Hands-On With The XMG VR Backpack PC

by Krzysztof Izdebski • July 25th, 2016

For some time I have heard rumors about another player joining the scene  of VR backpacks – Schenker, the German computer technology manufacturer, specializing in high end PCs and laptops. In gaming and professional circles they are most known for their high end laptop series XMG. Though I knew they are working on a VR backpack, I was still amazed how far they already are.

Earlier this month Uwe Werner, the Sales Manager, and Tom Fichtner, Product Manager from Schenker, showed a fully operational VR backpack, already packing a highly efficient VR-Ready NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics card. The product was showcased at a closed event organised by the Berlin VR Meetup at the headquarters of Illusion Walk, german holodeck developer. The XMG VR Backpack was shown with HTC Vive and a room scale tracking set up almost to the maximum recommended space.

xmg berlin demo

XMG Specifications

Even XMG laptops don’t have enough processing power operating just on battery (without a power cable plugged in) to run VR sufficiently well. That is why the specs of this VR backpack PC are a game changer. Schenker already implemented newest Nvidia’s technology, though each case fits only a specific GPU model. The CPU is a top notch i7-6700HQ, there is space for 2x DDR4 SO-DIMM and m.2 SSD.

To Summarise:

  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics card, VR-Ready*
  • i7-6700HQ, 2x DDR4 SO-DIMM
  • LAN, WiFi, m.2 SSD, Audio, USB 3.0 + 3.1 Type-C
  • HDMI 2.0 output
  • Windows 10 64-bit

Battery

Using 2 dual lithium-ion batteries, the setup can run around 40 to 60 min per charge. And if you are low on juice, you do not have to switch off anything – the batteries are hot-swappable – once the energy is low, you pull out one battery, input a new one, exchange the second unit, and voila – you continue shooting down waves of Zombies or paint in 3D. After the battery is removed from a backpack, you plug it into the external charging station, where up to two batteries can be charged at once. The charger is one of those “plug & play” types, where you can slide a battery into a charging slot and let it charge.

Comfort

Ok, so the insides of this beast are unbelievable, and the battery solution is like a Time Lord’s hearts (there’s always a spare when you need it). It also weighs less than 7 pounds. I have no idea how they did it. And the best part is, this whole setup is more comfortable than my Deuter backpack that I use every day. I tried to jump (almost knocked a hole in ceiling… again…), crouch, run, make sudden jutting steps to the sides – nothing could disturb the amazing comfort on my back.

One thing that still needed to be worked out is that a small messenger bag was used containing an external battery and the link box for the HTC Vive. However, Werner and Fichtner Uwe said they are already working on a solution for moving the Vive battery into the backpack.

xmg presentation berlin

Availability & Price

During the event I had on my back not an early prototype, but an almost ready product. And the advancement in product lifecycle was further confirmed, when Werner announced that the first batch of ready products (not developer kits) will be shipped in early September. This is one of the best examples of German engineering – focus on product development, work fast, and don’t speak rainbows and unicorns before you are one step away from being ready to deliver.

No pricing was officially revealed, but it’ll likely cost at least as much as the XMG high end laptop series, which cost around $3000.

Summary

The VR backpacks are a huge step for a room-scale and holodeck VR experiences. Untethered locomotion removes a lot limitations and gives far more design freedom. Now, it is not a cure for cables, rather only a temporary solution to the symptom. Nevertheless, this is already enough to let developers and out-of-home entertainment companies search and experiment with use cases for untethered VR experiences, such as Illusion Walk, The Void, or even CtrlV.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Werner and Fichtner for a personal invitation to this event and showing us all their technology without a moment’s hesitation. Thanks also to Petr Legkov for taking photos and providing details and insight into Schenker technology. Last but not least, many thanks to Illusion Walk for hosting the event and showing their holodeck technology to me and other guests.

*XMG could not reveal the exact GPU name yet but it is supposed to be one step above NVIDIA’s recommended minimum spec.

Krzysztof IzdebskiHunting ways for “doing more by doing less”, Krzysztof “RodionVR” Izdebski studied cognitive science to learn about human effectiveness and how to improve it. Now he is pursuing functional VR content as co-host of ResearchVR podcast, and as VR UX Researcher at SALT AND PEPPER Software Solutions.

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  • RedLeader

    Hmm, an unannounced Nvidia Pascal chip that runs on a system with a mobile CPU in a laptop-sized case that has an NDA due to a forthcoming announcement from the developer… mobile/laptop GTX 1080 confirmed??

    • RodioR

      “No… Yes… Maybe” Obama 😀

  • Georgie-laa

    Seems cheap enough (NOT). Will just have to wait and see what ??brings me this year ?

  • RedLeader

    Hmm, in the video he says that the backpack will not thermal throttle because they want everyone to get “the full performance of the 9–, uh, 1070”. Looks like we’ve got our unnamed GPU!

  • RodioR

    hehe 🙂 Nvidia and NDA: A fascinating adventure of law and order Episode 48672 😀

  • Zerofool

    I really hope that the GPU is upgradeable (MXM Module). Otherwise, once the next gen (2017) HMDs and mobile GPUs are released, all these non-upgradeable backpacks will be demoted to very expensive paperweights. Also, HDMI 2.0 is only good for roughly [email protected] per eye – that’s probably OK for Gen 2.0 consumer HMDs but that’s as far as they would go. Why not include also DisplayPort 1.4 output (it supports much higher bandwidth – 32.4Gbps vs 18Gbps) for future-proofness?
    I’m really interested in getting a VR backpack, but only if it’s modular (replaceable I/O bracket because of the interface standards) and upgradeable (GPU above all else). I hope Schenker, MSI, Zotac, HP, Alienware and all other potential players take a note 🙂

    • RedLeader

      > Why not include also DisplayPort 1.4 output (it supports much higher bandwidth – 32.4Gbps vs 18Gbps) for future-proofness?

      I can’t speak to the future, but currently the Vive, CV1, and DK2 all require HDMI direct connections. Adapters, whether passive or powered, don’t work. Oculus 1.3 broke compatability with my DVI to HDMI adapter, and I’ve seen several other similar threads on Reddit about Display Port adapters for CV1 and Vive as well.

      Maybe they’ll use DP 1.4 in the future, but it’s likely that because they don’t now, that’s why these products don’t include it.

      • Zerofool

        I’m not saying they should use DP 1.4 INSTEAD of HDMI 2.0, I said “also”. All I’m trying to say is that current-gen GPUs already support DP 1.4 output and all graphics cards with these GPUs already have such outputs. So why not include DP 1.4 output on these backpacks as well? Why include just a single output – HDMI 2.0? Without upgradeability, these backpacks are just like consoles, but with the slight difference that their life is about one year, two years tops, instead of 5-8 years. I personally won’t pay a huge amount of cash for something that will be unusable in one or two years.
        Instead of VR backpack, I want a backpack PC. The “PC” part indicates that it retains all the advantages of the PC – modularity, upgradeability, interchangeability, etc. I don’t need a display-less laptop that works only with few HMDs and that’s all it does. I’m just not rich enough to buy an entirely new machine every year or two and throw away the old one. And I think the majority of the potential market feels the same and that’s also one of the reasons PSVR will dominate the VR-gaming scene. As member of “The Master Race” 🙂 and a Vive owner, I’m disappointed by this fact, but I’m more disappointed that some companies try to milk the enthusiasts as much as they can, instead of providing the path of upgradeability we’re used to with our gaming PCs.

        > I can’t speak to the future, but currently the Vive, CV1, and DK2 all require HDMI direct connections. <
        The Vive link box supports mini-DP input.