3D: High-Tech or High Terror?

It's the first time you've ever put on the glasses to view a 3D presentation. You're not sure what to expect, but you've heard other people talk. Then you stare in amazement as you're pulled into the scene and become part of the experience! You're living in a virtual world that's happening all around you. Yes, the first experience is unforgettable!

Or are we totally missing the bigger picture? Those who are parents certainly have some opinions. Why would 70% of parents believe that watching 3D media will negatively impact their child's short-term or long-term vision? And why would about one-third of that group think that 3D viewing will even hurt their child's general health? That is a great deal of concern over the technology that's sweeping the world and gaining in popularity every day!

In a survey, the great majority of parents believed that 3D causes headaches or dizziness. Almost as many believed it produces nausea and that it would likely have a negative impact on their child's visual development. Half the parents thought it could result in temporary double vision.

Yes, parents are concerned. Why shouldn't they be? Isn't it a good thing to show concern over anything that has the potential to cause harm, especially in our day when we seem to be blindsided by so many unexpected evils that look so harmless on the surface? Very interestingly, however, only 6.5% of parents said their children had ever actually experienced discomfort watching 3D content. That's not a very high percentage when placed alongside the high levels of concern and suspicion. What might be influencing parents' perceptions?

Here may be a big one. It turns out that many more adults report negative 3D experiences than do children. 28% of adults reported some form of discomfort, citing headaches, dizziness, nausea and blurry vision as the main culprits. These were the very same complaints the 6.5% of children experienced and that the parents feared for their children, but it seems adults are much more prone to having them. Something about the 3D experience has a greater negative impact on adults than on children.

It would be good to know if there is something inherently bad with the "magical" 3D experience. If it's really evil magic or hocus-pocus of some sort, maybe it is best to stay away, especially when experienced adults find that experience bad.

Perhaps you've noticed that you have two eyes. Hopefully they are relatively equal in clearness and aim together as a team wherever you aim them. If they do, you have a good chance of seeing in 3D naturally and automatically. That is because each eye sees the same object from two slightly different angles due to the separation between the two eyes. Two pictures are created, one by each eye, and they don't look exactly alike. After that, it's up to your brain. When each respective picture is sent to your brain, it becomes your brain's job to "fuse" the two dissimilar pictures into one. Once accomplished, your brain perceives what you see in 3D, making it possible to judge near from far and giving you depth perception.

But how can a movie or TV accomplish that? Well, the camera is not a normal camera. Instead, it has two lenses, separated by about the same distance as two eyes in a face, making it possible to view the scene from two slightly different angles, just as your eyes would do. Now, if there were only a way to present these views so that only your right eye could see what the camera's "right eye" sees and your left only what the left sees, you would view the scene in 3D, the same way the living, breathing cameraman would see it.

That's where 3D glasses come in! Even though there are two simultaneous images on the screen (try viewing without your 3D glasses!), the right lens in the glasses sees only with the camera's "right eye" and the left through the camera's "left eye." Now it's up to your brain to do the job it was created to do - fuse the two pictures together to make 3D! So when you view any 3D content, your brain is simply being asked to do what it does naturally! However (and this is a big however), all 3D media assumes you have a normally functioning visual system. Without almost perfect binocularity, you risk symptoms caused by your shortcoming. So it is possible for anyone to have problems with this - children or adults!

But why do adults report so much more distress than children? Children, it turns out, are much more "malleable" or "moldable" than older folks. To turn a phrase a bit on its head, "You can teach a young dog new tricks!" By the time we're older, our eyes and brains are much more set in their ways, and small abnormalities in binocularity are amplified to the point they produce symptoms of discomfort. This is a very interesting case in which modern 3D technology can actually serve to reveal problems that probably existed all along. I'm not sure it's such a bad thing for a person to be made more aware of a problem that was always there. If you can fix it for viewing 3D, you will certainly be better off for the typical day-to-day ways you use your eyes!

The usual reasons for discomfort are exactly what you might imagine after having read this: 1) eyes that don't see equally clearly, 2) one eye that has to work harder than the other, 3) a "turned" eye that doesn't aim with its partner, and 4) a "lazy" eye. If you happen to be one of those who find it a struggle to enjoy the fun others seem to be having, why not come in and let us take to look? Often it takes very little to adjust that binocularity so you can also have a blast with what is actually a very "natural" technology!

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