Virtual-reality college tours via cardboard, your phone and the web

Colleges such as Trinity University can be visited virtually using a smart phone, a pair of cardboard VR glasses and the YouVisit website. Photo contributed by Trinity University

While college students are settling into their dorms, it’s already time for next year’s class of high school students to narrow down their potential school choices and to schedule campus visits. Or maybe they can just stay home and do it virtually, at least to get a sense of what to expect.

A site called YouVisit has a surprisingly large set of virtual college tours as just one part of its website. All the major Texas colleges are represented, and one of them, Trinity University, has been making a big push to get cheap sets of cardboard VR goggles, out to families at recruiting events such as college fairs. Trinity sent me a pair of the cardboard glasses and the virtual visit to the campus certainly wasn't the same as being there. I couldn't smell the school spirit or talk directly to students and professors. But to get at least a visual sense of what the campus looks like, what buildings at the school look like inside and out and to just be generally wowed by the 3-D/360-degree effect, it was worth the trip.

Like Google Cardboard, these glasses include two small lenses and a folding single piece of cardboard. The viewer supplies their own smartphone, which fits inside the cardboard set and the whole thing is held in place with a rubber band and Velcro.

For such an inelegant-looking piece of tech equipment, it works remarkably well. By moving your head around or turning, the website offers the correct view. It can detect the phone’s accelerometer movement and positioning.

YouVisit also works online without glasses via web browser and is also compatible with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset for those who have them (they're currently not available at retail, only as development kits). If you're just interested in playing around with VR on the cheap, you can buy a set starting for about $15 or build one yourself using the instructions on this Google page.

One warning if you do get your hands on Cardboard: if you have small children in the house, do not leave these just lying around, they will get bent, flattened, wet or worse.

Further reading: The Los Angeles Times on such virtual college tours.