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Microsoft's Surface Hub pen display costs from $6,999 to $19,999

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You'd be forgiven if you forgot what the Surface Hub is. After all, Microsoft announced it the same day as its futuristic HoloLens headset -- arguably the more interesting of the two products. Even so, though, the Hub is a compelling device in its own right: a big pen display designed for conference rooms, making it easier for employees to brainstorm, even if some people are tuning in remotely. We took one for a brief spin back in January, but at the time it was unclear when it would be available or how much it would cost. Today, Microsoft clarified that the 4K, 84-inch version we tried will cost $19,999 and go on sale in July, right around the time Windows 10 comes out. In addition, there will be a smaller, 55-inch version available for a much lower price of $6,999. (For the money, you get 1080p resolution on that one, which is just fine considering how relatively small the screen is.) Both should ship in early September.

Gallery: Microsoft Surface Hub press shots | 7 Photos

We know, we know: That sounds like a lot of money for what appears to just be a display. But keep in mind that the Surface Hub is actually a fully functioning Windows 10 PC, capable of running any app that would run on any other Windows machine. Also, Microsoft claims the price is competitive compared to traditional video-teleconference systems (the company estimates, for instance, that outfitting a room for 8 to 12 people would otherwise cost upwards of $38,000, nearly twice the price of the 84-inch model).

If nothing else, the Hub will be easier to use. Without logging into it, you can just walk up to the screen and start writing. The display comes with two pressure-sensitive pens, each of which attach magnetically to the side of the Hub and charge there, too. And because the display supports 100 simultaneous touch points, you can have multiple people writing at once, or doing things like holding and dragging elements across the screen. In our time with it, both at the launch event and a recent behind-closed-doors meeting, everything from writing to pinch-to-zoom felt smooth and controlled on the display. We're also fans of the display's matte, slightly textured finish: It doesn't feel slippery like other touchscreens, and it makes writing feel a little more natural as well.

Gallery: Microsoft Surface Hub hands-on | 21 Photos

Throughout, too, you can loop in remote coworkers via a built-in Skype app, as well as use any Miracast-enabled device (say, an Android phone or tablet) to wirelessly mirror the presentation. From there, you can "write back" notes from the Hub to these various devices, and anyone tuning in remotely will see the notes drawn in real-time, as if they were there in person. When you're finished with your meeting, you can press an "I'm done" button, have the device email you the notes, at which point it'll wipe itself before someone else uses the conference room. Can your current video-teleconference setup do that?

For the most part, it'll be corporate IT departments buying the Hub, and luckily for them, they can buy it through the same channels as, say, the Surface Pro. (Microsoft says it was important that businesses be able to purchase the Hub the same way they would traditional A/V gear.) Even if you're just a regular consumer, though, you might get your chance to play with the Hub after all: It will eventually be on display in Microsoft Stores, meaning anyone who walks in will be able to have some playtime.

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