Week in Tech: Wearable VR, Photo-Realistic Fleeces And So Much More

With the profound logistical complexities of orchestrating the arrival of two 3D cards in the same place at roughly the same time apparently beyond me, my planned graphics-off between the latest budget video boards has been punted two weeks hence (hopefully, anyway). So, it’s time for another installment of the somewhat tenuously-titled Week in Tech. This week’s muses include a preposterous looking VR backpack PC from Zotac, an even more preposterous gaming laptop from Asus and the PC’s journey towards rendering photo-realistic graphics in games.

First, the Zotac VR Go Backpack, then. The idea is pretty simple. Playing VR games on a PC can involve a visual cacophony of cables running between the headset and the PC. At best, you’re always tethered by at least one cable. But if you wear the PC as well as the headset, suddenly things get a lot simpler. Well, theoretically. Enter the Zotac VR Go.

Spec wise, there’s a proper Intel quad-core processor plus Nvidia’s GTX 1070 graphics and an M.2 SSD, so it’s plausible in performance terms. As for the design, well, it does rather look like a pretty ordinary small form factor PC with some shoulder straps.

However, Zotac has been careful with the port placement and the real kicker is the removable battery pack. For now, actual battery life isn’t quoted (nor is the price). But I’d say a couple of hours would be sufficient for VR gaming.

Anyway, combined with an Oculus Rift, which gets its power via USB, the upshot ought to be a totally untethered VR experience, which is intriguing. I haven’t been anywhere near an HTC Vive, but I believe it requires a separate power supply, which obviously reduces the appeal of the VR backpack substantially. The VR Go has also been designed to work perfectly well as a desktop PC and the GTX 1070 graphics is in the MXM form factor, so there’s at least a chance of upgrading down the road.

It’s a niche product I grant – it still involves flailing around blindly in whatever space you call VR home, only now you’re not only wearing a headset but a backpack, too. Mainstream it ain’t. It’s also kind of ridiculous. But if you’re going to do some early-adopter VR, it might yet be one of the better solutions out there. It should be on sale before the end of the year.

Speaking of the ridiculous, the Zotac backpack PC has absolutely nothing on the new Asus ROG GX800VH. I spent a day mucking about with one recently and it’s surely the most preposterous laptop PC ever.

The system itself is a monumental 18-inch beast. In fact, even the 18-inch metric doesn’t really do it justice. The bezels are massive, so this thing could easily accommodate a 19-inch panel. But that’s just the beginning. Not only does it come with two enormous 330 watt power bricks, both of which must be used to achieve full performance. There’s also a meaty docking station that houses a water cooling solution for the pair of Nvidia graphics chips inside the laptop itself.

So, that’s an 18-inch LCD panel, two power bricks and an external water cooler. Total mass? About 13kg. OK, there are two Nvidia GTX 1080 GPUs and that 18-inch display is a full 4K item with IPS technology and Nvidia G-Sync support. But the CPU is a pretty ordinary Intel Core i7-6820HK quad-core effort. Oh and not only does it look utterly adolescent, the build quality of some parts of the chassis and the water cooling dock is laughable.

I’m frankly baffled as to who would buy such a beast and why. It’s not remotely portable. It looks hideous. And thanks to the vagaries of SLI, the performance isn’t even terribly reliable. I just don’t get it. And that’s before you even factor in the catastrophic £5,000 price tag.

And finally…the question of photo-realistic graphics and when they’ll be achieved is something I used to ponder pretty frequently. Worse than that, I used to spend so much time looking at game engines, I’d occasionally catch myself observing the real world and – especially when the real world contained expanses of water – pondering how it compared to the latest pixel shading technology.

Anywho, I don’t know if it’s less time benchmarking pointless bits of kit or a slowing in the pace of development, but in the last few years it seems like I’ve had fewer of those ‘wow’ moments when a game really moved things on when it comes to photo-realism. In fact, I had the misfortune of putting a PC through a few runs of the latest Far Cry franchise last week. I couldn’t help but note that the shader routines for the water were clearly inferior to those of the 2004 original. Primal, indeed.

Whatever, I had one of those ‘wow’ moments the other day with Tom Clancy’s The Division. It’s probably a terrible game. I wouldn’t know, benchmarking often doesn’t involve much actual gameplay and The Division isn’t the kind of game I’d fire up just for fun. But due to a technical glitch, I found myself mucking about with settings and actually playing through a few passages, rather than merely pulling the trigger on the pre-baked benchmark.

Long story short, there were just a few elements that caught me by surprise. This is going to sound ridiculous, but my character’s fleece was utterly photo-realistic. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite like it in-game.

Overall, I wouldn’t say the The Division looked all that special. But there were a few other elements that were also very impressive, even if I’d file most of them more under looking pre-rendered than necessarily photo-realistic. It’s a subtle distinction.

Whatever, I’d be interested to hear what games over the last year or three have either provided your own photo-realistic fleece moments or more generally upped the ante for overall graphical fidelity. Fire away below.

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16 Comments

  1. phenom_x8 says:

    Rise of The Tomb Raider are the one that absolutely give me my own photo realistic fleece moment , and as a bonus its also the one that used the best subsurface scattering effect I have ever saw (character’s face looks damn realistic and believeable)

  2. Premium User Badge

    Philopoemen says:

    I bit the bullet a couple of years back and got a gaming laptop, and have been very happy with my Alienware 17. But it’s portable in the sense I can take it with me when work sends me to the next disaster on the dance card, not in the sense I can take it down to the coffee shop and down a long macchiato whilst killing pixels.

    I’ve been looking at a replacement, but that ROG is not it.

    • Sakkura says:

      Asus managed to make Alienware look reasonable. Holy crap.

    • Cronstintein says:

      As someone who travels a lot, I definitely got my money’s worth from my gaming laptop. It’s heavy and big, but it also plays games and fits in my carry-on, which is more than I can say for my desktop PC.

      Also worth noting when you’re spooling up the video cards, the battery life is horrendous, so truly it’s more of a “portable desktop”.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Dorga says:

    The Witcher 3, some eighty hours into the game, for some reason I stuck my face right into the screen, and was blown away by how crisp and detailed everything was.

  4. Sakkura says:

    You kinda have it backwards about the VR backpack.

    With an Oculus Rift, you’re still going to have wires running from you to the cameras, so you’re not getting real freedom from wires.

    With an HTC Vive, the base stations are connected to power outlets rather than the PC, so with the PC on your back you can be truly wireless (aside from the wire loops going between the various bits of kit you’re carrying).

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence it’s pictured with a Vive.

    • Asurmen says:

      It would seem to me then, that he doesn’t have it backwards, it’s simply a pointless product for either VR setup.

      • Henke says:

        Umm, no, he does have it backwards. With an Oculus Rift you’d still need a cable to the position-tracking camera, so you’d still be tethered to another point in space, but with the Vive the only wires would be between the headset and the backpack, allowing you to turn around as much as you want without getting tangled up in anything AND still have functioning position-tracking.

        Not that that makes it any more appealing. Seeing as wireless HMD for PC are already in development this thing feels a bit antiquated before it’s even been released, and a year from now it’s going to look like one of those 80’s briefcase-telephones.

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          Those briefcase phones were around for years and years before one you could use with one had was released (from late 70’s to almost the 90’s). (and they didn’t look antiquated, they were the iPhones of their day, fuck, digital watches were the cutting edge of technology in the 80’s)
          This backpack PC, even if the concept itself takes off, will be obsolete spec-wise within a couple of years.

        • Asurmen says:

          The Vive has a power supply, where the Rift is powered by USB. You’re still tethered to wires in both examples (Rift to camera, Vive to a power supply), so no, it isn’t backwards. The product is useless for both.

          • Sakkura says:

            The backpack contains a battery that acts as the power source. So you’re free from wires… but not from battery life constraints.

          • Asurmen says:

            No article regarding the backpack is mentioning a DC out port, which is what the Vive requires.

          • Sakkura says:

            The Anandtech article strongly implies it.

            “To make it convenient to connect a VR headset to the VR GO, one side of the device has the appropriate ports. The single side has one HDMI output, two USB 3.0 ports and one power connector on top of it.”

  5. jezcentral says:

    A nice idea, but the wifi version (please make Vive 2 wifi, *crosses fingers for good luck*), will end up with a similar setup, but without the need to carry the PC systems box around. This won’t have a very long shelf-life.

  6. theblazeuk says:

    Looking forward to the budget gfx article, please can you drop in a line or two about how they compar to the last generation’s mid and top tier? You mentioned this in the news article about the nvidia release I think – the gfx card is the last thing holding my machine back but I can only barely afford a ton most to spend on it, and truly need the most bang/lifespan for my paltry buck.

    Thnx!

  7. Drib says:

    My most recent “fleece” moments were Shadow of Mordor, and DOOM.

    Shadow of Mordor was the first really beautiful game I’ve played, which is saying something for a game set in Mordor. But the orcs were all grotesque and slimy, the grass moved and cast shadows, the day/night cycle made the world look amazing.

    As for DOOM, the finishing move crap I could do without, but the game looks stunning when it’s just a shooter. Wandering around those maps was super impressive now and then, and I couldn’t get over how great it fit in with the gameplay as well.

    Games just keep getting better.

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