Research shows Americans perplexed by VR but ready to embrace it

Some manufacturers are calling 2016 “the year of VR,” but that would come as a surprise to most Americans, a new survey has found.

Despite massive investments in the technology in recent years, a new ReportLinker survey found the majority of respondents do not understand the concept of virtual reality and fully half cannot name a single brand behind the technology. However, Americans are readily prepared to embrace the new technology once it’s explained to them, the survey discovered.

VR is an immersive experience in which the user’s head movements are tracked in a three-dimensional world, making it ideally suited for such uses as games and movies.

Although attempts to develop VR failed in the 1990s, a number of developers are now creating devices that could revolutionise gaming and entertainment. But while new VR devices are being released by several major brands, consumers remain perplexed about it.

According to the survey, 58% of Americans have heard about VR, but are unable to explain what it’s all about. Less than a fifth are very familiar with the technology, with millennials leading the way in having the most knowledge of VR at 26%.


Disconnect exists between public’s VR views and marketers’ enthusiasm

The survey indicates there is a large disconnect between the public’s awareness of VR and the excitement of marketers and media who have anointed it as the next big thing. It discovered VR has a long way to go before it reaches widespread awareness.

For example, the survey found that half of the respondents are unable to name a VR brand even when prompted with brand names. The likes of Oculus Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive are aiming to take the VR medium mainstream this year.

Samsung was named by 15% of male respondents, making it the brand most often mentioned without prompting in the survey. But while there is little in the way of unaided awareness for VR brands, there is better news when it comes to people’s attitudes about the emerging technology – once they receive an explanation of what it’s all about, that is.

More than seven in ten of respondents (72%) have a positive attitude about VR. Not surprisingly, males and millennials who are already familiar with the technology have the most positive views of the technology. Seniors, meanwhile, are the least enthusiastic about VR, with 34% somewhat negative and 20% very negative.

Virtual reality technology new to most, but users give it solid marks

The survey found that the vast majority of respondents (95%) have never worn a VR headset to experience the technology’s bells and whistles. Those who have taken the technology for a spin were most likely to identify the Samsung Gear VR (49%) as the brand they tried. That’s likely explained by the fact the Samsung model was released last November, making it among the oldest of the latest crop of VR devices. (More than 1 million tried Gear VR last April alone.) Three-quarters of those who tried the Samsung Gear VR did not own the device.

In terms of satisfaction, those who have tried a VR would only give the experience a score of a B. The overall satisfaction score was 6.9/10, with millennials barely giving the experience a passing grade (5.6/10). Non-millennials, however, were far more enthusiastic and gave their VR try out almost an A score (7.6/10).

According to the survey, testers found the realism of the VR experience (52%), the high-quality interface of the devices (45%) and its immersive potential (30%) as the most impressive elements of the high-tech headsets. For many (39%), though, the VR experience induced dizziness.

Most users said they would recommend the devices to a friend or colleague and gave their VR experience an average recommendation score of 6.8/10. However, more than one-quarter (27%) of users were thrilled with the VR devices. These users, who can be classified as real promoters, gave VR scores of nine out of ten or perfect scores.


Mainstream virtual reality acceptance and willingness to spend are lacking

Still, it looks like there will be a long way to go before non-users decide to check out VR devices. The majority of respondents (55%) who have never tried a VR device are not interested in taking a test drive with the headset. Males are much more interested in trying VR than females (28% vs. 15%) and millennials are far more interested than all other age groups (37% vs. 13%).

Playing games (47%) or watching a movie (23%) were the attractions for respondents most interested in experimenting with a VR headset, making entertainment potentially the most lucrative sector for device makers.

In a Deloitte Global study, the firm predicted that VR will have its first billion dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million in hardware sales from about 2.5 million headsets and $300 million from content.

But the ReportLinker study found that prediction might be too optimistic. When it comes to cost, only 20% of VR novices in the U.S. who are interested in buying a headset would be willing to spend more than $500. Another 20% would pay between $300 and $500. However, the majority of respondents would be unwilling to spend more than $300 for a headset. At the moment, Samsung and Google are the only major players with devices that cost less than $300.

But the news that Americans are unwilling to spend much appears to come as little surprise to the industry.  Last December, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey tweeted that VR would take time to make a breakthrough because of the cost of headsets. The Oculus device launched at a list price of $599.99, with a messaging strategy that emphasised quality above all else.

Until VR becomes more widely accepted and brand awareness grows, it seems consumers are unwilling to spend much for something they have yet to experience. However, manufacturers appear to be willing to wait before they come onboard.

The VR experience has to go beyond its untested stage and become more real, it seems, before most Americans become willing to put big bucks behind the technology.



Edited from press release by Cecilia Rehn.