HP and MSI are working on concept ‘PC on your back’ projects (often known as backtops) which opens the door to untethered PC-level virtual reality experiences by allowing you to carry around your VR experience without those trailing cables.

A relatively new area for personal computing, but one I think we’ll see some significant growth in the medium term, are PC’s built with not only portability in mind, but wearability too. Specifically, to give VR enthusiasts the option, whilst waiting for wireless video technologies to catch up, to carry their PC VR powerhouse feeding their choice of VR headset around with them. Although this may sound like an uncomfortable compromise, and it probably will be, it does allow the option to enhance immersion by negating those nagging, dragging cables. This is, of course, the path that the virtual reality theme park The Void are using to power their out of home mixed reality immersive experiences.

We wrote recently that miniature computing specialist Zotac had jumped on, or perhaps created, this particular bandwagon a couple of weeks ago as they released their own video featuring their own ‘backtop’ PC. Now both HP and MSI are getting in on the action, releasing concept imagery of similar products.

hp-vr-backpack-omen-all

hp-vr-backpack-side-720x720First up is HP’s sleek and ‘gamer’ design oriented ‘Omen’ backtop. Just a concept at present, this high-end PC is said by HP to target a carry weight of just 10lbs with integrated fans to cool the internals. The new WIP system will form part of HP’s Omen X line of performance, VR Ready PC’s but will also reportedly feature the ability to switch out the system’s battery (said to last just an hour), without shutting it down. Judging by the shots of the concept being worn (right), we’re assuming this is based on a gaming-spec laptop as it looks very compact, something you’d perhaps not be too miffed at carrying around in search of that ultimate VR experience.

vr-msi-backpack

In the wake of Zotac’s announcement, but slightly ahead of HP is PC hardware specialist MSI. Its offering looks less ambitious than the HP concept, and a whole lot more ugly, but according to it’s website, will pack a full fat Core i7 CPU along with a Nvidia GTX 980 graphics card to boot. Unfortunately, the section for what MSI calls a “breathtaking Backpack PC” is otherwise light on technical details – notably size and weight. Here’s hoping ‘breathless’ isn’t referring to the amount of effort it might take to lug around.

zotac-zbox-for-vr

The reason why I think this trend may catch is that those interested in engaging in room-scale virtual reality either need to dedicate a room to the purpose, including a VR capable PC and Lighthouse base-stations installed, or they lug equipment to and from rooms. These wearable solutions make the prospect of temporarily taking over a room big enough for a decent HTC Vive session seem a lot less onerous. Whether these low profile, portable systems will manage to pack enough battery life to balance that inconvenience however is as yet unknown, and we’re not expecting these somewhat niche items to be cheap either.

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  • Mysticeti

    RIft is mentioned in the title but how would backtops help Rift users given that the Rift’s sensor(s) must remain stationary and are connected via USB?

    • So, so true.

    • moodybyname

      Oculus made the decision to limit the rift to a seated experience before seeing what the world wanted, or what the future might hold. It seemed a bit arrogant to be telling people what they would prefer, before the public even knew (a bit Apple-y of them). At some point they will have to undo all that and jump on the room scale experience bandwagon. Yes touch is coming and yes they say theoretically the rift will be able to do room-scale if you get another sensor, but Oculus still say the touch games will be a seated experience. Having tried room scale, it clearly is the future if VR is to have a future.

      • alxslr

        Hope they realize soonner than later. Some things can’t be undone already, like the shorter Oculus cable. Others can be rectified before the year ends -if the technology allows it-, like the shockingly absurd two-frontal-sensors configuration.

        You can even say that *maybe* *some* people will prefer seated experiences *sometimes*. But you can not in any way argue that to offer a seated-only solution or even seated + standing 180 frontal, is better than a seated+standing+360 room scale one.

        • Oculus can do seated & standing 360 degree tracking out of the box now, it just doesn’t have motion controls until fall.

      • Noxas

        Dead and Buried is room scale though, and that’s made by them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRvC8wq9-WM

        • RavnosCC

          3 words. Space Pirate Trainer.

          Now, clearly SPT not multiplayer (yet), but man, when those things zoom up and over your head and you have to 180, aiming up, sideways, pull out a shield, deflect, dodge, both guns firing in opposite directions, using positional audio to tell where they are and nailing them off screen, jumping around… I mean, WOW is all I gotta say… Dead and Burried looks quite tame unfortunately.

  • Make it double as a laptop and throw in a haptic vest with backup batteries and we can have a conversation.

    • DonGateley

      With Windows Remote Desktop (RDP) or something like AnyDesk you can effect that from any laptop that is network connected. I use a single laptop to manage a menagerie of older and special purpose computers on my LAN.

      I’m up for this or a competitor as soon as I can get a few to select from. VR is getting just too interesting to not be able to follow along experientially.

      • Remote Desktop can make a backtop into a laptop with a haptic vest and backup batteries? I feel like we may be experiencing a misunderstanding.

        • DonGateley

          Sorry, I only meant to point out that one of your requirements is already easily met. The rest is up to you. :-)

          • Up to me? Oh… that’s no good. No good for any of us. I’ve got a pretty full afternoon already…

            In any case, I’d still prefer to have direct access to the device rather than necessitating additional hardware just to speak to the thing. Kind of cuts down on the portability aspect.

          • DonGateley

            Indeed. I just figure that I will need some kind of keyboard/mouse/display unit to communicate with it in any case so why not that old netbook I’ve got over there. Or my Dell VENUE 8 Pro tablet that runs Win 10 in a pinch. The cool thing is that I can already do that now among my systems, so adding another headless system is not a big deal. But I digress…

          • I’ve run remote desktops from my Android phone before. I’m sure it’s really not much of a problem if you’re willing to go to the trouble. Just seems like a silly way to design a device that’s ostensibly portable, and it really cuts down on the value it proposes to require the user to either create a network and supply an additional computer of some sort, or carry around a keyboard, mouse and monitor – especially when an extra $25 in parts and about 1/2 hour of engineering could solve the problem from the outset.

  • How about a device on your back that streams your PC games to you. Would that be hard for VR?

  • Mark Lapasa

    I would imagine University of Toronto’s Dr. Steve Mann must be pretty excited about this potentially going mainstream – https://youtu.be/z82Zavh-NhI?t=2m7s

  • Kai2591

    This is cool and all but yeah: the battery life is the major issue here.

  • Definitely a VIVE device. If I had a few extra Lighthouses, couple of Tripods, I could see taking this to a warehouse. Do the Lighthouses need walls to work? If not, might even consider taking the whole thing outdoors…

    • Johnny Virgil

      They need wall OUTLETS, for sure.

  • Johnny Virgil

    It gets rid of *one* cable. Well, moves one cable – it is still necessary to connect the Vive to the backpack computer with two cables, this is not a wireless solution. You also still need the lighthouses mounted and connected to power sources. Some bobbleheads have been complaining about the weight of the Vive itself, imagine how they will fall on their backs while wearing one of these. The only thing this thing accomplishes is getting one cable off the floor, which can be done for about $10 by screwing a hook into your ceiling.

  • Tom_Craver

    A step in the right direction. Get out of cluttered livingrooms into the backyard or park or gym or multi-player VR night at the old rollerskate rink. A lot of improvements will soon be directed at making such use easier and better.

  • Nemo

    Do you want to enjoy games, fittness, education with a real treadmill to walk and run (not dragg your feet) freely with your shoes, then come and enjoy SpaceWalkerVR. It is really fantastic.

  • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    A much more simple wireless hdmi and USB setup that includes some sort of battery would work much better without having to buy yet another computer. Plus you’d still need a place to hook up the censors for the headset.

  • hamit keles

    Very good solution for usin with SpaceWalkerVR
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9GSLHcx8iI