It was a typical start to the tech year. The industry was shaking off its rude awakening from Christmas festivities and heading, as always, to Las Vegas for CES. A new line of phones, TVs and fridges lined the conference halls, ready to be mulled over by reporters, rivals and enthusiasts alike. But there was just a hint of variety to this year’s show, and a touch of excitement in the air along with it.
This was to be VR’s first real CES.
After a long year of carefully controlled updates, Facebook’s Oculus fired the starting gun on consumer VR. On Wednesday, January 6 2016, the company opened pre-orders for the Oculus Rift, known to some as CV1.
This was a moment many had waited for, agonized over, even. Some people had been following Oculus’ movements since its 2012 Kickstarter if not before. After three development kits (including the almost consumer-ready Crescent Bay) and four years of waiting, it was finally time for the age of consumer VR to begin.
Or at least it was for those with deep enough pockets.
Upon loading up the Rift’s pre-order page — no small feat given demand was crashing the website — fans were greeted with the unwelcome news that the Rift, its Xbox One controller, external positional tracker and everything else in the box came to the grand total of $599. And that was without the beefy PC you’d actually need to run the thing. It was a clear sign that affordable consumer VR wasn’t quite as ready to take off as we might have hoped.
The reaction was understandably agitated. Rift inventor Palmer Luckey ended up apologizing for previous comments in which he’d suggested the kit would cost “roughly in that $350 ballpark”. That’s a pretty wide park, Palmer.
Oculus had lined up a few extras to dull the sting, though. Firstly, it bundled Rift with freebies, like CCP Games’ Eve: Valkyrie and Playful’s Lucky’s Tale. More persuasively, it also offered free Rifts to anyone that had bought a DK1 headset through the Kickstarter in 2012. For those lucky (or perhaps shrewd) thousands, the price of getting into VR was significantly reduced, though there was still one missing ingredient.
As we mentioned above, the original Rift at first came with an Xbox One controller. The Oculus Touch hand controllers that now come standard with Rift S and Oculus Quest weren’t set to release until the end of the year. Until then, Rift’s tracking tech played second fiddle to Valve and HTC’s $799 Vive, which offered full tracking of head and hands in games like Job Simulator and Fantastic Contraption, which Rift owners had to wait until December to play. Until then, Oculus lined up a range of exclusive gamepad-based titles like Insomniac Games’ Edge of Nowhere.
Rift went on to have a slightly troubled launch, with shipping delays stretching into the months for some. Oculus never released sales figures for the headset, but it’s largely assumed that both Rift and the Vive struggled to take off thanks to high price points and complicated, space-intensive tracking systems.
But Facebook fought back, slashing Rift’s price to $350 in a short amount of time before, finally, phasing Rift out with the introduction of the Rift S in 2019. The era of CV1 is over; long live the CV1!