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HP wants to beam you to a different reality with its new VR backpack

·Technology Editor
HP's VR PC Pack is designed to make your virtual reality experience more immersive.
HP's VR PC Pack is designed to make your virtual reality experience more immersive.

Virtual reality systems like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift let you explore new worlds or live out your action-movie dreams — until you get tangled up in that damn cord, that is.

HP, on the other hand, wants to cut the cord to give you a truly untethered VR experience, and it aims to do this by getting your PC off the floor and putting it on your back. Think Master Blaster from “Mad Max,” but nerdier.

Built by HP’s gaming-focused Omen Innovation Team, the HP VR PC Pack Hardware Development Kit is a test platform aimed to immerse you in virtual reality by eliminating the possibility that you trip over any cords.

Read more: Virtual reality gets real: Sony PSVR vs Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive

It’s impossible to simply make the entire setup wireless: There’s too much information going from your PC to your headset to effectively transfer data without running into any latency issues.

Available to select developers who apply to via HP’s website, the pack is a fully functional, lightweight PC that you wear on your back like a backpack. Your VR headset then plugs into the pack, meaning you’ll never trip on any wires.

The HP VR P pack promises virtual reality without tripping over wires.
The HP VR P pack promises virtual reality without tripping over wires.

HP says the pack will run on two super-high output batteries that last at least one hour. The batteries will also be “hot swappable:” If you’re in the middle of a game, and you get a warning they’re running low on juice, you can remove the batteries and replace them with a fresh set. An on-board battery ensures the VR PC Pack keeps running while you switch batteries, so you don’t have to restart the computer.

HP says the batteries won’t throttle power to the PC, either, so you won’t have to worry about performance issues if you’re taxing the system’s processor or graphics chip.

The company has clearly put a lot of thought into this developer kit, as evidenced by the fact that it’s already moved the battery packs three times: first from the top of the arm straps, which restricted arm movement; then to the front of the pack’s belt, which kept people from being able to bend over; then to the back of the belt.

While using a VR headset, you occasionally have to access Windows to change settings. To help you do that, HP is including a wireless mouse, keyboard, and monitor with the developer kit, as well. And when you’re not using the pack with your VR headset, you can take of the straps and use it as a portable PC.

Beyond the system’s battery life, HP faces two major issues with the VR Pack: weight and heat management. To deal with the first, the company says it has to keep the Pack under 10 pounds. Anything more than that, and the weight becomes too noticeable and takes you out of the VR experience — which is exactly the problem HP wants to solve.

The HP VR PC pack can also double as a standard Windows 10 PC.
The HP VR PC pack can also double as a standard Windows 10 PC.

As for heat management, HP says it has a dual-fan system that blows heat generated by the pack away from the wearer’s back.

*TMI ALERT: I’m a generally sweaty dude and a VR headset doesn’t help, so I’m very concerned with how well the VR Pack handles heat.*

For now, the HP VR pack will only work with HTC’s Vive and not the Oculus Rift. That makes sense, as the Vive is designed with full room-scale VR in mind. Still, I’d like to see HP work with the Oculus Rift if only to eliminate my fear of wrapping the headset’s wire around my swivel chair every time I move.

To be clear, the HP VR PC pack is simply a development kit and not available for consumers. HP plans hand the kit to interested developers and see what they can come up with while still adhering to the company’s 10-pound weight and one-hour battery life requirements.

Sure, wearing a headset and computer on your back will make you look like an absolutely ridiculous hyper nerd, but who cares? If HP can pull it off, the VR pack could bring us one step closer to a system like Star Trek’s holodeck.

I’m pumped.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.