Virtual reality gaming promises to drive demand for higher-performance graphics cards as well as richer game content. But even before the first AAA VR games make their debut, computer manufacturers are inventing a new PC form-factor specifically for virtual reality gaming: backpack PCs. Truth to be told, the concept of such systems sounds somewhat odd, but HP and MSI think it's worth investigating ahead of any attempts at commercialization.

Virtual reality gear changes the way we perceive games, whereas specially designed controllers (e.g., Oculus Touch) are supposed to change the way we interact with video games. Meanwhile, backpack PCs are expected improve the way we feel VR video games by enabling relative freedom of movements by making wiring of the VR headsets a little more comfortable.  

Backpack PCs are essentially fully-fledged personal computers without displays, which are integrated into special backpacks, which can then be worn and used to play games. For example, MSI’s Backpack PC contains Intel’s mobile Core i7 Extreme processo as well as NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 980 graphics adapter along with RAM, SSD, networking capabilities and so on. Meanwhile, HP’s Omen X VR Backpack Concept integrates an Intel Core i5/i7 CPU as well as up to 32 GB of memory (which implies on rather high-end specs in general). The HP backpack PC features only one HDMI output, two USB ports as well as an audio jack (everything one needs to connect the HTC Vive) and a power input. As of now, the Omen X VR Backpack Concept has a battery that only lasts an hour, but allows swapping bats without shutting the PC down. Both systems are compatible with wireless keyboards and mice, so users can navigate typical Windows apps (or rather solve problems with software) with relative convenience.

Because it is not possible to build wireless VR headsets due to latency issues right now, backpack PCs can indeed improve VR experience. However, keep in mind that Oculus Rift’s positional tracking system (the Constellation) connects to PCs using a USB cable, which means that while the backpack PC can enable some additional freedom of movement compared to conventional desktops or laptops, it still needs to connect to the Constellation IR LED sensor for positional tracking. With the HTC Vive everything is a little easier since the tracking system does not need to be connected to the PC itself.

HP plans to supply its Omen X VR Backpack Concept to select software developers in the coming weeks. This will help the company not only to ensure that makers of apps take such PCs into account when they create their programs, but will eventually provide them with valuable input regarding necessary design and features. In addition, the backpack PCs are going to be used in various VR showrooms to demonstrate advantages of virtual reality.

It is unknown if and when backpack PCs will make it to the market, and how much companies like MSI or HP intend to charge for such systems.

Right now, the backpack PCs help game developers to design games, which will be used with wireless VR headsets when and if they emerge. However, it is unclear how comfortable it is to play a game with a PC on your back, albeit, a small one. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether backpack PCs can be commercially successful.

Sources: MSI, Tom’s Guide, The Verge.

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  • osxandwindows - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    Could I possibly connect this thing to an external display and use it like a normal pc?
  • osxandwindows - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    Also, will it run crysis?
  • JeffFlanagan - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    Of course, it is a normal PC, but you'd be better off with a laptop for non-VR needs.
  • JeffFlanagan - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    Anyone who would spend the money on a backpack computer for VR should have a Vive, rather than the limited VR system pictured at the top of the article.

    With the Oculus, the cable out of your head doesn't matter much, because you're not moving around much. With the Vive, you're all over the room, so the cable becomes a serious annoyance, and possibly even a danger to the user.
  • TylerGrunter - Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - link

    I can't agree less with you. You may be right NOW, but the plan for Oculus is to add the interaction with the Oculus Touch. And and that point you would love to have the backpack computer as much as you would wit Vive.
    Both systesm will have very similar features when that happens.
  • mckirkus - Friday, June 3, 2016 - link

    His point is that the stationary rift tracking camera has to be connected to the PC via a USB cable. So you would need to run a cable from the backpack out to the camera. The Vive has wireless tracking so there is no need for a cable.
  • FlyingAarvark - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    So, like a gaming laptop. Just without the screen. Hope shaving off that $10 TN panel drops the price on these to about $1000 less than the equivalent gaming laptop. Because otherwise there's absolutely no point to this other than for custom use.
  • Roland00Address - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    These use a desktop video card, but otherwise you are right with 1 model using desktop cpus and the other using laptop cpus.
  • Eschaton - Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - link

    Not even remotely close to the truth. These are full desktop parts - both CPU and GPU - you won't be doing any serious VR gaming on laptops for the foreseeable future, which is why HP and MSI went to the extreme of designing a whole new form factor concept in order to accommodate the new problem of needing mobility + desktop level performance.
  • Schecter1989 - Sunday, June 5, 2016 - link that article again genius. states in it they used mobile i7's with a GTX 980 on the MSI backpack PC. Also nowhere in there does it state its the 980 for laptops or the actual desktop 980 with its full TDP version. The secondary OMEN pc does state it uses i5/i7's but does not say mobile or desktop. Dont know where you get information or how you use PC's but a quad core mobile i7 or even a quad core variant mobile i5 will do VR just fine, paired with the correct GPU of course. Go check actual parts and specifications before making stupid claims like that. Just shows how ignorant you are. Try actually doing a google search with "VR laptop" and low and behold, there are people showing VR use with a laptop, and nowhere at low framerates or subpar performance. More showing VR tests with laptops finishing in the fully "VR Ready" test category.

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