The ‘VR One’ from MSI debuts at the Tokyo Game Show this week. The backpack provides tetherless VR gameplay powered by NVIDIA’s 10-series GPUs with a hot-swappable battery for extended VR gaming without a tether.

Each time we try mobile VR, its untethered advantage over high-end VR is painfully obvious. The cabling for tethered headsets is neater than it used to be, but even a single thin cable is one too many. You never completely forget about it, and it’s a bad idea if you do (indeed those who use an HTC Vive regularly tend to develop a sixth sense of where the cable might be, so they’re not stumbling over all the time). Rift users will certainly experience similar problems once more room-scale experiences become available with the upcoming Oculus Touch motion controllers.

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See Also: Alienware is Building a Backpack PC for Virtual Reality

One solution—besides wireless transmission technology which simply isn’t ready for VR yet—is to squeeze the PC (and a battery) into a backpack, so that you are carrying all the power needed for the VR experience on your person, and can move freely. We saw early attempts with small-form factor PCs or laptops with desktop-class GTX 980 GPUs crammed into backpacks, but they left much room for improvement.

MSI’s GTX 980-equipped ‘Backpack PC’ shown at Computex in May was probably the most complete prototype, but it was bulky, weighed around 12 pounds and had a 1 hour battery life. The ‘Omen X VR PC Pack’ from HP, unveiled around the same time, was much smaller and elegant, claiming to weigh under 10 pounds, but the GPU wasn’t revealed.

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How to Tell if Your PC is VR Ready

It’s likely that HP was waiting on Nvidia’s Pascal line which came with a huge step forward in portable GPU performance. At the Nvidia launch event for Pascal-equipped notebooks, I was very impressed by the VR performance of even the GTX 1060 found in some new thin-and-light form factor notebooks.

MSI’s new VR One backpack sports the faster GTX 1070 rather than a 1060 (given the weight, we presume the mobile version). It seems that was the sweet spot for performance vs weight and battery life; despite the powerful card, the VR One weighs an impressive 7.9 pounds (3.6kg), making it the lightest device of this kind so far, says MSI. And, crucially, a pair of hot-swappable batteries located conveniently on the outer shell of the unit provide at least 1.5 hours of battery life, with the ability to charge one while using the other, then switch them without turning off the backpack PC.

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It’s worth noting that although the VR One has the relevant IO to support any PC headset, the untethered experience is only currently feasible with the HTC Vive, as the Rift’s tracking system requires at least one USB camera to be plugged into the PC and placed in a static position in the room.

Backpack solutions clearly highlight some of the benefits of the Vive’s Lighthouse tracking technology, as its base stations don’t need to be connected to the host PC. While you wouldn’t want to lie on your back or perform any extreme motions while wearing a PC, backpacks of this kind represent a step forward for VR mobility, and MSI’s VR One appears to be the first consumer-ready product of its kind.

SEE ALSO
How to Tell if Your PC is VR Ready

One question we’re still wondering about is how MSI (and other VR backpack PC makers) expects users to interface with the VR One before they launch VR applications. Without a screen, it may be necessarily to hook the device up to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse before launching the VR experience, then unplug them all and plug in the VR headset to start playing. That seems incredibly cumbersome though, so it’s possible we may see some customized solution that automatically launches a VR environment upon boot.

Pricing and release date for the MSI VR One has yet to be announced, but we’re guessing it won’t be cheap (look to GTX 1070-equipped notebooks for a rough idea).

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  • ummm…

    i dont quite get this. Who wants a hot heavy laptop on their back? Plus is it one to one usability?

    • I believe the idea is it’s supposed to be cool and light? What to you mean by one to one usability?

      • theojw71

        My guess is, the point being made is that, once it is strapped to your back, the PC becomes a unit only the wearer can use and interact with – no shared environment experiences, for example. Check out YouTube for a 7 in 1 gaming PC build to allow multiple gamers full experience from one base station (but the build cost for that was about £30k)

        • Kio

          I wouldn’t expect multiple people to be able to wear a single backpack ahahaha. You’d have to be in another dimension or universe to comprehend that via parallel layers within reality. Anyhow, 10lbs or below. That is definitely not heavy, especially on the back. That was in regards to someone saying it would be heavy. Imagine a 2lb dumbbell. It’s extraordinarily light. Now imagine 5 of them, but instead on your back. Still not an issue.

          • Jim Cherry

            now imagine hiking for 8 hrs in said backpack. And then imagine doing that in 80+ degree weather with almost 100 percent humidity. Now imagine wait what were we talking about :}

          • I think a 7.9lb weight evenly distributed across your back may be the least of your concerns should you choose to do something like this. For instance, I think you may want to check on your air conditioner. Or have a sit-down with the slave driver who wouldn’t let you press pause. Or consider that many otherwise normal people regularly go on voluntary, real hikes in like, the mountains, with packs that weigh +50lbs, for days, even weeks. Each gallon of water they bring to stay alive weighs ~8.3lbs. Food(and drink) for thought. Also I’m not sure what the variable incline is in your living room, but if it’s more than a couple degrees either way, you might want to call your landlord. If your landlord is you, you might want to call a general contractor. Get him to look at your air conditioner while he’s leveling your house. You can chitchat about how much better life is now that you’re not tripping over a cord attached to your head.

        • I’m sure multiple users won’t be able to utilize the same PC, but at the moment, shared experiences are possible in VR even when users aren’t in the same country, let alone in the same room?

          I’m not sure what the advantage is to building a $30,000 machine to run 7 users tethered when you could spend 7×$2,000 + a good wireless LAN to get the same results untethered.

          Currently this is the only good way to give a large scale free roaming VR experience that I know of.

      • ummm…

        i was trying to say, is this a full on computer with all the usability that one expects. Granted media drives are going the way of the floppy disk, but what has been cut out of this unit and what is sacrificed? I dunno, ive got a 1080 tower with my vive. I’m not sure if I want to strap on more hardware. how am i going to roll while prone in onward? What happens when i back up into a wall full speed? Will the wiley coyote ever catch the road runner?

  • HOT-SWAPPABLE BATTERIES!!!

    • Mike Handles

      so hot

  • wowgivemeabreak

    Hmm, deal with a wire on the ground or deal with lugging around an 8 pound hot case on my back that if I fall or perhaps bump my back into something, the thing may get messed up. Tough choice.

    Oh and I still have to plug my headset into it, even if it is right there by the headset. Admittedly I do not have either headset so I don’t know how the cable is but if it isn’t something that can easily be swapped out then I’d have to wrap up all the excess cable and store it on my back as well.

    I do like the idea in theory but I don’t believe technology is there yet for something like this to truly be worthwhile. For me, I’d want something that doesn’t weigh more than 3-4 pounds and could be strapped around my waist like a belt and that I could have the weight distributed around my body rather than just in one spot.

  • Charles

    Probably a better idea to get one of those new laptops with a GTX 1080 and put it in a mesh backpack. But you’d still have to figure out how to power the headset.

    • JustNiz

      Yours is a MUCH better solution. And here’s how you power the headset:
      https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MF70BPU/

      • Charles

        Nice, I had been trying to figure out the best way to power the headset if I were to do this. Have you actually tested this battery with the headset and verified that it works?

      • Charles

        On the other hand, I’ve read that there’s gonna be a wireless transceiver released for the Vive in a few months, which would make this solution pointless (and a waste of money).

  • Strawb77

    “it’s possible we may see some customized solution that automatically launches a VR environment upon boot.”

    i`ve got a dedicated pc that does exactly that- the vive/steam bods saw that coming from a loooong way off.

    it`s not difficult, if a mouth-breather like me can do it…

  • Michael

    No thank you. I’d rather be sitting on a bean bag next to my 50 lb desktop using VR for 3 hours than use this lesser powered backpack AR for less time.

  • JustNiz

    Wake me up when its a proper PC (i.e. you can swap out the GPU) not just a laptop motherboard in a case with straps instead of a screen/keyboard.
    And why oh why do they always make these things with crappy “transformer” styling that would only look appropriate in a 12 year old’s bedroom back in the 90’s?

  • Zerofool

    >MSI’s VR One appears to be the first consumer-ready product of its kind.<

    The XMG Walker, which also features a pair of hot-swappable batteries (and similar specs) is already available for purchase for two weeks now. For "just" 4800 Euro / 4100 GBP ;)

  • Peter Hansen

    The first consumer ready device of this kind is the XMG Walker:
    http://www.xmg.gg/xmg-walker/