Virtual reality is steadily coming into its own with a slew of new products on show this year at Computex. And some are not what you'd expect.
Prior to this year’s show, three companies, HP, gaming giant MSI and mini PC maker Zotac, announced a new form factor: Backpack VR PCs. Yep, a whole PC in a backpack that you can wear while playing VR games.
MSI and Zotac promised to have their products at the event so naturally we were keen to seek them out.
HP Omen X
HP’s Omen X was demoed onstage at Intel’s keynote speech, where two players in different real life locations entered the same VR shoot out game - an exciting development indeed. Sadly, this is the most we managed to get to see of the Omen X so far at the show. Details are scarce but we gather that it is kitted out with Intel’s Core i7 CPU and is expected to weigh around 4.5kg.
Thankfully though, MSI and Zotac were on the show floor offering demonstrations, both running with the HTC Vive headset and controllers.
The two backpack PCs are vastly different in terms of aesthetics. MSI’s looks futuristic and is all shiny red metal. Zotac has gone for a far simpler approach. It almost looks like a Janus backpack.
This may turn out to be a smart move however, as the netting definitely allows the unit to stay cool. We tried one on at the end of the day which had been running steadily (presumably they were just switching out the battery) and it was only slightly warm.
The MSI Backpack PC runs on a Core i7 processor and the Zotac on Core i5, but we didn’t notice much difference in terms of performance. They were both running on Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 980 graphics card.
Zotac Mobile VR
Zotac spent three months developing its Mobile VR PC which is based on its current, build-your-own Magnus EN980. That comes with an optional 1TB hard drive and the manufacturer has taken out the liquid cooling system and replaced it with two fans.
Unlike the Omen X, which reportedly has the battery in the belt, Zotac has placed it at the bottom of the backpack. The company reckons the battery will last around one-and-a-half hours, which is in line with the estimation for the MSI model.
The Zotac model also weighs in at around 4.5kg and when we put it on it was surprisingly comfortable.
The shoulder straps are well padded and padding on the back panel of the rucksack allows for an air gap between the wearer and the PC. There is also a supporting strap to go around the waist but this is hardly needed. Kids lug around heavier schoolbags than this slung over one shoulder. The rucksack is rugged, well stitched and looks durable.
Another plus for the Zotac is it was the only company we talked to that seemed to have a reasonably solid launch plan. It mentioned a November release in the UK with an estimated (but certainly not confirmed) price of around $2,000 (£1,400).
MSI Backpack PC
The MSI model has no firmed up launch date beyond a vague "probably Q3". There was also no comment on the probable price as the specs are still not finalised.
The metal-bodied pack weighs in at under 5kg. You pick it up using a metal handle which is part of the body of the pack. This looks great, but is really a style point rather than necessity - the Zotac pack manages the same load with a regular handle.
The frame and a thick padded strap keep the pack lifted away from the user’s back. The MSI waist support also features holsters for handheld controllers. There’s also a cross chest support strap too.
The pack felt fairly comfortable and, like the Zotac, the cables are well out the user’s way as they come out of the top of the pack.
We look forward to these products hitting the market. The VR experience is really enhanced by the feeling of freedom that these backpack PCs offer with their user-friendly solutions, sure it’s going to be pricey but we think it’s could well be worth it.