The days of using virtual reality just for video gaming are long past as even your smartphone can become a VR headset.
Virtual reality (VR) is simply an artificial experience that tricks your mind into thinking it is somewhere else by stimulating your senses.
This could be through sight, sound or even touch - and it's been a staple of science fiction for decades.
But while sci-fi films have been playing around with VR for years, the last couple of years have seen it evolve as a mainstream technology.
Partly that's down to improvements in sensor technology that help to recreate the feeling of being somewhere else - but it's also due to the ubiquity of smartphones.
Smartphones are, in effect, mini computers that are capable of producing responsive content with a low enough latency that it appears to be almost seamless.
A man wears a PlayStation VR headset (Image: Getty)
Technology has not only improved, but it has reduced in price enough that most people can afford to get their hands on a virtual realty headset of some description.
Virtual reality environments can put the user in different situations - either transporting them to another real-world location or pitching them directly into a fantasy world.
This means it has been adopted not just by the video game industry but also by travel companies, medical practices, real estate businesses and sports companies.
History of virtual reality
Early mechanical devices in the 1950s tried to create a more immersive version of theatre and are one of the earliest known virtual reality products.
By incorporating sight, smell, sound and touch, the "Sensorama"was a giant booth that people would sit at to experience the content.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, the technology was developed primarily for industry use in medicine, aviation and the military.
Films like Tron helped to keep the VR trend alive in popular culture.
Tron-like frisbee battle game in virtual reality (Image: Rex/VRScout)
It wasn't until the mid-90s that the first commercial headsets started to arrive. Gaming company Sega launched the Sega VR headset that was built to work with the Sega Mega Drive game console.
However, VR as we know it today got its start in 2010 when Oculus founder Palmer Luckey created the first prototype of the Oculus Rift which he funded through kickstarter. It incorporated a 90-degree field of vision and became the basis for VR headsets going forward.
How does virtual reality work
The technique for creating a virtual world rested on creating a stereoscopic image which presents two offset images separately to each eye. By mixing this with a large enough image - or one that responds dynamically to a turn of the head - creators are able to fool a brain into seeing a different destination.
Nowadays, modern headsets use advanced gyroscopic sensors to relate the imaginary world directly to the position of your eyes while feeding a continuous image to your brain.
Incorporating haptic feedback, such as vibrating gloves, just adds to the immersion.
Who is pushing virtual reality forward?
The Teslasuit gives haptic feedback for a more immersive virtual reality experience (Image: PHILIP COBURN/DAILY MIRROR)
At this point, almost all companies are getting into the VR game. It's still mostly associated with gamers thanks to the efforts of Sony and HTC.
The former created a plug-and-play headset called the PlayStation VR which works with the PS4 console while the latter created the HTC Vive alongside gaming company Valve.
"It's 100% the technology," Valve's Chet Faliszek told Mirror Tech during a chat about the HTC Vive headset.
"We are at sub-20 millisecond latency now," he said, referring to the speed of the headset to keep up with the movement of your head when displaying the image for your eyes.
"The VR we've dreamed of is not being at the edge of contact but being surrounded and able to interact with it. Making sure there are controllers that are moving through that space."
Virtual reality is also being adopted by Hollywood. Most notably by Steven Spielberg who's recent film Ready Player One depicts a ragtag bunch of gamers facing down an evil corporation in a VR world.
What are the drawbacks of virtual reality?
Some people find that using virtual reality for too long can give them motion sickness. It can also be jarring if you're pulled out of a virtual reality experience quickly and without warning.
Leading laser eye surgeon Dr David Allamby, clinical director of London's Focus clinic, says VR could also be setting up a generation of young adults for myopia and agonisingly-painful "dry eye".
"With virtual reality headsets about to experience a real boom, we are setting up the next generation of gamers for some potentially serious eye problems," he explained.
"Parents and younger people need to know the risks. With VR, we're going to potentially see more and more people suffering from a lack of exposure to daylight - something which affects the way our eyes naturally grow and which can lead to short-sightedness, or 'myopia'.
"And because VR prevents our eyes from naturally focusing at a far distance, this too can speed-up the progression of myopia."
Dr Allamby added that there are other optical issues that are specific to using VR headsets.
"Many VR users have complained about dry eye or eye strain from wearing headsets, a condition exacerbated by the fact that some wearers, when in a stressful situation and immersed in a 3D action environment, simply neglect to blink as often as they should be to really lubricate the eye," he said.
"And it’s not something to be taken lightly.
"Over a prolonged period of time, dry eye can lead to extreme pain, with sufferers sometimes describing it as being stabbed in their eyes."
Other experts have warned about how VR disrupts how our eyes naturally converge and diverge as we focus on objects at different distances - something known as "vergence-accommodation coupling".
Recent research from the University of California Los Angeles found that, when tested on rats, a virtual experience caused 60% of the brain cells in the Hippocampus region to "shut down".
That's the part of the brain which maps an individual's location in space, along with supporting other functions like memory, learning and dreaming.
What are the best virtual reality headsets?
Virtual reality (Image: Future Publishing)
For a full run-down of the best headsets to buy in 2018, you can find the answer right here .
But the top three come down to a choice between the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive.
While Samsung and Google have both created (relatively) low-cost VR headsets that use a smartphone as the display , the real battle is being fought elsewhere.
Oculus, Sony and HTC have all produced high-end virtual reality headsets that offer a more immersive experience. Unfortunately, that comes with a price tag.
What's more, each headset needs to be powered by a separate machine - in the case of Oculus and HTC's Vive it's a PC, whereas the PlayStation VR will work with a PlayStation 4 console .
You'll want to weigh up the three options carefully before making your final decision.