Bring A Motion Sickness Bag To The 3D Revolution

Motion picture companies want you to watch movies in 3D. Sony wants you to play games in 3D. Soon 3D entertainment will be everywhere, and so will the vomit. Are you susceptible to cybersickness?

Between five and ten percent of people cannot see 3D properly, and they may be the lucky ones. According to Marc Lambooij of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands a further ten to twenty percent of people might have problems viewing 3D images that they're not even aware of yet. His colleagues ran an experiment in which 39 individuals with no issues seeing 3D imagery were asked to read 3D text projected on a screen 3 meters away. Seven of the 39 experienced eye strain and double vision, symptoms that generally lead directly to nausea.

But what about 3D makes us sick? It all comes down to how the eyes function. As New Scientist explains it:

When your pupils are directed at, say, this page, the 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.

The problem with 3D is that it feeds two different images to both eyes, so they no longer work in tandem with each other. This means that when a 3D object comes hurtling towards you, your eyes turn, but the lenses do not change shape.

Judy Barrett of the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation says this sort of entertainment magic often leads to something called cybersickness. It starts with eye strain and headache and eventually leads to nausea through prolonged use.

Right now most of us experience 3D in small doses. We use it for a couple of hours while watching a movie. I've used it while gaming, but I begin to get a headache a couple of hours in, and have had the odd bout of queasiness. Luckily enough my lunch has stayed inside my body, but I'm just greedy about my food.

Folks using 3D for gaming might be better off than those that use it for watching television or movies, however. A game producer (or director of a computer animated film for that matter) has much more control over the images and how they are presented to an audience.

Animated 3D tends to have the lowest chance of unintentional ill effects, says Juan Reyes of BluFocus, a consultancy to the TV industry in Toluca, California, because directors have total control over the images. Conversely, live-action 3D is full of potential problems. 3D filming requires two cameras to point at a scene from different angles, which means distracting effects can creep in, such as reflections in only one channel. What's more, visual techniques that work for directors in two dimensions can be nauseating in three, such as quickly cutting between shots at different depths, says John Merritt of the Merritt Group, a 3D entertainment consultancy. Sports coverage is particularly prone to uncomfortable effects, because the action can't be choreographed at all. In addition, spectators close to the camera may suddenly pop into a shot, appearing in the viewer's lap in a flash.

So far my biggest sickness complaint about 3D entertainment has been the price of 3D televisions. I'm sure I'll find a nice unit on sale and begin a regiment of home 3D gaming and movie watching, but not before covering my furniture in plastic. You can never be too careful.

3D TV: Beware the barfogenic zone [New Scientist]
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