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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  • madspartus - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    I think something that a lot of people are overlooking is that gaming laptops almost all substantially downclock when not plugged into power. I think the design of this specifically focuses on running full tilt on battery and also being able to hot-swap the battery. The combination of those two capabilities excludes about >95% of gaming laptops.

    I would love to be wrong, so if someone knows what laptops run full speed when on battery, and can also hot-swap the battery, please let me know.
  • fanofanand - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    Yeah for that massive 1 hour of time you get with it. This would be viable in 5-10 years when that much processing power fits in a wristwatch or glasses. having to buy and wear a computer on your back and it only lasts an hour? Gimme a break.
  • Zan Lynx - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    It's a backpack. People routinely carry 30 pound packs just with school books. A 25 pound lithium ion battery would run this for a lot longer than one hour.

    I don't know if they plan to do that, but they could.
  • Murloc - Thursday, June 2, 2016 - link

    so you would look forward to putting on a 30 pounds backpack to do some gaming where you have to move around?

    School books are unhealthy and so is this.
  • JeffFlanagan - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    This won't be necessary in a few years, when wireless that can run at 90fps is available.
    This is a niche product, very useful for some of us, and no one should give you a break when you're commenting on something that has nothing to do with you at all.
  • fanofanand - Friday, June 3, 2016 - link

    I am not challenging your statement that this is useful to some, but please tell me the use case this is helpful in. In what scenario is the best solution to carry a desktop in your backpack? As to your final sentence, I find that preposterous. You are telling me that nobody on the internet is allowed to comment on any articles that do not directly have something to do with them? Are you the de facto internet police? gtfo
  • fanofanand - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    Terrible idea. I cannot see this being popular.
  • bery - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    This seems like a rather pointless exercise. I can understand that having wires attached might decrease immersion of VR experiences, but wouldn't wearing a hot and heavy backpack PC be much the same? Besides, the battery can't last a significant amount of time without introducing more weight and accurate positional tracking will still require external sensors, which aren't easily portable.
  • Murloc - Thursday, June 2, 2016 - link

    yeah this is like the suitcase mobile phone.
  • HomeworldFound - Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - link

    I would've invested in a system involving the penis instead, that's where the money is.

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