MSI's Backpack Rig Unplugs Virtual Reality

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The latest generation of VR headsets are eye-opening gadgets that prove virtual reality is more than just a gimmick. However, they still suffer from one big problem: a big cord tethering you to your PC.  But with MSI's VR backpack you can take the VR show on the road.

Designed specifically for HTC's Vive VR Headset, MSI's backpack puts everything a PC needs to be VR ready into a plastic case weighing about 11 pounds. Components include a super fast Intel Core i7 K-series CPU, 16GB of RAM and Nvidia's new GTX 1080 graphics card. There's also a removable battery that can power the whole setup for up to 90 minutes, although MSI says they are hoping to boost that to 2 hours by the time the backpack is ready for market in late summer or early fall.

So what changes when you take a VR-ready PC and put it on your body? Pretty much everything. From the moment the HTC Vive fired up, I was overwhelmed with a new sense of freedom when I tried out the backpack at MSI's booth at Computex 2016. Since the cord from the headset only needs to run about a foot and a half, you can now fully explore your virtual surroundings without worrying about getting tangled up or tripping. This is how VR was meant to be.

The 11-pound pack didn't feel as cumbersome as I imagined it would. When you adjust the straps properly and distribute weight across your shoulders and back, it's much easier to walk and game than it is to lug a behemoth 18-inch gaming laptop around.

In fact, I think the weakest link of the whole setup was probably the meat popsicle wearing all the gear. I'm pretty sure that if the demo had gone on long enough, my body would have needed a break before the backpacks 90-minute battery life gave out.

If I could make any changes I might have asked for a little more padding on the rear of the backpack's plastic case, or a hot-swappable battery that would let me get back in the game faster than the hour or so it takes to fully recharge the system. While I might be soft now, this backpack made me want to build up my VR endurance and strength.

Now, only one big question remains: How much will it cost? MSI hasn't provided a price, and for everyone's sake, I hope it's significantly less than Asus' $6,000 water-cooled RX800 gaming notebook. Because this is a product that every VR enthusiast needs to try.

Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).