Gamers have been buzzing about VR for a couple of years already, and they're going to be the headsets' core audience at launch. But in the long run, we believe the product has the potential to transcend gaming. Let's take a look at eight future uses for the best virtual reality headset.
Virtual reality could ultimately transform movies at least as much as it does gaming. Some of the clips in Oculus' demo from CES gave us a glimpse of the jaw-dropping immersiveness that could come from a new VR-focused Hollywood: things like a Pixar-influenced animated short, an intimate T-Rex encounter that would right be at home in a Jurassic Park reboot and an epic sci-fi battle scene that had us dodging bullets like Neo from The Matrix.
The best way to describe the experience is that it made today's movies seem stale and one-dimensional by comparison. Of course the best movies are more about masterful storytelling than eye candy, but there's no reason the Nolans and Scorceses of the world couldn't bring art to the 360-degree world of VR.
Home video would likely take off first, but why couldn't we eventually have movie theaters full of VR headsets? What you'd miss in communion with your fellow moviegoers would be more than made up for with a feeling that you were standing in the middle of the movie's action.
Similarly, VR could transform the way we watch sports. Imagine the 2016 NBA Finals with 360-degree cameras placed at various points courtside (or even hanging above the court or on the backboards). From the comfort of your own La-Z-Boy, a VR headset could give you the best seats in the house – perhaps switching from seat-to-seat as the action moves.
Samsung is already moving in this direction, partnering up with the NBA for 360-degree in-game action for the Gear VR in 2015. It sounds like it's just going to be highlights at launch, but live feeds of full games seems like the obvious long-term destination.
Making exercise machines fun
We actually tried this one, and immediately saw the potential. Using the Gear VR on an exercise bike, we were barely aware that we were exerting energy – and that's without the machine's movements corresponding with the in-game action. Once that happens, we could have gyms where, instead of choosing a boring workout, you'll choose the speed of the beasts you're chasing and the incline of the mountains you're chasing them across.
Facebook of the future
Of all the companies to buy Oculus VR, why Facebook? Well, perhaps Mark Zuckerburg saw a little of himself in the young innovators running the hot startup, but it could also be because he saw a new future for social media: Enter the metaverse.
Imagine a future version of Facebook where, instead of posting photos of your lunch on your wall, you have a Second Life-like avatar, and can mill about with virtual versions of your high school class or family members who live on the other side of the world. Each person would be sitting in their own living room, but could interact as if they were hanging out at a reunion. This virtual world could give a whole new meaning to the moniker "virtual town square."
Speaking of Second Life, the past-its-prime virtual world is already trying to get a jump on this by integrating Oculus Rift DK2 support into its social sandbox.
The real reason to get a self-driving car
If autonomous cars become mainstream, that would free us up to focus on other things while in the car. So why not pimp your ride with a few VR headsets? Then, instead of staring at miles and miles of boring dirt during your road trip to Vegas, you could battle aliens, save Gotham City or get lost in the woods with Reese Witherspoon.
Though "virtual reality" and "play" are going to go hand-in-hand, don't forget about "work." Governments, businesses and militaries could use VR to better prepare people for their jobs.
Pilots could have the most realistic simulators they've ever flown, beginner repair technicians could get hands-on experience without damaging expensive equipment and soldiers could simulate battle without leaving their barracks. Perhaps psychologists could even use it to help patients resolve painful childhood memories. The possibilities here are practically endless.
This one is likely the farthest down the pipeline, but imagine a future world where we each have telepresence robots that we control from home, using virtual reality headsets. And when the robots get to the point where they look like us, we could virtually attend a business meeting in Tokyo, while sitting on the couch in New York – while feeling and looking like we're really there.
We could pretend like virtual reality will only be used for PG, family-friendly uses, but who would we be kidding? The porn industry is going to jump all over this, making for the most realistic fake sex humanity has ever experienced.
The only problem? If I had VR porn when I was a teenager, I might have never left my room.