3D still causes headaches, yet industry pushes on with solution far off

January 20, 2011  |  Associated Press  |  Comments

From Hollywood studios to Japanese TV makers, powerful business interests are betting 3D will be the future of entertainment, despite a major drawback: It makes millions of people uncomfortable or sick.

Optometrists say as many as one in four viewers have problems watching 3D movies and TV, either because 3D causes tiresome eyestrain or because the viewer has problems perceiving depth in real life. In the worst cases, 3D makes people queasy, leaves them dizzy or gives them headaches.

Researchers have begun developing more lifelike 3D displays that might address the problems, but they’re years or even decades from being available to the masses.

That isn’t deterring the entertainment industry, which is aware of the problem yet charging ahead with plans to create more movies and TV shows in 3D. Jeff Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation SKG, calls 3D “the greatest innovation that’s happened for the movie theatres and for moviegoers since colour.”

Theatre owners including AMC Entertainment Inc. and TV makers such as Panasonic are spending more than a billion dollars to upgrade theatres and TVs for 3D. A handful of satellite and cable channels are already carrying 3D programming; ESPN just announced its 3D network will begin broadcasting 24 hours a day next month.

Yet there are already signs that consumers may not be as excited about 3D as the entertainment and electronics industries are.

Last year, people were willing to pay an additional $3 or more per ticket for blockbuster 3D movies such as Avatar and Toy Story 3. But that didn’t help the overall box office take: People spent $10.6 billion on movie tickets last year, down slightly from the year before. People went to the theatre less, but spent more.

3D TV sets were available in the U.S. for the first time last year, but shipments came in below forecasts, at just under 1.6 million for North America, according to DisplaySearch. Nevertheless, TV makers such as Samsung and Panasonic are doubling down on 3D and introduced more 3D-capable models this month at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Those models cost more than regular ones and require glasses, just like in theatres.

Research into how today’s 3D screens affect viewers is only in its early stages. There have been no large-scale scientific studies.

A study of 115 South Koreans watching 3D screens close up found that 3D caused more eyestrain than 2-D. The research prompted the Korean government to recommend that viewers take a break of up to 15 minutes after an hour of 3D viewing. But that study was based on glasses with red and green lenses rather than the ones used in theatres and with TVs.

Based on an unscientific, online survey, the American Optometric Association estimates that 25 per cent of Americans have experienced headaches, blurred vision, nausea or similar problems when viewing 3D.

TV makers do their own testing, but don’t publish results. Samsung warns on its Australian website that its 3D TVs can cause “motion sickness, perceptual after effects, disorientation, eye strain, and decreased postural stability.” The last part means viewers risk losing balance and falling.

“We do not recommend watching 3D if you are in bad physical condition, need sleep or have been drinking alcohol,” the site says.

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