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VR backpack PCs are real, and kind of awesome

At this point I'm pretty experienced with the HTC Vive VR headset, having used it at various trade shows and arcades and so on. But I'm still not quite used to an unavoidable yet unfortunate flaw with the product — the trailing cable that runs from your head to your PC, forcing you to be constantly aware of your feet so as not to trip.

There isn’t really anything HTC can do about this; wireless displays don’t have the performance yet to keep up with high-end VR rendering, so your headset needs to be connected to your PC while you’re walking around. There is, however, something PC companies can do about it: they can let you take the PC with you. And in recent weeks, we’ve seen three OEMs announce gaming PCs in a backpack form factor designed to free you from the Vive’s wire.

HP and MSI’s approach is to make the PC case itself the shape of a backpack. HP even goes so far as to put the batteries in a waist belt. Zotac, meanwhile, takes a more literal approach — it’s slightly modified one of its smaller Zbox gaming PCs and just put it in an actual backpack.

I tried this solution at Computex Taipei, standing on a circular stage at Zotac’s booth in front of dozens of onlookers. (I’m sure they were laughing at me, but thanks to the Vive I’ll never know.) What I found is that the concept, though ridiculous, does actually work. The PC weighs about 4kg (8.8 pounds) and lasts around 2 hours on a charge, according to Zotac. It has an Nvidia GTX 980 GPU inside, meaning performance should be solid in most VR titles, though I did notice some occasional juddering. The system is air-cooled rather than the liquid-cooled desktop it’s based on, which may have had something to do with it, though a Zotac representative told me he thought it might have been the stage wobbling. Maybe!

Most importantly, I was able to shoot zombies coming at me from all directions in Arizona Sunshine without worrying about falling over myself. Of course, it’s not like I could just walk freely around — the Vive’s lighthouses will only track the headset within a certain pre-defined area, and games are designed for small environments. This also doesn’t solve the problem of finding the space to use the Vive in the first place. But wearing Zotac’s backpack allowed me to forget about the Vive hardware in a way I hadn’t been able to do so before.

Zotac hasn’t announced pricing or release date information yet, but we’ll keep you posted.


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