HP Pushes Deeper Into VR With Mobile Workstation, Investments

The world's top PC vendor introduced its first VR-ready mobile workstation, the ZBook 17 G4, and its investment in The VR Fund capital venture effort.

HP ZBook

HP Inc., which earlier this month reclaimed the position of the world’s top PC vendor from rival Lenovo, is putting a strong emphasis on virtual reality in its current and future plans.

Company officials have rolled out the latest lineup of its ZBook mobile workstations that includes the ZBook 17 G4, which comes with Intel’s latest Xeon or Core processors, GPUs from Nvidia or Advanced Micro Devices, and other technologies that enable filmmakers, artists, engineers and other content creators to work with a mobile workstation that can come in virtual reality (VR)-ready configurations.

The system also offers up to 4TB of storage, DDR4 memory and dual Thunderbolt 3 ports. Particular configurations can enable users to take advantage of two graphics card options to create VR experiences at 90 frames per second (FPS).

At the same time, HP Tech Ventures—the investment arm of HP—reportedly has become an investor in The VR Fund, which has become one of the key investors in companies working on technologies in the VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality fields. It’s a fast-growing space that will have increasing importance in such areas as PCs and mobile devices and a wide range of markets, with venture capital investments in VR and AR hitting $1.8 billion last year. Expectations by Goldman Sachs analysts are that the market will grow to $80 billion by 2025, according to reports. HP already offers computers that can work with such VR devices as Vive and Oculus Rift headsets, and the company has an online site for customers interested in buying VR-ready products.

The introduction of the new VR-ready ZBook 17 and the investment in The VR Fund are the latest moves by HP officials to expand the company’s reach in the space.

“AR/VR is one of the most transformative categories in today’s technology landscape, and The VR Fund is one of the leading players in this ecosystem,” Andrew Bolwell, global head of HP Tech Ventures, said in a statement.

HP officials said the company began selling VR-ready desktop workstations last year. The ZBook 17 G4 is HP’s first mobile workstation with VR capabilities. The system, which is available now starting at $1,519, was one of four ZBook mobile workstations unveiled by HP this month, with the machines getting upgrades in 3D graphics and processor technologies and improved security. Among the new security features is HP Sure Start Gen3, which is a self-healing BIOS that includes encryption and authentication capabilities. The ZBook 17 can run on Intel’s Xeon E3 v6 or 7th generation Core i5 or i7 chips and Nvidia’s Quadro P5000 for VR content creation.

The ZBook Studio, which is aimed at such users as filmmakers, architects and engineers, is powered by Intel’s server or PC chips and Nvidia Quadro M2200 GPUs, offers up to 16.5 hours of battery life and provides up to 2TB of storage, dual HP Z Turbo Drives and dual Thunderbolt 3 ports that support 40Gb/s of bandwidth. The system, which is 18mm thin and weighs in at 4.6 pounds, also includes a DreamColor 4K UHD display.

The ZBook 15 runs on Intel’s Xeon or Core chips, Nvidia or AMD GPUs, and up to 3TB of storage, while the ZBook 14u is an Ultrabook that is the smallest and lightest of the new HP systems. It’s 22mm thin and weighs 3.61 pounds and comes with a 14-inch FHD display with optional touch capabilities. It’s powered by the Core processor and comes with AMD graphics, up to 32GB of memory and 2TB of storage. It complements the ZBook 15u, a mobile workstation with a 15-inch display that began shipping in January.

The ZBook Studio and 15 are available now, starting at $1,399 and $1,419, respectively. The pricing and availability of the ZBook 14u will be announced this summer.

The announcement of the new mobile workstations comes less than two weeks after IDC analysts announced that HP regained the position as the world’s top PC vendor, a spot the company last claimed in the first-quarter 2013. Lenovo eventually took over the No. 1 position, though HP had been creeping up on its rival in recent quarters.

At the same time, the global PC market—which has been pummeled by competition from mobile devices and by users holding onto their systems longer—in the first quarter grew 0.6 percent, the first growth in the space in five years.

"The traditional PC market has been through a tough phase, with competition from tablets and smartphones as well as lengthening lifecycles pushing PC shipments down roughly 30 percent from a peak in 2011," Jay Chou, research manager for IDC’s PCD Tracker, said in a statement earlier this month. "Nevertheless, users have generally delayed PC replacements rather than giving up PCs for other devices. The commercial market is beginning a replacement cycle that should drive growth throughout the forecast. Consumer demand will remain under pressure, although growth in segments like PC Gaming as well as rising saturation of tablets and smartphones will move the consumer market toward stabilization as well."