NEW YORK: Two thirds of Americans remain unaware of virtual reality technology although the gaming community is hugely interested, new research has shown.

Tapping into its proprietary online research community of 3,000 people, media services agency Horizon Media discovered that unaided awareness of the major VR devices – such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard – was low at just 33%, despite mainstream media extolling the "shiny, new technology".

Slightly more (36%) said they were interested in owning some sort of VR device and Horizon's Distillery social intelligence team found that 9% of online discussion around the topic was related to positive purchase interest.

It contrasted the interest in VR with that shown in the Apple Watch before its release: twice as many of its panellists considered VR "an exciting new innovation to own" (82% for VR vs. 44% for Apple Watch).

And twice as many said "everyone is going to wish they owned one" (55% for VR vs. 24% for Apple Watch).

Four out of five (81%) expected that within five years anywhere from a quarter to half of the population would own a VR device.

For now, however, interest in owning one is largely restricted to gamers. In an analysis of VR related posts mentioning interest areas such as travel and viewing live events, gaming claimed a 93% share of the discussion.

"The research helps explain why gaming is the most likely first frontier for virtual reality devices," said Kirk Olson, VP/Trendsights at Horizon Media.

"Core gamers aren't a large audience, but they're passionate about new technology," he added. "That makes them much more likely to pay for premium devices like Oculus Rift."

The research also indicated that interest in VR is strongly biased towards men, who were three times more likely than women to have already tried VR technology (16% of men vs. 6% of women).

They also have a higher interest in owning a VR device (47% of men vs. 25% of women) and would pay more for the privilege.

Data sourced from Horizon Media; additional content by Warc staff