MSI VR One: The Carry-On PC
The emergence and popularity of Virtual Reality has spawned so many related products to date. From HMD’s to handheld controllers and Fiduciary props the list of VR related equipment keeps growing at almost a daily basis.
The concept of yet another VR product has been in development since early this year when several computer hardware manufacturers came up with prototypes of a compact desktop-like next generation PC suited best for VR applications and which could be carried around on a person’s back just like a backpack.
Recently introduced at the Tokyo game show, MSI Corporation launched the final version of their prototype backpack PC called the VR One backpack PC. Not to be confused with the Zeiss VR One HMD, the MSI VR One is practically a powerful desktop PC in the form of a backpack intended to work with the HTC VIVE headset. This would eliminate the need to lay-out all the cables connected to a stationary PC-VR box that can possibly cause unforeseen accidents to happen.
The VR one isn’t just some box that you strap on your back. It was designed to be ergonomic and pleasing to the eyes and looks more like a jet-black futuristic oxygen tank or jetpack. Weighing only around 7.9 Lbs, the VR One PC practically contains all that is needed to run and power the HMD. It has 2 swappable battery packs located at the back which combined provide a total of around 90 minutes. When one gets drained, it can be swapped with an extra pack without turning off the unit thus extending playtime and use.
A negative effect of having a pair of batteries, a power-supply, a powerful processor, a motherboard loaded with support chips and an equivalently powerful graphics card strapped to a trembling, adrenaline-psyched VR player all amounts to one thing, heat. The unit is cooled down by a system of air vents, a couple of 90mm fans and 9 heat pipes that produce less than 41dBA of noise which would be negligible to the user who would be wearing a pair of ear or headphones aside from the HMD.
At the back of the unit, 8 LED indicators are located, 4 for each battery pack. When all 4 LEDs are lit, this means that the corresponding battery is around 100 to 75 percent full. When only one LED is lit, the battery is at 25 percent and will soon need to be charged. When the last LED starts blinking, the battery has to be swapped. By plugging in a power adapter, the VR One functions just like a desktop computer connected to a wall outlet.
The MSI VR One uses the MSI Dragon Center Software which can easily be accessed with a VR key. The platform includes a hardware performance monitor, a LED Wizard, a system tuner, a mobile center and an app portal. This is how the user can monitor the battery status while having the headset on. Adjustments can be made by using a smart phone.
Though a detailed system specs still hasn’t been made available by MSI to the general public, the unit is being run by an over-clocked, high-end Intel Core i7 CPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card. This is enough computing horsepower to deal with almost any VR game that will be run on it. This will probably come with at least 8GB of DDR4 RAM and an SSD drive as the player will be moving and jumping around which may cause damage to a regular PC hard drive.
The unit includes an HDMI port, 4 USB3.0 connectors, one Mini-Display port, both mic and headphone jacks and a USB 3.1 Type-C port supporting Thunderbolt 3. These are located at an indent near the top of the unit which can easily be accessed by the user to plug in the connecting cables.
For those who are not familiar with Thunderbolt, it’s a new data connection standard for both audio and video devices. Thunderbolt is similar to Firewire, also known as 1394 but way faster in transmitting data compared to the current standard.
There are 3 versions of Thunderbolt from 1 to 3. Thunderbolt 3 has a max speed of around 40 Gb/sec, as compared to 800 Mb/sec for Firewire 800, 5 Gb/sec for USB 3.0, and 10 Gb/sec for USB 3.1.
USB type C is the latest version of USB connector and is also USB 3.1. This means that it also has a transmission speed of 10 Gb/sec. The difference between standard USB 2,3 and 3.1 is that the type C connector can be connected reversibly like an electrical plug. There is no this side faces up or that side faces down position. Both ends of the cable are designed to be the same where either end can be plugged to the PC, console or USB Type C compatible device. Type C however is not directly backward compatible with both USB 2.0 and 3.0 and will require a special adaptor to be able to work.
Both these port standards are gaining popularity and being adapted into the next generation of computing and gaming devices. A USB 3.1 Type-C port supporting Thunderbolt 3 means that both data buses are using the same connector. Whether it’s a Thunderbolt or a USB Type C device you need to connect, either can use the same port.
At present, MSI still hasn’t announced how much the VR One Backpack PC is going to cost but judging by the looks of it alone and the fact that it’s next generation high-end, it’s probably safe to say a lot. Whether it succeeds as expected or not will totally depend upon the practicality and adaptability of this new form of PC. After all, even if you remove the VR aspect, it’s still a high-end desktop PC you can carry on your back (as you whistle a tune on your way to school).