HP Z1 Workstation: A Collapsible Powerhouse for Field Encoding

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While Las Vegas, Nevada, isn't necessarily known for true love, HP used it as the backdrop for a Valentine's Day surprise: the all-in-one 27-inch inch HP Z1 workstation. With it's compact shape and modular design, it looks like a strong choice for video and media production companies shooting remote events.

"Bringing the power of our best-in-class workstations to firms that have either space or budget constraints, we think the HP Z1 combines a game-changing design with a customer experience that optimizes visual and computing performance," says Jim Zafarana, an HP vice president and the general manager of HP's Commercial Solutions Business Unit.

In a keynote reveal during HP's Global Partnership Conference, Zafarana said the Z1 will help attract new customers and expand HP's undeniably dominant market leadership in the workstation arena.

"From concept to completion in less than eighteen months, we feel the Z1 is not only a powerful workstation -- complete with a one-billion-color pallet capability, thanks to our partnership with nVidia -- but also one that's designed to be upgraded," said Jeff Wood, vice president of marketing in the Commercial Solutions Business Unit.

To demonstrate the serviceability, Wood and Zafarana showed one of the unique features of the Z1: a collapsible stand that cushions the 27-inch monitor face up, with two latches that released to allow the monitor panel to flip up and away from the logic board, hard drive, graphics processing unit (GPU), and RAM.

All of these parts can be field serviced with no tools required -- in a nod to the same impressive feature in the Z800 series of workstations -- and even the processor can be upgraded with just the release of four screws.

HP Z1That modularity is most apparent in the GPU, where a user can choose from the basic 95-core Quadra 500 series or move up to 295 or 320 cores in the 3000 and 4000 series nVidia Quadro cards. The 4000 is capable of playing back five 4k streams in real-time, leveraging Adobe's Mercury Playback Engine, and is also capable of 1.07 billion viewable colors at 30 bits through nVidia's A-FRC technology.

While HP collaborated on design with BMW Designworks on its workstations, it appears most of the design for the Z1 was done not by the auto manufacturer's design shop, but by in-house designers trying to meet a tight, self-imposed deadline.

The reason for the deadline became obvious, as HP representatives kept referring to "other 27-inch all-in-one computers on the market" in a clear nod to the only other 27-inch integrated computer on the market: the Apple iMac. The HP presenters were careful not to name the competitor, but, when asked about the iMac, they demurred, saying they see the iMac only as a threat in the consumer market.

Given the compactness of the Z1's all-in-one design, we think this might have potential as a live field encoder. It has a robust SRS-based front-firing speaker system plus dual USB 3.0 ports, which the iMac lacks. It lacks the Thunderbolt port on a 27-inch iMac, but it has a feature that only Apple has had to date -- the ability to act as an external monitor for another workstation or laptop -- and its compactness means it can easily fit in a small fly-away case, something the iMac can't do.

One area that may keep the Z1 from fully replacing an appliance-based field encoder is that it lacks the touch-screen capability of encoders from Digital Rapids and others. The lack of touch capabilities appears, at first glance, to be a curious oversight since HP has had touch capabilities in its all-in-one consumer PCs for several years; yet the company said today that it sees the workstation market as one that has yet to catch up in terms of software for these types of applications.

"The finger is, frankly, a blunt instrument when it comes to fine-grained touch capabilities," said an HP representative. "It's fine for cropping a few photos or moving images around, but we don't yet see a compelling reason for touch in the workstation environment."

The Z1 will be available in April, 2012, with a base price of $1899. Check back for our comparison testing, after HP makes review units available.

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