Preparations For The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2016
An attendee watches 'Collisions', a 15 minute film by artist Lynette Wallworth, on a Samsung Gear VR virtual reality headset, developed jointly by Oculus VR Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016.  Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Why Virtual Reality Isn't Just for Gamers

Jan 19, 2016

The concept of virtual reality has been tossed around for decades, but it first gained serious attention when Jaron Lanier coined the term in the early 1980's. Today, Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality, and is considered one of our industry's top futurists. When I first met him in the early 1990's and he discussed virtual reality, it sounded more like science fiction. The idea that a person could be transported via 3D and 360-degree imaging into a digital scene was just too fantastic for me to grasp back then.

But fast forward about 25 years, and suddenly virtual reality technology is on our doorstep. Whether it's the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive or Samsung's Gear VR, we have — or we're about to have — technology that can transport a person in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.

I've had a chance to test many of these headsets, and the experience each delivers is fascinating. Microsoft’s HoloLens, which projects holograms into the wearer's physical space, is perhaps the most immersive of the group. But the Oculus also makes one feel like they're part of the action. Both of these products are at the high end of the VR experience, with estimated and actual prices to match.

On the other hand, Samsung’s Gear VR headset, which works with many of Samsung's smartphones, can give many customers a cheaper taste of what VR is all about. At $99, the Gear is priced for a wider range of shoppers.

See The Incredibly Goofy Evolution of Virtual Reality Headsets

Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
"Reality +" at the Virtual Reality Systems 93 show was described as a next generation, multi-player virtual reality entertainment system that gave a high sense of movement in a computer-generated world revealed in a head-mounted display.
The 3-player Budweiser virtual reality mask at the Food Marketing Institute's International Supermarket Industry Convention and Educational Expostion in Chicago.
A Virtual Reality contraption at the Sci Fi Channel booth at The National Cable Television Association annual convention, in San Francisco.
Soldier training using a virtual reality-simulated 3-D shootout at an Army facility.
A visitor checking out a virtual reality head-set at the G7 Information Society Showcase taking place at the European Parliament. The head-set was linked to a camera elsewhere in the building which the visitor could control through head movements.
A researcher at Tokyo University's Intelligent Modeling Laboratory wearing 3-D glasses, extending his hands to touch carbon atoms in the microscopic world at the laboratory's virtual reality room.
Visitors enjoy virtual reality driving with 3-D goggles and driving simulators for the presentation of Japan's automaker Nissan at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo.
A visitor to the " Ars Electronica in a dish installation " Humphrey II" , which allowed virtual free flight through a 3D reconstruction of the city of Linz.
A girl wore a full color head mounted display with a built-in camera as Japan's machinery maker Hitachi Zosen and Shimadzu unveiled a wearable computer, consisting of the HMD and a palm sized Windows XP PC with a pointing device at a virtual reality exhibition in Tokyo.
Lt. David Shipley of the Adams County Sheriff's Department watched an interactive video that replicated the experiences of a schizophrenic patient having auditory and visual hallucinations while attempting to refill a prescription at a pharmacy.
Valeria Petkova, right, and student Andrew Ketterer, left, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, tested the 'body-swap' illusion, a method whereby people can experience the illusion that either a mannequin or another person's body is their own body.
Raphael Pirker from Switzerland, founder of Team BlackSheep used virtual reality goggles to simulate the sensation of flight in the real world during a demonstration, flying from the perspective of a model aircraft, during a session of LeWeb'12 in Saint-Denis, near Paris.
A man seeking a job was equipped with 3D spectacles with sensors as he trained in Clermont-Ferrand, central France with avatars (background) in a virtual reality cube, at business incubator Pascalis.
Peter Kenny Jan Torpus, director of Lifeclipper project, tested the immersive augmented reality equipment in St Johanns Park in Basel, Switzerland.
Professor Karl Oldhafer, chief physician of general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, before liver surgery. Oldhafer used augmented reality, which allowed the liver to be filmed with an iPad and overlaid during the operation with virtual 3D models reconstructed from the real organ. This procedure helped locate critical structures such as tumors and vessels and was expected to improve the quality of transferring pre-operational resection plans into actual surgery.
British television presenter Rachel Riley showed a virtual-reality headset called Gear VR during a Samsung event ahead of the consumer electronic fair IFA in Berlin.
Tim Draper, Founder and Managing partner of 'Draper Fisher Jurvetson', tried out the latest in virtual reality technology the 2014 Kairos Global Summit at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel in Dana Point, California.
A man played a game with the virtual reality head-mounted display 'Oculus Rift' at International Games Week in Berlin. The display transfers the eye movements to the game in real time.
Microsoft's Lorraine Bardeen demonstrates HoloLens headset during an event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. on Jan. 21, 2015.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover w

Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
1 of 20

The first obvious use case for virtual reality is gaming. But the reason that consumer VR may take off sooner rather than later is that a wide variety of industries, from travel to real estate, are about to embrace it. Cruise companies will soon be taking 360-degree photos and videos of their ships, allowing would-be customers to take VR tours before booking. Real estate companies will do likewise with available properties. And in the retail space, Retale is building an experience that lets shoppers peruse a digital showroom while getting help from a virtual assistant.

Read more: I tried virtual reality and it brought me to tears

Virtual reality is still in its infancy, and it's true that it will be adopted by gamers and techies at first. But as more lower-cost headsets hit the market and lots of different industries embrace the technology, VR will be driven into the consumer market much faster than anyone expects. Ultimately, it will deliver a much more immersive computing experience than anything available today.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.