VR is slowly changing the way I see technology. I bought the first iPhone and have used Mac since high school, but when it came time to explore my interest in VR I’ve purchased several Android phones and built a Windows PC. I don’t know what’s become of me. I used to like playing console games and downloading apps for my phone, but now I’m looking at this backpack PC from HP, imagining a late night BBQ with friends and a zombie fight unfolding across my backyard.
I have a room set aside for VR but it’s no more than about 12 feet by 8 feet feet, and the HTC Vive is capable of working in spaces up to about 15 feet. This means that very frequently while using the Vive my mind leaves the virtual world and comes back to reality where I mentally rearrange furniture throughout my house to make a larger walk-around space. In the current room, it’s fairly easy to reach out with my arms and vaguely see the chaperone bounds telling me the location of the wall. So there are always these constant thoughts in games like Space Pirate Trainer or Holopoint that ‘I would do better in a larger space’ or that “the game would be more fun if I had more space.”
In comparison, backpack VR is how destination entertainment like The Void in Utah and Zero Latency in Australia function. Basically, large areas of buildings or warehouses are covered by a tracking system. Players wear a headset and custom PC backpack that powers the visuals and sound. The tracking system keeps you immersed throughout the building.
While HP isn’t the first to announce a backpack PC, it is one of the world’s largest PC manufacturers promising such a machine that’ll weigh less than 10 pounds and be powerful enough to drive VR systems like the Vive. The development kit is also said to use a “wireless display” along with the wireless keyboard and mouse.
HP wasn’t ready to detail how it planned for this wireless display function to work, but my backyard late night BBQ VR party will be far more fun if everyone can see what the person who is battling zombies in my backyard can see on a screen nearby. The battery on the PC is said to last an hour and can be swapped out as the system continues running.
While the current version of Valve’s “Lighthouse” tracking system for the Vive uses two base stations in opposing corners of a room-sized space to track a headset, future versions could be extensible to vast arrays, potentially offering a lower cost solution than is currently used for tracking objects across very large indoor and outdoor spaces. Current Lighthouse base stations can be battery operated for hours and easily mount to a tall tripod for quick positioning in a new area.
HP is positioning the Omen X VR PC Pack Hardware Development Kit to “enable application development beyond gaming into vertical industries and unique applications.” With a Ghostbusters-themed experience on the way powered by The Void, and more companies trying VR arcades, like VRstudios, it’s possible that a PC like this could actually find itself targeting a new market for ever-shrinking PCs.
There’s no price for the system yet but it likely at the higher end of PC hardware.