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Even if you’re not keeping up with the latest tech trends, it’s pretty hard to avoid the rise of virtual reality (VR) technology these days. By all accounts, VR was at the center of everyone’s attention at the most recent CES, one of the world’s largest consumer electronics industry showcases. Samsung’s Gear VR is even getting a lot of press during the Rio Olympics, showing that VR is a technology poised to break into the mainstream consumer consciousness in the very near future. And it’s an industry with a lot of financial potential, too: experts suggest that the combined industry of VR coupled with its close cousin augmented reality (AR) will be worth $120 billion by the year 2020.

That said, VR is still relatively new on the scene, leaving many people scratching their heads and wondering what it’s all about. To help you get familiar with the many exciting possibilities of this incredible new technology, here are a few interesting need-to-know facts about virtual reality.

Virtual Reality Is An Old Concept

Remember how Howard Hughes basically invented Netflix way back in the 1960s? Well, it turns out virtual reality has a similar history, one that’s much older than you would think. Some say the history of virtual reality begins even as far back as the 1830s, when Charles Wheatstone began researching and experimenting with stereoscopic photos. In this phenomenon, two identical photos are placed side-by-side in a viewfinder. Wheatstone found that when the eyes separately perceive the same two-dimensional image, together they create the impression of seeing a single image in three-dimensions. Now, well over 150 years later, the idea of the stereoscope is the foundational principle behind most lower-end VR displays for mobile phones.

VR Devices Can Be Affordable

In today’s market, most of the emphasis regarding VR surrounds its applications for video games. Within that sphere, VR devices can be quite pricey; top-of-the-line gaming-oriented VR devices such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will run you anywhere between $600 and $800, not including the VR-ready graphics card your computer will need to run the games. While it’s certainly true that you can spend a whole lot of money on the best VR devices, there are plenty of affordable VR options out there. Many, for example, are touting the great potential of mobile VR devices, headsets that attach to your smartphone and allow you to experience VR on-the-go instead of being tethered to a computer screen. These devices, such as the Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and Homido, are considerably cheaper, typically averaging under $100, with some as cheap as $20, meaning you don’t have to break the bank to experience virtual reality.

VR Is Not Just For Gaming

While there’s certainly a lot of emphasis in today’s market on VR’s impact on the gaming industry, mostly because of the earnings potential of this consumer-facing application, it is not the case that virtual reality is only useful for revolutionizing video games. Far from it. In fact, VR gaming might ultimately be one small slice of the VR industry pie. Especially as more and more affordable VR devices continue to hit the market, the applications of VR are seemingly endless, and already people are finding innovative uses for the technology. Whether it’s using VR to help people with depression, allowing potential homebuyers to view under-construction properties through VR technology, or simulating the aging process for a user in a VR device in order to convince millennials to start saving up for retirement, the potential for VR to have a huge impact on a wide range of industries is limitless.

Virtual Reality Will Probably Not Replace Our Own Reality

It’s a popular trope in a lot of sci-fi books and movies that virtual reality is a dangerous and slippery slope for users to get involved in, fearing that a virtual reality that is too realistic will replace our own realities. This almost certainly won’t happen, at the very least because many users are finding that virtual reality experiences cause motion sickness. During a VR experience, there can be a disconnect between what the eye sees and what the brain perceives—you know you’re sitting still, but your eyes think you’re moving around. This phenomenon often leaves people sick and unable to use VR for more than a short period of time. While it can certainly be a nice complement to our lives, VR simply isn’t capable of fully replacing one’s whole life. Whether it’s because of your job, getting exercise, or simply interacting with others face-to-face, there’s no reason to fear VR overtaking our lives.

There you have it, a crash course in virtual reality for those curious about this potentially explosive industry. Have you tried VR out for yourself? How was the experience? Let us know in the comments below!

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