July 1, 2010

3-D technology is great, but 'damn these glasses son'

Whenever I read something about the upcoming onslaught of 3-D entertainment, a scene from the movie “The Jerk,” a 1979 comedy starring Steve Martin, keeps coming to mind:

(Stan Fox’s eyeglasses keep slipping off his nose)

Stan Fox: Damn these glasses son.
Navin R. Johnson: Yes, sir (then he turns to the glasses). I damn thee.

That loosely sets the stage for the arc of the life of Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin), who fixes the glasses with a simple invention, gets rich, then loses it all in the end because the glasses make their wearers cross-eyed (and if I spoiled the movie for you, well, you've had 31 years to watch it).

But every time I read a story about 3-D TVs and 3-D technology and 3-D movies and 3-D channels as the savior of the TV and movie industry, I can’t help but think of that movie, and what happened to all the people who wore those glasses.

Having to wear 3-D glasses already stands as one impediment to the growth of the 3-D industry. And the side effects of wearing them may stand as another.

There are already as many as 9 million people in the U.S. whose vision problems keep them from processing the 3-D effects at all.

And then there’s the rest of the population, who can see the 3-D effects, but who, according to the American Optometric Association, may experience dizziness, nausea or headaches while wearing 3-D glasses.

“You’re trying to force the eyes to look at two images and trying to trick the brain into thinking that the images are actually three-dimensional,” said Lisa Park, a clinical assistant professor with the Department of Ophthalmology at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.

One report put the number at 56 percent of those ages 18-38 who will encounter difficulty viewing 3-D. That’s a stunning number, made more so because that age demographic is presumably the target generation of those marketing 3-D TVs and 3-D movies. Strangely, it seems to be the one visual ability that actually improves with age.

How all of this plays out remains to be seen. But I’ll leave with one personal anecdote. My daughter was eager to see “Avatar” as soon as it came out. Three hours later, she left the theater with what she said felt like neck and eye strain. She liked the movie OK. But just OK. She has no real desire to see it again. Nor is she clamoring for a 3-D TV.

The problem with 3-D {Slate}
Vision Disorder Makes 3-D Fall Flat for Some {Wall Street Journal}
Research shows 3-D movies, TV can cause eye strain, headaches {Voice of America}
Avatar 3-D images help to identify vision problems {Medical News Today}
American Optometric Association
The Jerk {Robert Ebert}
Avatar {Roger Ebert}
Binocular vision {wikipedia}
Convergence Disorder {wikipedia}

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