Applications of VR (also known as virtual reality) can be found in fields as diverse as entertainment, marketing, education, medicine, and many others. They provide numerous possibilities for users to explore virtual realities for various purposes.
Several virtual reality head mounted displays (HMD) were released for gaming during the early-mid 1990s. These included the Virtual Boy developed by Nintendo, the iGlasses developed by Virtual I-O, the Cybermaxx developed by Victormaxx and the VFX1 Headgear developed by Forte Technologies.
Other modern examples of narrow VR for gaming include the Wii Remote, the Kinect, and the PlayStation Move/PlayStation Eye, all of which track and send motion input of the players to the game console. Many devices have been developed to compliment VR programs with specific controllers or haptic feedback systems.
Following the widespread release of commercial VR headsets in the mid-2010s, several VR-specific and VR versions of popular video games have been released.
Films produced for VR permit the audience to view a 360-degree environment. This can involve the use of VR cameras to produce films and series that are interactive in VR. Pornographic studios apply VR into their products, usually shooting from an angle that resembles POV-style porn.
The 2016 World Chess Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, was promoted as "the first in any sport to be broadcast in 360-degree virtual reality." However, a VR telecast featuring Oklahoma hosting Ohio State, took place September 17, 2016. The telecasts (which used roughly 180 degrees of rotation, not the 360 required for full VR) were made available through paid smartphone apps and head-mounted displays.
Since 2015, virtual reality has been installed onto a number of roller coasters and theme parks. The Void is a virtual reality theme park in Pleasant Grove, Utah that has attractions where, by using virtual reality, AR and customized mechanical rooms, an illusion of tangible reality is created by the use of multiple senses.
VR can allow individuals to attend concerts without actually being there. The experience of VR concerts can feel passive with the lack of interaction between the user and the performers and audience, but it can be enhanced using feedback from user's heartbeat rates and brainwaves. Virtual reality can also be used for other forms of music, such as music videos and music visualization or visual music applications.
In March 2018, VRSlide system was launched at the Galaxy Erding in Germany. The headset for this VR system is waterproof with the capacity of submerging into water for about a few meters. They are powered by Samsung Galaxy S8 and uses custom built software system.
Virtual reality offers social scientists and psychologists a cost-effective tool to study and replicate interactions in a controlled environment. It enables a new form of perspective-taking by allowing an individual to embody a virtual avatar. Research in this area suggests that embodying another being presents a very different experience from solely imagining one's self in a digital form. Researchers have used the immersion of virtual reality to investigate how digital stimuli can alter human perception, emotion and physiological state, and how it has transformed social interaction, in addition to studying how digital interaction can enact social change in the physical world.
Studies have considered how the form we take in virtual reality can affect our perception and actions. One study suggests that embodying the body of a young child can influence perception of object sizes such that objects are perceived as being much larger than if the objects were perceived by an individual embodying an adult body. Similarly, another study has found that Caucasian individuals who embodied the form of a dark-skinned avatar performed a drumming task with a more varied style than when they were represented by a pair of white-shaded hands and in comparison to individuals who embodied a light-skin avatar. As a whole, these works suggest that immersive virtual reality can create body-transfer illusions capable of influencing how humans respond to different circumstances.
Research exploring perception, emotions and physiological responses within virtual reality suggest that controlled virtual environments can alter how a person feels or responds to stimuli. For example, a controlled virtual environment of a park coupled with a strong perceived feeling of presence causes an individual to feel anxious or relaxed. Similarly, simulated driving through areas of darkness in a virtual tunnel can induce fear. Social interaction with virtual characters in a virtual environment has also been shown to produce physiological responses such as changes in heart rate and galvanic skin responses. In fact, individuals with high levels of social anxiety were found to have larger changes in heart rate than their more socially confident counterparts.
The sense of presence in virtual reality is also linked to the triggering of emotional and physiological responses. Research suggests that a strong presence can facilitate an emotional response, and this emotional response can further increase one's feeling of presence. Similarly, breaks in presence (or a loss in the sense of presence) can cause physiological changes.
Researchers have utilized embodied perspective-taking in virtual reality to evaluate whether changing a person's self-representation may help in reducing bias against particular social groups. However, the nature of the relationship between embodiment and implicit bias is not yet clear as studies have demonstrated contrasting effects. Individuals who embodied the avatars of old people have demonstrated a significant reduction in negative stereotyping of the elderly when compared with individuals placed in avatars of young people. Similarly, light-skinned individuals placed in avatars with a dark body have shown a reduction in their implicit racial bias. However, other research has shown individuals taking the form of a Black avatar had higher levels of implicit racial bias favoring Whites after leaving the virtual environment than individuals who were embodied as White avatars.
A 2017 Goldman Sachs report examined VR and AR uses in healthcare. VR devices are also used in clinical therapy. Some companies are adapting VR for fitness by using gamification concepts to encourage exercise.
Virtual reality has been used in rehabilitation since the 2000s. Despite numerous studies conducted, good quality evidence of its efficacy compared to other rehabilitation methods without sophisticated and expensive equipment is lacking for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. A 2018 review on the effectiveness of mirror therapy by virtual reality and robotics for any type of pathology concluded in a similar way.
Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is a form of exposure therapy for treating anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias. Studies have indicated that when VRET is combined with other forms of behavioral therapy, patients experience a reduction of symptoms. In some cases, patients no longer meet the DSM-V criteria for PTSD after a series of treatments with VRET.
Immersive VR has been studied for acute pain management, on the theory that it may distract people, reducing their experience of pain. Researchers theorize that immersive VR helps with pain reduction by distracting the mind and flooding sensories with a positive experience.
VR is used to provide learners with a virtual environment where they can develop their skills without the real-world consequences of failing. It has also been used and studied in primary education. For example, in Japan's online high school ("N High School") VR plays a major role in education. Even the school's opening ceremony was a virtual experience for 73 of the students: they received headsets, which were connected to the campus hundreds of miles away – so they got to listen to the principal's opening speech without having to travel so far. According to the school's workers, they wanted to give the students a chance to experience VR technology, before having to use it "live" as part of their education. The specific device used to provide the VR experience, whether it be through a mobile phone or desktop computer, does not appear to impact on any educational benefit.
Thomas A. Furness III was one of the first to develop the use of VR for military training when, in 1982, he presented the United States Air force with a working model of his virtual flight simulator the Visually Coupled Airborne Systems Simulator (VCASS). The second phase of his project, which he called the "Super Cockpit", was even more advanced, with high-resolution graphics (for the time) and a responsive display. Furness is often credited as a pioneer in virtual reality for this research. The Ministry of Defense in the United Kingdom has been using VR in military training since the 1980s. The United States military announced the Dismounted Soldier Training System in 2012. It was cited as the first fully immersive military VR training system.
Supplementing military training with virtual training environments has been claimed to offer avenues of realism in military training while minimizing cost. It also has been said to minimize the amounts of ammunition expended during training periods, reducing costs. The stated motivations for virtual environments is not to replace guided instruction. In 2016, researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory reported that informed feedback by instructors is necessary for virtual training environment technology. Virtual environments have been said to be used in many ways, examples being combined arms training, instructing soldiers to learn when to shoot, etc.
Programs such as Battle Command Knowledge Systems (BCKS) and Advanced Soldier Sensor Information and Technology (ASSIST) were intended to assist the development of virtual technology. Described goals of the ASSIST initiative were to develop software and wearable sensors for soldiers to improve battlefield awareness and data collection. Researchers stated that these programs would allow the soldier to update their virtual environment as conditions change.
Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) is a military training solution based off a Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) virtual technology. The Army has stated that VBS3 was utilized for combined arms training practice.
As of 2016, the Army was working to determine a training substitute for the VSB3 due to various difficulties because it was difficult to use. Soldiers described the VSB3 user interface as confusing and time consuming to learn. Researchers suggested that virtual reality environments be introduced earlier into curriculum in addition to making technological improvements.
Live, Virtual, Constructive – Integrated Architecture (LVC-IA) is a technology that allows for multiple training systems to work together to create an integrated training environment. Reported primary uses of the LVC-IA were live training, virtual training, and constructive training. In 2014, the LVC-IA version 1.3 was made to include VBS3. This technology is expected to be eventually replaced by the Army’s Synthetic Training Environment (STE) once it is developed.
NASA has used VR technology for twenty years. Most notable is their use of immersive VR to train astronauts while they are still on Earth. Such applications of VR simulations include exposure to zero-gravity work environments and training on how to spacewalk. Astronauts can even simulate what it is like to work with tools in space while using low cost 3D printed mock up tools.
Flight simulators are a form of VR pilot training. They can range from a fully enclosed module to a series of computer monitors providing the pilot's point of view. By the same token, virtual driving simulations are used to train tank drivers on the basics before allowing them to operate the real vehicle. Similar principles are applied in truck driving simulators for specialized vehicles such as firetrucks. As these drivers often have less opportunity for real-world experience, VR training provides additional training time.
VR technology has many useful applications in the medical field. Simulated surgeries allow surgeons to practice their technical skills without any risk to patients. Numerous studies have shown that physicians who receive surgical training via VR simulations improve dexterity and performance in the operating room significantly more than control groups. Through VR, medical students and novice surgeons have the ability to view and experience complex surgeries without stepping into the operating room. On April 14, 2016, Shafi Ahmed was the first surgeon to broadcast an operation in virtual reality; viewers followed the surgery in real time from the surgeon's perspective. The VR technology allowed viewers to explore the full range of activities in the operating room as it was streamed by a 4K 360fly camera.
David Em was the first fine artist to create navigable virtual worlds in the 1970s. His early work was done on mainframes at Information International, Inc., Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and California Institute of Technology.
Virtopia was the first VR Artwork to be premièred at a film festival. Created by artist/researcher Jacquelyn Ford Morie with researcher Mike Goslin, it debuted at the 1992 Florida Film Festival. Subsequent screenings of a more developed version of the project were at the 1993 Florida Film Festival and at SIGGRAPH 1994's emerging tech venue, The Edge. Morie was one of the first artists to focus on emotional content in VR experiences.
Other artists to explore the early artistic potential of VR through the 1990s include Jeffrey Shaw, Ulrike Gabriel, Char Davies, Maurice Benayoun, Knowbotic Research, Rebecca Allen and Perry Hoberman.
The first Canadian virtual reality film festival was the FIVARS Festival of International Virtual & Augmented Reality Stories, founded by Keram Malicki-Sánchez.
In 2016, the first Polish VR program, The Abakanowicz Art Room was realized – it was documentation of the art office of Magdalena Abakanowicz made by Jarosław Pijarowski and Paweł Komorowski.
The use of 3D computer-aided design (CAD) data was limited by 2D monitors and paper printouts until the mid-to-late 1990s, when video projectors, 3D tracking, and computer technology enabled a renaissance in the use of 3D CAD data in virtual reality environments. With the use of active shutter glasses and multi-surface projection units immersive engineering was made possible by companies like VRcom and IC.IDO. Virtual reality has been used in automotive, aerospace, and ground transportation original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in their product engineering and manufacturing engineering. Virtual reality adds more dimensions to virtual prototyping, product building, assembly, service, performance use-cases. This enables engineers from different disciplines to view their design as its final product. Engineers can view the virtual bridge, building or other structure from any angle. As well, some computer models allow engineers to test their structure's resistance to winds, weight, and other elements. Immersive VR engineering systems enable engineers to see virtual prototypes prior to the availability of any physical prototypes.
VR simulates real workplaces for occupational safety and health purposes. Information and projection technology are used to produce a virtual, three-dimensional, dynamic work environment. Within work scenarios for example some parts of a machine move of their own accord while others can be moved by human operators. Perspective, angle of view, and acoustic and haptic properties change according to where the person is standing and how he or she moves relative to the environment. VR technology allows human information processing close to real life situations. VR enables all phases of a product life cycle, from design, through use, up to disposal, to be simulated, analysed and optimised. VR can be used for OSH purposes to:
Virtual reality enables heritage sites to be recreated extremely accurately so that the recreations can be published in various media. The original sites are often inaccessible to the public or, due to the poor state of their preservation, hard to depict. This technology can be used to develop virtual replicas of caves, natural environment, old towns, monuments, sculptures and archaeological elements. The first use of VR in a heritage application was in 1994 when a museum visitor interpretation provided an interactive "walk-through" of a 3D reconstruction of Dudley Castle in England as it was in 1550. This consisted of a computer controlled laserdisc-based system designed by British-based engineer Colin Johnson. The system was featured in a conference held by the British Museum in November 1994, and in the subsequent technical paper, Imaging the Past – Electronic Imaging and Computer Graphics in Museums and Archaeology.
One of the first recorded uses of virtual reality in architecture was in the late 1980s when the University of North Carolina modeled its Sitterman Hall, home of its computer science department, in a virtual environment.
By 2010, VR programs were developed for urban regeneration, planning and transportation projects.
Virtual reality's growing market presents an opportunity and an alternative channel for digital marketing. The International Data Corporation expects spending to increase for augmented and virtual reality; forecasting a compound annual growth rate of 198% in 2015–2020, reaching $143.3 billion in the final year. It is also estimated that global spending on digital advertisements will increase to $335.5 billion by 2020. However, it is encouraged that utilising technology as a marketing tool should be based on its potential results rather than its number of users.
In 2015, a study revealed 75% of Forbes' World Most Valuable Brands had developed a VR or AR experience. Although VR is not as widespread among consumers compared to other forms of digital media, companies have increased their use of VR in recent years.
Consumers can learn in detail about products through VR. It can present high definition, three-dimensional images and interactivity with a product, increasing its telepresence. Its marketing benefits are observed by Suh and Lee through their laboratory experiments: with a VR interface, participants' product knowledge and product attitude had noticeably increased. VR marketing can engage consumers' emotions. Both studies indicate an increased desire to purchase products marketed through VR; however, these benefits showed minimal return on investment (ROI) compared to the costs of VR. Suh and Lee also found that a product's type impacts VR marketing's effect on consumers. Products that are primarily sensed through hearing and vision are more likely to be advertised effectively through VR. Products experienced primarily through other senses cannot have their attributes adequately reflected in VR.
The design of a VR advertisement is an important consideration as it can affect brand equity. Without a feature for consumers to prevent VR advertisements, they may consider them invasive and react negatively. In this method, it is considered interruption marketing. Consumers want information to be presented in a format where they can observe its relevance before investing their time. Organizations are able to make interaction with their VR campaign optional. For example, UNICEF requires the user to download a mobile app before experiencing their VR campaign.
It has been proposed that virtual reality could be used to completely transfer human consciousness, thus creating a digital duplicate of ourselves. This concept is known as Virternity.  Virtnerity would comprise aspects of VR and mixed reality, with the goal of becoming the user's sole source of education, memory and work, using cryptocurrency as a transactional means and blockchain to safeguard identity and data.  
VR has allowed organizations to engage their target audience through a variety of methods. Non-profit organizations have used VR to bring potential supporters closer to distant social, political and environmental issues in immersive ways not possible with traditional media. Panoramic views of the conflict in Syria and face-to-face encounters with CGI tigers in Nepal have been used in experiential activation and shared online for educational and fundraising purposes.
Retailers developed systems which allow their products to be seen in VR to provide consumers with a clearer idea of how the product will look and fit in their home without entering a physical store. Consumers looking at digital photos of the products can "turn" each product around virtually to view it from the side or back.
Companies have developed software or services to allow architectural design firms and real estate clients to tour virtual models of proposed buildings. During the design process, architects can use VR to experience their developing designs so as to provide the correct sense of scale and proportion.
VR models can replace physical miniatures to demonstrate a design to clients or the public. In addition, developers and owners can create VR models of built spaces, allowing potential buyers or tenants to tour them in VR. This is particularly beneficial when real-life circumstances make a physical tour unfeasible.