Yet another 3D post . . .

I’m not going to keep bashing 3D TVs – I think I’ve explained my position on them pretty well.

Instead, I’m going to answer a question from someone else who also likes to bash 3D TVs.  Actually, it wasn’t bashing so much as it was just a general question.  After reading a previous post about 3D, a person wrote to ask why they get “seasick” watching 3D effects.  I don’t get nauseous from 3D – I just don’t perceive it correctly, but I was intrigued by the question and decided to look into the matter a bit more.

In order to understand the “seasickness” effect, it is important to have a basic understanding of what makes 3D, um, 3D.  I’ll skip the details (visit Gizmodo for a more detailed overview), but basically, a pair of glasses feeds each eye with the same image from a slightly different viewpoint, which tricks us into gauging depth.  The trouble with tricking our brains is that it can cause an affliction called cybersickness.

According to Jeff Hecht, cybersickness starts with eye strain, disorientation and a headache and can lead to nausea.  The reason is a sensory conflict between the movement of your eyeballs and lenses.  When your pupils are directed at something (like a newspaper), they eyes turn slightly inwards as you bring the page closer to your face so that your gaze can converge on a word.  Meanwhile, the lenses in your eyes change shape to focus the incoming light from the moving page surface onto the retina.  Your brain is used to these two movements working in tandem.

Yet when a 3D object rushes towards you from the screen, something unnatural happens – your eyeball angle changes, but your lens shape doesn’t.  To keep the film from blurring, the lens has to continue focusing the light from the stationary 2D plane of the screen.  Cybersickness tends to increase with proximity to the screen.  That means movies are likely to score lower on the cybersickness scale than goggles, says Paul DiZio of Brandeis University.  Television is a different matter, because viewers regularly site closer.  In a study by the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, volunteers who watched 3D TV for an hour from a distance of 1.2 meters experienced visual fatigue and discomfort – both symptoms known to lead to nausea.  People are also likely to watch 3D TV for longer periods than a single movie, which puts the visual system under more strain.

Some TV manufacturers had evidently anticipated this – earlier this year, Samsung published a document online with a list of warning for 3D TV viewers about possible motion sickness, visual fatigue and disorientation.  It also warned people not to watch when pregnant, elderly, sick, sleep-deprived or drunk.  Jeez, what’s left?  I actually know people who have been all of those things at once.

Visual perception researchers reckon between 5 and 10% of people cannot successfully combine the two images that make up 3D projections.  tAccording to Marc Lambooij of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, another 10 to 20% of the population may have a problem with 3D and may not be aware of it.  He and colleagues ran an experiment with 39 people who were capable of seeing 3D.  He asked them to read 3D text projected on a screen.  During the task, seven of the group experienced symptoms known to lead to nausea, including double vision and eye strain.

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