Why 3D TV Can Be Bad For You

Why 3D TV Can Be Bad For You

Why 3D TV Can Be Bad For You It’s been a landmark week for 3D television in Australia, with Foxtel claiming Australia’s first commercial 3D broadcast on Monday and the State Of Origin offering a 3D broadcast this evening. But while it’s early days for 3D broadcasting, it’s worth pointing out that there’s some evidence that prolonged 3D viewing experiences are bad for you.

Picture by James Morgan

3D television is still very much in the experimental phase: only a handful of people have purchased sets, and the number is so low that official ratings weren’t even measured for Monday night’s experimental Socceroos broadcast on Fox Sports. Nonetheless, 3D television has been heavily promoted as the next major evolution in television, prompted in part by the success of 3D movies such as Avatar and the insatiable desire of consumer electronics manufacturers to convince us to continually replace gear.

Leaving aside the argument of whether we really want to see everything in 3D, and whether large families want to invest in multiple pairs of 3D glasses, there’s a simpler reason to be wary of extended 3D TV viewing sessions: it can seriously mess with your head.

The most interesting summary of the problem I’ve run into is by Mark Pesce, who worked on developing 3D technology in the mid-1990s. It’s well worth reading the full article on the ABC’s Drum opinion site, but here’s the crux of the problem — 3D television only uses one of the cues (parallax) which the brain uses to interpret the real world in 3D, which can cause problems once you stop watching:

When the movie’s over, and you take your glasses off, your brain is still ignoring all those depth perception cues. It’ll come back to normal, eventually. Some people will snap right back. In others, it might take a few hours. This condition, known as ‘binocular dysphoria’, is the price you pay for cheating your brain into believing the illusion of 3D. Until someone invents some other form of 3D projection (many have tried, no one has really succeeded), binocular dysphoria will be part of the experience.

This doesn’t matter too much if you’re going to see a movie in the theatre – though it could lead to a few prangs in the parking lot afterward – but it does matter hugely if it’s something you’ll be exposed to for hours a day, every day, via your television set. Your brain is likely to become so confused about depth cues that you’ll be suffering from a persistent form of binocular dysphoria.

Now, if you’re only going to watch the occasional event (such as the State of Origin), that might not matter too much. But if you’re consistently watching 3D content, either via a dedicated channel or through a set which does on-the-spot conversion, it could be a major cause of concern. If you’re only planning to occasionally watch 3D content, investing several thousand dollars in a new set and associated headgear seems pricey. Those prices will inevitably fall if 3D is successful, but that could be some time off.

It’s worth noting that Pesce’s argument stirred up a fair degree of debate on the ABC site, and the issue certainly isn’t resolved. But 3D can be problematic in other ways: I personally fall into the category of people who have stereo blindness and basically don’t enjoy 3D content. If nothing else, that’s going to save me some money on TV set upgrades.

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  • 3D TV may not be worth it but if you know someone who owns one be sure to cozy up with them. They’re obviously an idiot and they have too much money. This combination has proven to be a very profitable for those willing to take advantage in the past.

    3DTV: Helping to identify easy marks

  • I’ve heard this over and over, however doing my own research, it’s just not true. I’ll list the visual cues we use for depth perception and if movies/tv shows use them.

    Motion parallax – Check
    Depth from motion – Check
    Perspective – Check
    Relative size – Check
    Familiar size – partial Check
    Aerial perspective – Check
    Accommodation – Not really
    Occlusion – Check
    Peripheral vision – No
    Texture gradient – Check
    Lighting and shading – Check
    Stereopsis or retinal(binocular) disparity – With 3D now, Check
    Convergence – With 3D now, Check

    I’ve had a nvidia 3D kit for a few months now and I use it fairly regularly when playing games on my PC. I haven’t seen any problem with my depth perception at all after playing.

  • Like anything that plays with your Brain. Who is to say what long term effects this could have. Not a hope in Hell would i take that chance with my kids

    • You’re the people that drag technology now. If you want to keep your kids from anything that “plays with your brain” then promptly lock them in the closet. Then again that would do worse than anything else.

      Life messes with your brain. It makes you do different things depending on the situation.

      Who is to say what long term effects WON’T happen to your kids if they use 3D? Don’t be paranoid, be smart. Be careful, but not overprotective.


  • We’re all barely getting used to our LCDs and Plasmas and along comes something else. I think I’ll let this one fizzle out before I cash in the telly.

  • Personally, the only person i’ve heard really pushing this barrow is Mr Pesce. He’s an intelligent and reasonable gent most of the time but i’m not so sure he’s on the money here.

    If you go to wiki for example, two things are apparent. The only person mentioned in conjunction with it *is* Mark and it is explicitly stated that there are no peer reviewed research papers on this subject.

    There’s a little more discussion on the talk page about how the sparseness of research hasn’t led to unified descriptions of the “condition” in question. Clearly increasing use of such technologies is a novel problem, but it would seem to me that the most appropriate approach is actual research. Which currently, there seems not to be very much of.

    Also interesting because one of the only references not belonging to Mark on wiki is to Nick Broughall of Gizmodo!

  • Just wait, in a few years they’ll say 3D TV can cause brain cancer when watched for long periods. Studies will begin, and will soon begin reporting contradictory results. After each study some scientist/doctor involved in it or asked to comment on the study will say “more research is needed”.

  • I thought this myth had already been completely dispelled? Anyone who is capable of reading a Wikipedia page could tell you that this argument is completely invalid. Did someone neglect to tell Mark Pesce that the 3D TV simply uses the exact same mechanism of normal 3D vision? And that staring at some vividly 3D object for couple of hours would likely cause the exact same symptoms as watching 3D TV?

    It is worth noting that is only a hypothetical condition, read no evidence of it’s existence, and Mark Pesce is the only person to have made such claims (every single article on the subject quotes his name). His only support for his argument was the cancellation of a Sega head mounted display from 20 years ago, which he attributes to the product being unsafe, and this is likely to be true, given the fact that the technology for a viable head mounted display wasn’t available until at least 10 years later.

    Just as Poedgirl says, the only difference between regular 2D TV which has been fine for the last 50 years, and 3D TV, is the addition of parallax cues, which if anything would be better than watching normal 2D images? The constant imperceivable flicker of 120Hz shutter glasses is more likely to cause vision problems than watching 3D TV..

  • OK, I’ve spoken about this before,… the cost of procuring additional sets of glasses for households with more than two members. Let’s face it decent ones aren’t gonna be cheap, but here’s another question for ya! If you’re vision impaired enough to need glasses to watch normal TV and I’m pretty sure a reasonable percentage are,.. they’re gonna need corrected 3D specs that’s not going to be cheap, possible? If that person lives in a household where the main TV has been exchanged for 3D they’re gonna be excluded. Just a thought!!!

  • It’s easy calling 3D TV purchasers ‘fruitloops’. What would you do if the extra gizmo was only $200 more than the same TV without the 3D effects (includes glasses)?

    What if the price of the TV all up was $4500 ? Surely as a percentage, you could justify it. Was a Samsung that had to replace a second generation plasma – no spare parts available any more. Not mine, a friend… I wouldn’t own up to it anyway.

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