3D TV May Have Dizzying Drawbacks

If the ongoing media coverage and manufacturer hype has left you sick and tired of 3D television, it might be apt: the product itself could also cause nausea.

New Scientist magazine (registration required) has warned that, despite significant improvements, 3D formats may still inherently cause some viewers to feel ill when watching some footage.

The problem lies with the fact that 3D TV continues to work on the basis of each eye seeing the same image from a different viewpoint, creating an illusion of depth.

That upsets the balance in the eye by which the eyeballs move inwards or outwards to narrow or lengthen the distance of focus, while the lens of the eye changes shape to focus light onto the retina. That works seamlessly with most imagery (including, of course, real three-dimensional objects.)

However, with 3D TV, the eyeball moves to focus on where the viewer perceives the object to be, while the lens must remains the same shape, targeted on the light of the screen, to avoid blurring. That upsets the usual balance of the eye, leading to a feeling of sickness.

Television appears to make things worse: partly because the viewer is closer to the screen, and partly because television watchers are more likely to be watching for a lengthy session. Animation doesn’t cause as much of a problem, mainly because it can be specifically created for 3D, but live action such as fast-paced sports events can be problematic.

The good news is that the problem looks unlikely to be both severe and widespread. It seems that only 10 to 20% of people will find it a serious problem, made up mainly of those who have a below-average ability to process artificial 3D imagery, but still have enough ability that they can see the effects.

It’s also a problem that can be severely mitigated by production quality. With well-made productions, the effect will often be so minimal that it doesn’t cause problems. It’s cases where footage goes out with the two “channels” either out of sync or misaligned that are most likely to lead to the nausea feeling, which is more likely to happen with low-budget productions.

[Picture credit: JcMaco (Flickr) (CC)]