Microsoft's Surface Hub Cuts Conference Room Clutter

NEWS ANALYSIS: Go ahead and toss your video conference system, speakerphone and projector in the trash. They're obsolete.

Surface Hub Room

Nobody likes boring presentations, so I'll get right to the point. Microsoft's new Surface Hub digital whiteboard is so good and so affordable and so well suited for its purpose that it makes existing conference room equipment instantly obsolete.

The Surface Hub is essentially a giant tablet built from the ground up to live in corporate conference rooms and replace every piece of equipment therein (except for the table and chairs).

When you walk into a Surface Hub conference room (as I had occasion to do last week at Microsoft's San Francisco offices) you immediately notice two things. First, the Surface Hub is beautiful. It's minimalist and appealing, somehow managing to be both professional and cool-looking.

Microsoft makes a range of mounts, from roller mounts to wall-mounted models to floor mounts and even hybrids, which sticks the Surface Hub to the wall, but gets support from the floor (the big Hub weighs about 280 pounds and the smaller one about 105 pounds) so they can use the extra support.

Furthermore, it's always in a kind of "on" state with a muted image on screen. Forget about starting every meeting with awkward connectivity, login, setup and the usual conference-call gymnastics. Touch the screen, the Surface Hub instantly springs to life and your meeting has already begun.

Once on, you notice that the screen is conspicuously high-resolution (the larger unit displays 4k resolution and the smaller one is 1080p) and that it responds to the user. So if you're using an app that has on-screen controls on one side, the controls will switch sides when you move to the other side of the screen.

The Surface Hub responds to touch controls, including swipes, pinching and all the rest, with ultra high-resolution images on screen responding instantly. (The display and touch sensor are coordinated to refresh at a whopping 120Hz, which means the display refreshes every 8.33 milliseconds.)

It really shines with a purpose-built pen, which feels just like using a marker on a whiteboard. Each Surface Hub comes with two battery-powered pens, which Microsoft claims have "sub-pixel accuracy," as well as a Microsoft keyboard.

Ten people can each put all ten fingers on the screen at once, and the Surface Hub will register and respond to every finger. (Plus, it can handle three simultaneous pen inputs.)

Two very wide-angle HD cameras, which offer a 100-degree horizontal field of view, connect remote participants to the meeting.

A four-element microphone array both targets human speaking voices directionally and also isolates the sound to eliminate environmental noise. Two front-facing speakers broadcast the voices and videos of remote participants.

The Surface Hub also harvests contextual information through passive infrared presence sensors and ambient light sensors.

Surface Hub connects via Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication. Meeting participants can connect over the Internet or directly to the Hub via Bluetooth. The NFC support enables app developers to authenticate users, even using the same badge that employees use to access the building.

Microsoft teased the Surface Hub at its Redmond, Wash., Windows 10 event January 21, but the elephant in the living room was the price. Now we know: The 84-inch device retails for $19,999 while the 55-inch version costs $6,999.