New Backpack PCs Look to Make VR More Mobile

Strap on a Powerful Gaming PC for More Immersive Virtual Reality

MSI VR One virtual reality backpack PC
VR One. ©Mirco-Star INT'L LTD
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Would You Get a VR Computer To Wear On Your Back?

Virtual reality is one of the big things right now for PC entertainment. The ability to be immersed in your games or visit remote locations can be quite appealing. The one drawback is that you are still tied to your PC via the various wires that run between it and the headset. But what if you could take your PC with you so that you would have more freedom to move about?

That is precisely what a number of companies including Dell, HP and MSI are looking to do.

One of the biggest issues with virtual reality right now is the amount of computing power that is needed to do the accurate simulations. At this point, desktop hardware is pretty much required due to the complex graphics computations needing high end graphics processors. Even the recent and affordable AMD Radeon RX 480 still draws a fair amount of power. This means that a portable computer like a laptop is not really a viable option leaving users tethered to their desktop systems in order to play their VR games.

Of course desktops don't need to be the massive size they once were. Small form factor systems are becoming much more popular and yet they still can pack in a lot of performance. The graphics are still a major issue though as they require a large amount of space for cooling their high end processors not to mention the power.

Thus a more mobile platform like a laptop just does not work because they lack the performance not to mention the design for cooling the components.

The computer industry solution to this is design a specialized PC that can be worn like a backpack. These virtual reality ready PCs mix together mobile and desktop technologies that try to balance the amount of power required, size of the components and performance to get a system that offers a suitable VR gaming experience without being extremely bulky or heavy.

In fact, systems have been able to get as light as several pounds but that is without the necessary batteries and even then there are restrictions.

Supplying power to all the necessary components is the big issue holding back the adoption of mobile virtual reality computing. Even high end gaming laptops with large battery packs generally cannot last more than and hour without being plugged into a wall. With the added demands of a virtual reality headset, large batteries need to be carried to make the backpack systems truly mobile. This adds weight such that the PCs with their power packs often weight upwards of ten pounds.

Even with the large power packs, you will often get less than two hours of power with the multiple battery packs supplied due to the amount of power demanded by the system. Then again, most people probably will not be playing the VR games for longer than this due to comfort of having to wear all the gear. At least most of the designs use multiple power packs. This means that one battery could be swapped out for a fresh one to keep things running without the need to power down and start over.

The systems are not completely mobile either. In order for the virtual reality of these systems to work, they generally require cameras and sensors positioned within a space.

Without these sensors, many of the systems have extremely limited capabilities not much different than what is being demonstrated with small virtual reality headsets based on mobile phones.

Sadly, none of these virtual reality backpacks is available directly for consumer purchase right now. Instead they are being marketed at businesses wanted to set up virtual reality arcades. In addition, the companies have not announced the prices for the systems. Currently, most traditional virtual reality ready PCs cost about $1000 and up. It is likely that these specialty systems come with a hefty price premium over that as in addition to just the PC components such as the required batteries packs, chargers and harnesses that would need to be provided.