Remember the buzz you had this time last year? Rather than another agonizing wait for updates, Oculus hit the 2016 ground running with a massive blowout on the consumer Rift, launching pre-orders and taking extensive interview sessions from which hundreds more details spilled out. It wasn’t all good news, of course, but it was still an incredibly exciting time to be a Rift fan, and it laid the foundation for a massive year ahead.
This year is a different story. While VR as a whole is thriving at CES 2017, there’s been nary a whisper from the Rift. There’s no giant booth on the show floor, something that was becoming a tradition in the past few years, and it appears that many company executives aren’t here. Meanwhile, HTC has rolled out some exciting new announcements for Vive, including a Viveport subscription and the new tracker peripheral. This is the first huge VR event in a while in which Facebook’s VR division has remained silent.
Did Oculus concede CES to HTC? Maybe. Even if there were no big announcements to be made at the show, Oculus booths always have queues around the corner, and it’s a great way to get the word out for Rift. They could have also had some of the usual suspects — Nate Mitchell, Jason Rubin — available to tease the year ahead.
Still, the recent structure shakeup has left the company in a confusing place and on the search for a new leader. Trying to get that message straight when it doesn’t sound like it’s ironed out internally is a challenge they probably didn’t want to tackle. We’d jump at the chance to ask them all about the new Oculus, but we probably won’t get it until they know for themselves what it is.
Plus we’re not too far from the last Oculus Connect, an event that saw Oculus provide updates on practically all areas of its business. The Rift is less than a year old, we know a lot of games that are coming our way in the next 12 months, and Touch just released. Even if we’d love to get an update on the Santa Cruz prototype, maybe now is just not the time for it.
On the other hand, it’s been encouraging to see the VR community so prominent in a venue in which Oculus isn’t there. It shows how far we’ve come from the days that we were dependent on them for big announcements and reveals. This might have not been the best CES for VR, but it’s hard to deny that it was still a dominant technology at the show, and achieving this without the backing of the Rift is no small feat.
Interestingly, there was one place you could find the Oculus logo at CES. It wasn’t on a booth or in its own meeting rooms, but instead nestled under the Facebook logo as seen below.
That does give us pause for thought. There’s an increasingly prevalent question in the VR industry right now: what is Oculus’ future with Facebook? We’ve always seen it as a separate company, but as VR grows in importance and Zuckerberg’s social networking platform integrates it more and more, it makes increasingly more sense that Oculus becomes Facebook’s VR division, and not a separate entity. Maybe this image provides a hint of that.
It’s been a strange CES, devoid of the breakthroughs we’ve seen in years past, but maybe that’s the sign of the year we’re about to have: a year of software and incremental hardware add-ons rather than huge new advances, which we fully expect to see in 2018. Oculus’ presence at the show certainly suggests it’s set for a less eventful year, but GDC is right around the corner. Will that be where we see the company next?