than previous models with plastic chassis.

HP is also actively pushing immersive computing into its PCs and tablets, much like what Microsoft is doing with its HoloLens holographic headset. HP last year started shipping Sprout all-in-one PC, which allows users to scan a 3D object via a RealSense camera and then manipulate the image on a specialized Touch Mat surface. HP has also showed the 23.6-inch Zvr "virtual reality" monitor, which projects 3D images into thin air. Those images can then be navigated, zoomed and manipulated by a stylus without the need to touch the monitor's screen.

The Sprout and Zvr provide a new spin on 3D technology, and the products are closely tied to HP's burgeoning 3D printing strategy. HP is bringing the ability to scan, project and manipulate 3D images on more PCs and tablets. Users will then be able to print scanned objects on the company's 3D printer, due for release in late 2016.

HP also needs to work harder to attract gamers to its PCs, a fast-growing market within the PC sector, Nash said. Gaming PCs have largely been the domain of boutique companies like Falcon Northwest and Origin PC, but Dell has stepped up its game with Alienware PCs, and Acer is targeting the market with a range of PC, mobile and display products.

"Branding wise, we have work to do," Nash said.

HP earlier this month introduced Envy Phoenix Desktop, its first gaming desktop that can be overclocked. The liquid-cooled system, which is priced starting at US$1,499, ships with a two-year warranty, saving gamers from the risks of overclocking. Overclocking involves cranking up CPU speeds, but the heat generated as a result can damage components.

HP is also paying attention to Steam, a popular PC gaming platform that allows users to buy games and connect with other gamers. Nash didn't say whether the company will come out with a dedicated Steam machine based on Steam OS. Competitor Dell is planning to sell Steam machine using its Alienware Alpha gaming console, which currently runs on Windows 8.1.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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