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Computers

When it comes to VR, backpack PCs might be just what the doctor ordered

Companies like MSI and Zotac want you to cut the cables on your VR experience and get processing power strapped to your back.

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The backpack form-factor may be the next big thing when it comes to virtual reality. And after trying one out, it's easy to see why.

My colleague Aloysius Low has already written about MSI and that company's quite professional take on the idea of wearable computing in relation to VR. The MSI Backpack PC might not have the most inventive name, but it does have a slick design and power to spare.

Zotac showed off its slightly less polished take on the backpack PC during the Computex tradeshow in Taipei. Best known for its cooling technology, the company has taken its newly announced Magnus EN980 VR-ready gaming PC, fitted it out with a battery, and popped it in a backpack.

The idea may seem more of a clunky '90s cyberpunk vision of the future than the shiny new augmented, holographic overlay that contemporary science fiction is promising us, but the it actually works.

I first tried a backpack VR rig a little less than a year ago in Melbourne, Australia, at Zero Latency, a virtual reality gaming experience. That was a cobbled together combo of Alienware PC, PlayStation Move controllers and Oculus dev kit. It was also a lot of fun.

In just a short time, the VR world has significantly changed, with consumer-ready headsets now available and the developers of VR experiences moving forward in leaps and bounds.

But there's still an "enthusiast" mindset at work. These are complex setup of sensors, with high-end PC processing power required and, at the moment, cables everywhere.

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A backpack PC at least helps with the cable issue. The Zotac I tried was paired with the HTC Vive. Unlike the other Vive VR experiences I've tried here at Computex, no one was whisking away the headset connector cables before I stumbled over them. Sure I was limited to the area defined by the sensors, but it also felt like there was a lot more freedom of movement, thanks to the Vive headset connecting directly to the backpack I was wearing.

I played the delightfully named Arizona Sunshine, which is a zombie shooter with a slightly Western feel. Spinning around to fire away as the shambling dead came at me from both sides felt like more of a natural movement than other VR games I've tried, thanks to the backpack.

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Nic Healey/CNET

Given this isn't a consumer-ready product, the Zotac rig was comfortable and light. I was told by the Zotac staff that the battery would allow for "about an hour and a half" of VR gaming, which may not sound like much but is actually plenty at the moment. Trust me: VR games are the most fun in small doses.

We're still some way from the VR world going completely consumer mainstream, and there's a lot of change yet to come. But with the technology available now, the backpack PC for VR makes a lot of sense.

Read more news from Computex 2016 here.