New Features In The Adobe Photoshop Update!

AI is here!  Fortunately our robot overlords have refrained from annihilating us and instead want to help us curate and edit our pictures.  All jokes aside, Adobe has developed a collection of deep learning algorithms they call Sensei.  They initially debuted these tools for tracking facial recognition and replacing backgrounds in mobile photo editing apps and apparently the technology is ready for professional prime time.

The new technology debuts in a feature called “Select Subject.”

Select subject at work.

Any photo editor knows that one of the biggest pains in the stylus is the arduous process of isolating images from the background for modification or deletion.  Hours are spent meticulously manipulating brush and pen tools to create intricate masks to achieve this goal.  Select subject seeks to eliminate this process and save photo editing savants and hobbyists alike a lot of time and energy.

It’s not perfect.  The tool has varying levels of success depending on the complexity of the image.  Results tend to be close enough for a decent starting point that a creative can work from.  The better the separation from the background, the better the results.  Green screen shoots should be a breeze with this tech.

The other new addition to this version of Photoshop is nominal but nothing to dismiss.  Microsoft Dial functionality has been expanded to incorporate more brushes that can be summoned on the fly.  Adobe touts that is allows you to “easily change brush parameters including size, opacity, and other brush settings — right as you paint.”

Overall this update was pretty minimal but the new AI deep learning powered “Select Subject” feature keeps Photoshop at the head of the image editing pack!

HP Sprout Pro G2

HP visited Duke’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) this morning to provide an overview of their Sprout Pro G2. Describing the Sprout is a tricky thing to do considering the unique capabilities of the device. As HP was quick to mention, there really isn’t anything else like Sprout on the market, and until seeing it function, I assumed they were exaggerating… I was wrong.

At the heart of the system is a robust all-in-one Windows 10 computer (i7 processor, advanced graphics, 16GB of RAM, wireless keyboard/mouse, etc.), all the things you’d expect in a higher-end computer. What makes the Sprout unique is that it has built-in dual screens, one consisting of a traditional monitor and the other being a downward facing projector. The projector projects on a touch sensitive pad (HP calls it the Touch Mat) that easily connects to the base of the unit. The device defaults to extended desktop (one on top of the other), which can take a moment for novice users to fully understand. Both screens are touch sensitive, but the Touch Mat can also be used in conjunction with a stylus, and is a joy to use with minimal lag and various levels of pressure sensitivity. It does feel like you are writing on paper. If HP had stopped here with the Sprout, I’d have been impressed. It would have been a nice classroom computer with touch surfaces, annotation, and a document camera built in.

But wait, there is more… in 3D! The Sprout Pro G2 also offers up 3D scanning in two flavors. The first is a “quick scan” mode where you take an object and hold it under the projector. As you run the software and slowly rotate the object, the computer begins to create a 3D model of the item. The scull that HP provided worked very well, but some other items at the TEC didn’t scan as well (perhaps because of their symmetric nature, reflective material, etc). These scans are ideal for simply creating 3D objects for viewing on a computer or virtual environment, and not really for 3D printing.

The second method of scanning is considerably more accurate, using the 14-megapixel camera, but can be a bit more time consuming. In software, you set the level of accuracy you are looking to achieve, and the device scans the item over multiple captures. The level of accuracy was impressive.

No digital media demo would be complete without a few minor hiccups that HP identified as either an issue with a piece of software, our demo unit, or was an update on the near horizon. For example, we weren’t able to share the content from the projector to the TEC monitor. But, HP assured us that this was an issue with our unit.

As with all well-supported technologies, the Sprout Pro G2 receives regular updates, so it will be interesting to see where this device is in 2-6 months. I’d also be interested to see how well this device would perform in a classroom environment. Overall, this is a very interesting piece of technology, especially considering the took place at Duke’s Technology Engagement Center, the de facto hub for all things 3D in the area.

Instaxshare SP-2 Printer Brings the Polaroid Experience To Your Smartphone

Growing up in the 80’s (yeah I just revealed my age, sue me, I’m old) instant gratification was virtually nonexistent.  Cartoons only came on Saturdays, to buy music you had to go to an actual store and give people money, and if you wanted a picture you had to ship your analog film off to a lab and pray that everything came back alright.  The only exception to this experience were Polaroid cameras which allowed you to shoot directly onto special contact film that developed magically right before your eyes while you gave yourself carpal tunnel syndrome in your wrist waving it around to hasten the process.

 

Surprisingly, Polaroid is still alive and kicking with revamped cameras for the digital age but what if you want that same instant gratification experience with a little more bang for your buck?

 

Enter the Fujifilm Instaxshare SP-2 Printer.  No, it can’t take photos (and no you don’t shake it to get results) but this specialized printer does what it does pretty well.

Paired with a smartphone, you can set up your own photo development studio anywhere.  The device prints onto Fujifilm’s Instax instant film.  There’s no ink.  The printer does its magic using OLEDs to expose the image.

 

It’s faster than its predecessor and sharper as well.  Each photo takes about 10 seconds to print and a few minutes to develop at 70 cents a pop.  The cost actually goes down if you buy the film in bulk.  The jury is out as to whether shaking it will hasten the process however.

 

The Instaxshare SP-2 uses a rechargeable battery via a USB port and printing to the device requires Wi-Fi and a special app developed by Fuji.  You can print directly from your phone or you can print photos from social media sites like Facebook and Instagram complete with likes and time stamps.

 

The price point of $200 may be off putting to some with cheaper options on the market but overall the speed and the quality of this second-generation device seem to make up for it.

Microsoft Surface Event

Microsoft visited the Technology Engagement Center (TEC) on Duke’s campus to showcase their Microsoft Surface line of touch devices. From its humble beginnings in 2012, the touch-focused Surface line of portable computers from Microsoft has matured and expanded to include five unique hardware variations. The Surface Pro, Surface Book, and Surface Laptop are meant to provide three flavors of mobile computing for Windows users. While rather similar, the core differences between the three devices are power consumption, weight, screen size, and keyboard flexibility. If you want an iPad-like tablet that runs the full version of Windows 10 and has a portable keyboard and pen option, you’ll want to look at the Surface Pro. On the other hand, if you simply want a traditional laptop with built-in touch capabilities, keep your eye on the Surface Laptop. The Surface Book falls somewhere in the middle of the three devices in terms of a detachable keyboard, power consumption, etc. From a classroom technology standpoint, these devices are ideal for annotating PowerPoint slides, graphing, and note taking, while connected to the local AV system.

The Microsoft Surface Studio is meant to replace a traditional desktop computer, but adds an articulating 28” touch-screen monitor that is simply a joy to use as both a traditional monitor and as a drawing surface. Sure, it’s still a desktop computer, but it’s clear Microsoft has considered many alternative ways that educators, artists, and designers could use the touch-driven device to convey information. With minimal latency and a top down approach to hardware/operating system/software integration, the drawing capabilities are the best I’ve seen, seeming very natural to use. This is the first device where I’ve thought, “I hardly notice the technology” when annotating on top of a PowerPoint. With a few Schools deploying Surface Studios for the fall semester, I’ll be curious to see how they are received.

The final Surface device, not showcased at the TEC due to size/weight limitations, was the Microsoft Surface Hub. With wall and cart mounting options, the Microsoft Surface Hub comes in two sizes (84” and 55”) and seems to be an even larger version of the Surface Studio, but with a focus on collaborative meeting spaces. The DDMC is planning to take a trip to Microsoft’s offices in Raleigh this summer to see one in action.

Wacom’s MobileStudio Pro

Following up on Wacom’s Companion series, the MobileStudio Pro doubles down on power and capability. If you’re looking for the functionality of a tablet-aided desktop on the go, it’s an incredible tool. Even more so than the Companion, the MobileStudio Pro feels like a tablet built for professional designers, and less so one for the average tablet user. For our purposes in producing academic media, the MobileStudio would be great for a course on art or design, but its hard to envision another context where we would need the 8,192 levels of pressure it provides.

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Affinity Photo Advanced Photo Editing

For those high end photo editors among us who have always assumed Photoshop was the only game in town, you might want to take a look at Affinity Photo, a Mac-only app that is making waves. Affinity is considered a serious Photoshop rival, and now that it’s poised for a major upgrade, version 1.5, it’s a good time to take a look. Some of the coolest new features offered in 1.5 include  including the ability to merge and edit HDR images with granular control and apply some of those tools to non HDR images, and sophisticated new 360 degree image editing tools, including the ability to insert objects while retaining perspective within the 360 degree frame. Other new features include:

• New workspace for tone mapping
• Focus stacking to bring depth to multiple combined images
• Batch processing
• Macros to record and replay a set of commands

This short video does a good job of demonstrating the top new features: