Computex 2016

PC makers placing their bets on VR

A VR headset linked to a backpack computer allows the gamer to move about freely without being tethered to a desktop PC.
A VR headset linked to a backpack computer allows the gamer to move about freely without being tethered to a desktop PC.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Major tech companies are tuning themselves for a piece of the virtual reality pie

Backpack computers could spark truly immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences, by letting gamers roam freely while wearing their VR headsets and not be tethered to a desktop PC.

At Computex - Asia's biggest infocomm technology tradeshow - held in Taipei last week, PC makers HP, MSI and Zotac showed off - for the first time - these backpack computers that have the computing power (and a portable battery) to run VR headsets.

Marketing director Joe Wee said that Zotac's VR backpack did not feel heavy at all after trying it out at Computex. "These backpacks are viable as they allow for greater freedom of movement," he said.

The three are not the only ones pushing the VR envelope at the annual Taiwan show, which is traditionally thronged by heavyweight and upstart technology firms.

Exhibitors from 30 countries, including Intel, Microsoft, Nvidia and Qualcomm, were at the show in Taipei this year.

Microsoft, too, has thrown its hat into the VR arena by opening its Windows Holographic platform to third-party hardware makers.

Windows Holographic, which currently powers the Microsoft HoloLens headset, uses a special version of Windows 10 with additional augmented and virtual reality features.

In other words, Microsoft wants its software to be the de facto VR platform.

ARM, which designs the mobile chips in most smartphones, announced that its 2017 processors are designed with VR in mind, with features such as a 120Hz refresh rate to reduce motion sickness.

The heavy VR presence comes as no surprise. IDC predicted in April that VR hardware shipments will reach 9.6 million units by the end of the year.

The market research firm also estimated that this figure will surge past 110 million units by 2020.

In April, VR headset makers Oculus and HTC both started shipping their headsets - which require a gaming-grade PC. Sony will also launch a PlayStation VR headset for its console later this year.

HTC, which usually skips Computex, made a rare appearance at the trade show this year to demonstrate its first VR game, produced by an internal team.

PC MAKERS SWITCH FOCUS TO VR HARDWARE

The excitement over VR is a stark contrast to the lacklustre PC market. In the past five years, global PC shipments have contracted from US$219 billion (S$301 billion) to an estimated US$122 billion this year, according to Gartner principal research analyst Meike Escherich.

"This is why PC makers have been diversifying their product portfolio to include other emerging trends such as VR and Internet-connected appliances," said Ms Tracy Tsai, research vice-president at Gartner.

She added that with the exception of a few vendors that had new consumer PCs, this year's Computex was mostly about Internet-connected appliances," VR apps and industrial solutions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'PC makers placing their bets on VR'. Print Edition | Subscribe