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MSI Backpack PC review – Hands on with cable-free VR

MSI Backpack PC hands-on with HTC Vive

MSI creates the mobile VR PC and maybe one day all PCs will come with a backpack option

Virtual reality behemoths such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have helped to shape the future of VR, turning an experience that was once a high-tech fantasy into a device you can buy (waiting lists allowing). But there’s one thing holding it back. The experience isn’t so immersive when you’re shackled by cables hooked up to the PC system that powers it.

MSI has tried to solve this problem by launching the Backpack PC at Computex in Taipei, a powerful gaming system encased in a tough chassis with straps like a backpack so that gamers can adorn it and power their VR headsets without restraint. That means no more accidently unplugging the wires between the VR device and the platform, or tripping over them.

But does this work as good as it sounds? I had a go on the BackPack PC – hooked up to a HTC Vive headset running the Arcade Space Ship Shooter game – at Computex 2016 to find out.

MSI Backpack PC from the back

With a glossy deep red metallic casing, MSI’s Backpack PC looks akin to something Tony Stark has cooked up in his high-tech lab. While it takes inspiration from motorcycle backpacks, its futuristic–looking clean and sharp edges definitely give it a very space-age look, and as a result, anyone wearing it will look super nerdy – not that you’re likely to be rocking it in public. Looks aside, it feels sturdy as a rock and has a very premium feel.

As I ducked and dived from pillar-to-post while captivated by the attached HTC Vive experience, the Backpack PC didn’t feel too intruding, either. In fact, it was easy to forget it was there. MSI said the backpack weights just under 5kg, and while this sounds pretty heavy, once you’re strapped in it really doesn’t feel that heavy at all. Especially when you’re distracted by the 360-degree gaming experience.

MSI Backpack PC hands-on with HTC Vive back

One neat feature were the two motion controller holsters sewn into the hip belt, giving you somewhere to dock them when not in use.

MSI’s Backpack PC is powered by a high-end Intel Core i7 processor alongside a powerful Nvidia GTX980 graphics card and two big batteries. Gameplay was completely fluid during my hands-on demo; I had no qualms about the performance, though MSI didn’t say how long these batteries can run for on a single charge. A present most VR experiences are fairly short but a poor battery life could be an issue as the genre evolves.

The other great thing about the Backpack PC is that it powers any of the market’s current VR headsets, just like a desktop PC, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility.

MSI Backpack PC - how it looks from the back

MSI clearly sees this VR ready backpack as the future of VR – a more convincing and comfortable way to experience VR gaming. They might not be far wrong. I’ve tried VR endless amounts of times in the last few years and I can say it felt liberating not to have to worry about tripping over cables, or worry if I’d unplug the headset if I strayed too far. It really does make the whole VR experience feel much more immersive and believable.

I can see these backpacks really catching on and as technology races ahead, become much smaller and more portable as VR becomes equally more popular. Of course, it’s another major expense for those wanting to get serious about VR. Or looked at another way, maybe one day soon all gaming PCs will come in backpack-compatible form factors.