Virtual reality is the future, though not the future we were promised in the 90s by movies like The Lawnmower Man and new features where befuddled middle aged television presenters would get confused and be patronising towards an admittedly clumsy vision of things to come.

No, the new VR is something to actually pay attention to - the technological kinks have more or less been ironed out, big companies like HTC, Facebook and Sony are involved in creating their own hardware and, importantly, it's going to be affordable for normal people. With the HTC Vive, Facebook's Oculus Rift and Sony's PlayStation VR doing the rounds, we thought we'd take a look at a few ways that - this time around - VR could change the world.

[Read more: Advanced virtual reality and multiscreen technology could change the way we watch sport forever]

Gaming

The obvious use for virtual reality - and the most-demonstrated example - is gaming.

It's unlikely to be supported by all games any time yet, but from what we've played with most headsets around, VR offers an intense, immersive and impressive experience that brings gaming into a whole new level of excellence.

 

Watching films

Something that has been talked about with wide-eyed wonder is the possibility of movies that take advantage of VR's immersive capabilities.

Think of 3D films, then think of actual, true 3D - a movie world you can look around in as you see fit, looking at the action from different angles and paying attention to whatever you choose to.

It's theoretical at best right now, but the possibility is there. And it could change film-watching forever.

 

'Visiting' places

Think how compulsive it can be to just look around the world on Google Maps. Then think of how much more immersive it would be to do the same through your own eyes... sort of.

VR would allow remote tours of museums for people unable to get to the building, and would let estate agents give potential buyers a look around a property without them having to leave the comfort of their own home.

 

 

Surgery

It's better and safer for surgeons in training to perfect their techniques on things other than real humans, but it would also be better for trainee surgeons to practise on things that aren't just plastic models or people who have left their bodies to medical science.

As such, a fully-interactive, accurately modelled specimen, suffering from a selection of ailments which need surgery to be carried out through a VR interface, would make for a lot of better-trained, better-performing surgeons - something that's better for all of us.

Surgeon Simulator 2013 was a tongue in games based on this premise.

 

Space exploration

The potential to fly round in space using a Google Maps-style interface would be fun and interesting.

But a space agency putting cameras all over their equipment and sending them out to the great black unknown, with scientists on earth viewing and navigating through a VR headset, would allow for space exploration in a way we've never seen before.

 

 

 

Teaching people to fly

Pilots already learn using flight simulators, but like surgeons they could really do with something a lot more immersive and realistic to properly hone their skills. VR can be that technology.

We've played Eve: Valkyrie - where you take the role of a spaceship pilot - and it did seem real, even though we knew it wasn't. That level of immersion on something that is actually based in reality? That could only ever be a help.

 

Improving quality of life

There are many people out there who, for whatever reason, aren't capable of living a normal life. They deserve to be able to live, to explore, and to experience the wonder of the world (and beyond).

VR could provide the disabled or those otherwise unable to do 'normal' things with an outlet - a way to experience that which able-bodied persons take for granted. And that would be a brilliant thing.