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The issues of hygiene with the current VR head-mounted displays are revealed in the first of a series of features from immersive entertainment specialist, Kevin Williams of KWP. This feature will look at the different responses being taken for home VR owners, and from the VR arcade scene – and the lessons being learned. We also include a very important bonus section explaining how to clean your Oculus Rift.
Terms that we would not have been familiar with a year ago, like Transmissibility and Vectors, are now part of all our lexicon. Anything that has contact with our faces, let alone be shared—in a society fixated on hand washing—is going to be a big concern. Virtual Reality (VR), and the wearing of the headset has always been a point of anxiety; long before the Global Health crisis. And is once more in the spotlight.
The selling of VR into the market is a story of two industries. The first is the commercial use in entertainment and training applications. The second is in consumer electronics and entertainment. Both industries have had to set down a process of best practices, in its usage and operation of VR. But under the current microscope of concern over disease, these procedures take on a new emphasis.
While the commercial VR entertainment hardware had been forced into temporary lockdown, home VR has been defiant. Consumer electronics companies have continued to push VR at gamers. During the national lockdown, some of the biggest home VR releases happened. From the launch of the amazing high-end VR Half-Life: Alyx from Valve; to the release of the low-cost Oculus Quest 2—claiming to cut-the-wires on more immersive VR experiences.
This push to next-gen VR for home-gamers has been sold on having better graphics and simple to use all in a compact design. While being available to use by a bigger audience. But all the marketing seems to have missed some parts of VR usage. Such as the ability to ensure the cleaning and hygiene of a system, especially when shared amongst friends and families. The sharing of hardware between users being promoted with news of the roll-out of the new Multi-User account sharing feature, by Oculus for Quest 2 users.
Home VR headsets must cut some corners to be affordable and use cheap open cell foam for the liners in gaskets, touching the user’s face. While still having sleek designs, the home VR units have limited info on cleaning them. Now with the public concern regarding hygiene, it is obvious that VR tech would have to adopt a serious approach to keeping hardware safe as other industries have done.
Accessory companies like VR Cover built for home users a range of covers (in plastic and leather) that covers the foam on the most popular home VR headsets. The company updates this, launching for the Oculus Quest 2 a new Silicone Cover that has a durable and easy to clean hygiene barrier for the headset.
A durable, hygiene barrier, has been made with the Controller Grips, also for the Quest 2. It feels like some VR manufacturers have not focused that hard-on thinking about cleaning and hygiene on their hardware. Systems that could prove a possible vector if not treated correctly and shared.
Concerns on the build-quality were raised regarding sweat being absorbed by the open foam construction of some systems. A constant complaint being uncomfortable as the VR headset gets used in hard activities like VR fitness. Home fitness games being a lifesaver for players in isolation, able to keep fit. But the VR headsets can get drenched in sweat, and this also raises hygiene worries.
Along with foam covers, other suppliers are selling special cleaning items that can be used with headsets. A rush to cash-in on the anxiety surrounding all things users touch and wear, under the current conditions. This has even seen sales of disposable face masks to gamers. While some VR headset makers have decided to stay out of the discussion on cleaning issues. Advised to adopt a watching brief on questions about hygiene. Like with an argument on age restrictions on using VR headsets, the ability to limit any official information on causality is seen as best.
How to Clean your Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest 1 & 2
For owners of VR headsets, the question must be How to clean VR headsets, and what are the key areas of the hardware that need special attention.
For new owners, a common question has been How to clean your Oculus Rift, and How to clean your Oculus Quest 2. The open-cell foam element of the faceplate needs special attention, and rather than washing it, it needs to be air-dried after intense usage, to clear sweat (and oil) build-up. The faceplate can be popped off and dealt with separately. Regarding a wipe down of the body of the unit, a micro-fiber cloth is a good start for this process, ensuring the cleaning of the cameras and the general body of the unit.
It is important to pass on the advice in not using any solvents, or cleaning products, containing alcohol when wiping down. The plastic used on the body, and especially the lens, will be damaged, and it can also cause skin irritation. This is an important concern, especially as it was reported that a small number of Quest 2 owners have already experienced skin irritation from the new unit’s facial interface foam.
How to Clean your Oculus Rift Lenses
On How to clean Oculus lenses; a dry micro-fiber cloth, applying light pressure, is best. Antibacterial wipes (non-alcoholic) are also available; but as always, we advise following those instructions supplied by the manufacturer.
To clean your Rift headset lenses:
Use a dry optical lens microfiber cloth to clean your headset lenses. Don’t use liquid or chemical cleansers.
Starting from the center of the lens, gently wipe the lens in a circular motion moving outwards.
With the discontinued Oculus Rift and Rift-S range, the process is the same, with special attention also being given to the head straps, and with these units’ audio pads.
On other platforms, the question of How to clean HTC VIVE headsets. They too have removable foam faceplates that can dry on their own. The rest of the body of the headset was wiped down, with special attention around the lens holders. The head strap getting its attention. Also, on the question of How to sanitize headphones. As on the VIVE as well as other headsets, the audio is supplied by earphones, and where they touch the user’s head, they need to be wiped down.
Some VR headset manufacturers taking on the responsibility of an accessible cleaning capability. The high-end Valve Index headset, having a dedicated face gasket unit that can be fully removed for cleaning. It is important not to forget cleaning the hand controllers, getting a regular wipe down, especially between users. These tips can also apply to any existing headset types in the market. It is also important to ensure you follow the information found in the instructions with these platforms. And, if you need more information best to directly contact the service and support teams.
From consumers, the commercial VR scene gives a new perspective. When considering the deployment of a head-mounted system that will be worn by hundreds if not thousands of guests during the operation. For an entertainment venue, hygiene will be an important factor, along with robustness and ease of operation. Since the 1990’s first deployment of VR into the entertainment space, hygiene has been a serious issue. Also seen with the deployment of active 3D glasses in cinemas, or the concerns for shared go-kart helmets, or bowling shoes.
Walt Disney was one of the first major theme parks to deploy a VR experience in their sites in 1994. Seeing the problem developed a unique approach to the problem. Launching their bulky DisneyVision VR helmet, they created a two-part system that had a separate liner. Worn and adjusting to the player’s head, which connected with the main display system. This liner would be cleaned separately, leaving the display for a simple wipe-down where needed.
Launched in commercial entertainment for a second time, and new VR home headsets on the market offered low-cost systems to use. However, these home units brought their problems. Most obvious was the use of open-cell foam in the gasket and faceplate. Literal sponges that would collect all kinds of nasty things from lots of users. This saw operators being the first to use accessories like VR Cover. Creating covers over the foam elements that allowed easier cleaning, and blocked sweat and bacteria.
Seen in the Asian market, and slowly adopted in some Western VR arcade sites, was the Ninja-Mask, (the nicknames given to throw-away VR face masks). Long before facemasks would be seen everywhere, Ninja-Masks were a barrier between the headset faceplate and the player’s face.
At the same time, a way to automate the cleaning process of multiple headsets at VR arcades was needed. So was copied a similar technology used to clean go-kart crash helmets. VR headsets put in Ultra-Violet lightboxes that sterilized a high percentage of a bacterium. The UV-C light wavelength is seen as the best for this job. Companies such as Cleanbox Technology launching their sterilization platform internationally.
Manufacturers of VR arcade platforms saw a growing need to standardize the way cleaning and maintenance were carried out. Just as the Global crisis was starting, leading manufacturers such as HOLOGATE, released their Hygiene and Safety Standard. Breaking down the best way for owners, to checking, operating, and cleaning VR hardware. Other makers followed and made clear the needs of the changing market.
Immotion had built a multi-million Dollar VR attraction, called Ocean Explorer that opened at the Mandalay Bay casino resort, in Las Vegas. They worked hard to make sure that it was a safe and reliable experience. Using multiple VR headsets on a motion theatre that had 1,000 visitors a day. So, to lock down hygiene standards, the company developed its own UV-C disinfection cabinet, promising to kill 99.99% of all viruses and bacteria. Happy with this cabinet the company had created, they started a new division, called UVISAN that now sells the platform to other operators.
Finally, with the entertainment business lockdown has hit the VR arcade and attraction industry. VR venues have gone into hibernation, awaiting the time to throw open their doors once again, and offer fun to an audience that has never lost its interest in being immersed.
The VR market’s growth has been surprising, and the impact of the Global Health crisis is just another unplanned footnote. While the Sony PlayStation VR saw big sales for its type (over some 5m units), the overall take up of VR has not been as expected. For the PC VR scene, the slow but gradual adoption has not been in the numbers promised by some executives. While market interest still seems to be there, the need is for a format that is popular and simple to operate. This has led to Facebook betting on their Oculus Quest 2 approach.
This move is to attract more buyers, with the founder of Facebook revealing his hope to get in the next few years, over a billion new VR users. Ensuring that there are no barriers to use, be it PC hardware, complicated cables, or negative publicity. The approach of focusing on an all-in-one VR headset, following the mobileVR initiative, rather than the VR platform saddled with a high-end PC, is part of this.
Other VR makers are also looking to enter this latest phase of VR innovation but are also looking at a Mixed Reality (MR) approach. Betting on future headwear including augmented (see through) and virtual reality elements. Both Panasonic and Samsung are rumored to have new lightweight headwear designs about to launch. The AR market about to see sleek new augmented environmental systems. Facebook has signed a partnership with Luxottica, the maker of the iconic Ray-Ban glasses, to release a stylish and compact MR system of their own.
The reduction in size and form factor is done more to achieve a desirable platform. But an element of this design is also limiting the actual contact with the user, and so making these systems easier to clean and less of a problem for transfer. Being more and more a personalized, single-user system—like a pair of glasses.
But in the meantime, with the currently available VR headsets, all users that share their equipment must perform the best practice. And as with all things currently, ensure they keep them clean and regularly wash their hands.
About the Author
Kevin Williams—a leading specialist in the digital Out-of-Home entertainment industry, through his consultancy KWP Limited, specializing in interactive entertainment. Coming from a long career in the theme park, amusement, and entertainment software industries, being an ex-Walt Disney Imagineer. Well known for his news service, The Stinger Report has become a must-read for those working or investing in the international market. Along with this, he is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market, The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier—currently working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.