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Virtual reality hits an issue, leaving some users with itchy faces

It was Jeff Berling’s colleague who warned him about the rash.

Shortly after Mr Berling, 58, purchased the Quest 2, a virtual reality headset made by Oculus from Facebook Inc., in July, the IT entrepreneur was told he would have to purchase a protective insert. facial from a third-party seller. Whoever comes in the box, his colleague told him, has been known to make users’ faces look irritated and red.

“I was thinking, ‘Yes, that’s right,’” said Mr. Berling, who lives in Imperial, Mo. “But of course when I used my new Quest 2 for an hour or two, my face was the place where the insert was touching had tingling, and the skin was red and itchy in the form of the glasses.

Facebook said last week that given reports of skin irritation, it was voluntarily recalling the Quest 2’s removable foam face pad and suspending sales of the headset until August 24. When sales resume, a silicone cover that fits over the foam will be included in each box. People who already own the headset can request a free silicone cover online.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission said Facebook received more than 5,700 reports of skin irritations, including rashes, burns and hives, after using the foam pad on the helmet. Quest 2 at $ 299, including 45 cases requiring medical attention.

Since the Quest 2 launched in October 2020, Facebook has produced approximately 4 million foam facial interfaces in the United States and approximately 172,000 in Canada, sold with the headsets or as separate accessories, Facebook said.

“While these reports represent a very small percentage of Quest 2 users and the majority of reports remain unverified, we want every user to have a great experience with their Quest 2 headsets,” a Facebook spokesperson said. . The company changed its manufacturing process to reduce “some traces of substances” that could contribute to discomfort on the skin, the spokesperson said, declining to give details.

The recall is unlikely to deter avid VR users, said Gracie Page, chief technology officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Group SJR, a marketing agency owned by WPP PLC. . But it may add fuel to the fire for those already skeptical of virtual reality, she said. “It will be another drop in the ocean [for them], a “just one more thing,” Ms. Page said.

Consumer virtual reality headsets, although they’ve been around since the 1990s, haven’t spread in the same way as voice assistant technology or smartphones, Ms. Page said.

Besides Facebook’s Oculus, other VR headset makers include HTC Corp.

and the Sony group Corp.

Technology research firm International Data Corp. estimated that 5.6 million virtual reality headsets were sold globally in 2020, up 2.5% from 2019, with Facebook accounting for 63% of shipments.

Sales were in part hampered by the limited content available for virtual reality headsets, said Tuong Nguyen, senior analyst on the Emerging Technologies and Trends team at research and consulting firm Gartner. Inc.

More from the experience report

Although headsets have been used in amusement parks and even doctors’ offices as an experimental form of therapy, their primary use remains in video games.

“Most of today’s content is about games, so what about users who don’t or don’t want to play? Nguyen asked, adding that even within the video game industry, the variety of virtual reality content offerings is reduced compared to that of other consoles. Approximately 200 games can be played on Oculus Quest devices; for comparison, over 2,600 games are available for Microsoft Body

latest Xbox consoles.

Headset ergonomics are also a huge barrier to adopting virtual reality, Nguyen said. The devices are heavy and can lead to a “VR neck,” a term used to describe the tension or pain felt after wearing them for a long time. The gap that virtual reality creates between the eyes and the body can cause motion sickness. And on a practical level, the “blindness” caused by seeing one world while moving around another has led to accidents, Mr. Nguyen said.

Another problem: many find helmets ugly.

With a virtual reality headset and a virtual meeting platform like Spatial, you can meet and collaborate with your colleagues as if you were in a real office space. WSJ’s Joanna Stern transformed into a holographic avatar and climbed into a virtual elevator to test it out. Photographic illustration: Adam Falk

“There is a usability issue… that needs to be addressed so that people are happy to display them in their homes,” Ms. Page said. “They either have to look better, so people are happy to display them in their homes, or be less bulky and more mobile, so they can be put away and brought back very smoothly.”

Vendors “are working hard to make virtual reality devices smaller and lighter,” said Nguyen. Oculus, for example, reduced the weight of its Quest 2 headset to around 1.1 pounds, compared to 1.25 pounds for its predecessor, the Quest.

Mr Berling, meanwhile, said the recall had not deterred him from using the Quest 2. He had not yet purchased any games, but had marveled at the 360-degree videos of the Matterhorn, Mt. Everest and Angel Falls. “It’s pretty cool technology,” he said.

Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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