One of the first issues we came across with the HTC Vive was the cable that follows you around the room, potentially tripping you up or pulling on the headset when you've taken time to get a perfect fit. While mainstream wireless VR systems are seemingly somewhere around the corner, some PC manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to create the next best thing: VR backpacks.
The cable running from your PC to your headset is no longer a problem, and immersion is taken one step further. Unfortunately, these backpacks are usually prohibitively expensive, and, besides, you might already have the hardware needed to create your own. Is it possible? Is it worth the time? Let's find out!
Pre-built backpack options
Before we get into building our own backpack, let's take a look at some pre-built offerings from HP, ZOTAC, and MSI.
HP OMEN X
For about $3,000, you can grab this sleek, compact PC with an Intel Core i7-7820HK quad-core processor (CPU), an NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card (GPU) with 8GB of GDDR5 VRAM, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD). All the ports you need for Vive and Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) are here, plus it comes with four extra battery packs for prolonged VR sessions.
ZOTAC VR GO
If you don't want to pay upwards of $3,000, this VR backpack from ZOTAC is "only" about $2,000. There are some concessions to make up for the price. Inside is a sixth-generation Core i7 CPU, an NVIDIA GTX 1070 GPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 240GB SSD. The hardware isn't quite as premium as the HP OMEN X, but this is still enough power for a Vive or WMR.
MSI VR ONE
Probably the tackiest looking VR backpack of the bunch, MSI nevertheless brings performance at a relatively reasonable price. For about $2,200, get an Intel Core i7-7820HK CPU, an NVIDIA GTX 1070 GPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That's almost the same hardware as found in the HP OMEN X, albeit for about $800 less. This backpack has all the ports needed for a great Vive or WMR experience, plus it comes with an extra hot-swappable battery for extended playtimes.
How to build your own VR backpack
Because of the attached sensors required for the Oculus Rift, you won't be able to use it with a VR backpack. The Vive's wireless Lighthouses and WMR's complete lack of outside sensors, on the other hand, make them suitable for a backpack. In the case of WMR, you can basically hook up a compatible laptop, drop it into a normal backpack you have lying around the house (make sure you have some venting), and get busy in VR. In the case of gaming with WMR, especially when SteamVR comes into play, the following guide will also apply. For now, we'll focus on the Vive.
The power source
The Vive headset requires a separate power source, which involves a secondary battery, preferably lightweight. This one-pound option from TalentCell costs about $34 and offers 6,000mAh at 12V. An included DC cable lets you plug in to your Vive's link box for power, so you can forego the standard wall plug. You'll realistically get about four or five hours of life from the battery when powering your Vive headset.
Once you have the battery pack to power the Vive headset, you're also going to need some hardware to run the software. You could buy the parts as though you were going to build a gaming PC and assemble them on a backpack, and while this would definitely be cheaper, a laptop will work just as well. We've rounded up some of the best laptop options for VR, making it easier on you if shopping for something new.
Let's assume you've put together some sort of compact PC build or you're using a laptop — in my case, I'm using a Lenovo Legion Y720. You need a system to attach everything to your back. While a standard backpack could technically be used for WMR (as long as some venting was provided), real gaming systems heat up. I mean, they get really hot. Being confined to a backpack just won't do, so you'll need to get creative.
A frame pack immediately comes to mind; lightweight, sturdy, and cheap. For about $40, this A.L.I.C.E. pack frame from Rothco will get the job done. It has your standard padded backpack straps and a waistband on the front, but the back is a bed of flat rails on which you can mount the gaming hardware.
For maximum fastening, consider grabbing some ratchet tie straps. This pack from Cartman costs about $15 and comes with four straps, which should be enough to hold a laptop in place. If you're building a PC directly on the frame, you'll have to be much more creative and might have to resort to adhesives or zip ties.
Is building your own VR backpack worth the time?
If you're counting, the above accessories cost about $100. If you already have a gaming laptop capable of running VR, this might be a tempting solution to a mobile VR experience. If, however, you're also buying new hardware or a new laptop, the price goes way up.
This is a fun DIY project that, if you have the time and money, can pay off. However, with TPCast and Intel's WiGig offering a look at real wireless VR that's coming soon, you might be more tempted to just hold off, save your money, and buy something that doesn't look like it was pulled from an early draft of Ghostbusters.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.