Martin Banks
Berkeley

Who Could Have Guessed: 3D Hurts Your Eyes

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After experimenting on 24 adults, a research team at the University of California, Berkeley has determined that viewing content on a stereo 3D display hurts your eyes and your brain. The scientific term is “vergence-accomodation,” which means that the eye must constantly adjust to both the distance of the physical screen and that of the 3D content. This can supposedly cause visual discomfort, fatigue, and headaches, which I had thought were just a part of life but apparently there’s a scapegoat: 3D technology.

In his Journal of Vision article, The Zone of Comfort: Predicting Visual Discomfort with Stereo Displays, author Martin S. Banks (also professor of optometry and vision science) writes, “When watching stereo 3D displays, the eyes must focus — that is, accommodate — to the distance of the screen because that’s where the light comes from. At the same time, the eyes must converge to the distance of the stereo content, which may be in front of or behind the screen.”

According to the article, 3D content viewed over a short distance (like with desktops and smartphones) is more visually uncomfortable when the stereo content is placed in front of the screen. In a movie theater, it’s the opposite: Stereo content that is placed behind the screen causes more discomfort than scenes that jump out at you.

With the explosion of 3D-capable gadgetry such as televisions and mobile phones, understanding just what this kind of technology is doing to our bodies may help us better use it in the future. The only problem is that technology tends to far outpace research, and until we get a better handle on its effects, we’re more or less walking blindly into a 3D world.