Byteside: "For All Of You Who Are Planning To Buy A 3DTV: For God's Sake Don't..."

The first episode of Byteside for 2010 was a great look into future trends for the technology industry, but the highlight of the evening for me was when Mark Pesce - one of the pioneers of virtual reality, co-inventor of VRML and regular judge on The New Inventors - told the audience: "For All Of You Who Are Planning To Buy A 3DTV: For God's Sake Don't..." He went on to explain:

Your brain has about 10 different clues which it uses to detect depth. When you're in the theatre [watching a 3D movie]you're only getting one clue - which is parallax.

So what happens is while you're in the theatre your brain is ignoring all of the other depth cues, throwing the other nine away and just training on the one. This produces a situation which is known technically as "binocular dysphoria".

Now what'll happen is you'll leave the theatre and your perception - your depth perception - will be screwed up. It'll snap back to normal [but]it'll take different times - because people are on a bell curve, some will snap back immediately, some will snap back in an hour and so on.

Now I want you to imagine what happens when you're doing that to yourself night after night after night. And, of course, we realised we'd be giving these systems to six year olds whose brains are incredibly plastic, and would actually be training to a new set of visual stimuli.

None of this has been thought through by any of the consumer electronics companies who are intent on giving you 3D. And it's not a problem if you're going to see a movie. But if you're going to be using it night after night in your living room, it's actually probably quite unhealthy."

Pesce knows what he's talking about. Aside from being an MIT dropout (according to Wikipedia at least), Pesce founded a company back in the early 90s which worked closely with Sega to create a virtual reality headset for the Megadrive. Back in 1994, he wrote about the notion of binocular dysphoria for Wired.

You can watch the relevant section of the show at the 43:50 mark, but really you should be watching the entire thing. And if nothing else, this should give you pause before you splash out thousands on a new TV later this year just because it has 3D.


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    Never let health or common sense stand in the way of pushing an entertainment medium.

    I'm glad he's come out and said this, we need to slow down this 3D stuff a little...

    Reminds me of a psychology experiment, where particpants wore special glasses that flipped there vision upside down. After a few days there brain had flipped the image back so it was the right way up.

    But then when they took them off again, it was upside down again and it took another few days to flip back.

    This link has links to more info if your interested.

      the way I understand it, this is the case naturally! we see upside down, or inside out or something, and our brain corrects

    Pretty interesting to hear. The whole 3d thing would be cool if it was only for just some movies or shows, but the way its been pushed is a bit much. I would like to buy a 3d capable tv, but i don't want to watch absolutely everything in 3d.

    i think within 5 years this technology will be surprisingly cheap , just look at the hdtv price drops

    While intriguing it begs the question watching 2D television doesn't have any of the visual cues so why hasn't that effected our 3D vision.

      Well... in reality when you watch a 2D film on a TV screen you have all the clues of depth perception, as it is nothing but a surface which continuosly changes colour, at a very fast speed. You are not filtering anything, and you are not watching different things which try to trick your brain. It's like watching a powered-off television set. you see the TV as a 3D object, with the picture as one of its surfaces.

      3D projection/viewing systems try to recreate binocular vision in a relatively simple way. we now have something completely different, as each eye is exposed (in most tecnologies) to a purposly-made image. This is what causes problems.

      This said, I can't immagine this being such a big problem--for moderate use. 3D can be fun, even though in most cases it IS just a gimmick, but it definitelly isn't needed---nor positive--for all content. A good 3D documentary can give a VERY good experience, but nobody, i belive, would want to watch 3D everything.

    James Martin that is an excellent comment and deserves a detailed answer!

    Movies in 2D use many depth cues perspective, occlusion, motion etc etc this is obvious.

    3D movies are harder to watch like walking is harder than sitting.

    I watch 3D content hours everyday as part of my job it is not a big problem as long as the content is correct.

    Head mounted displays are much harder to align with an individuals eyes.

    I hear 'the sky is falling' comments about 3D to the point of boredom. Its all nonsense.

    Good 3D content is good. Bad 3D content is bad.

    Better to concentrate on how to make good content.


    Pesce's claim should be taken with an enormous grain of salt.
    It is anecdotal, based on an experience with a different 3D technology.
    I know of no scientific studies that prove what he claims, and he cites none.
    The Wikipedia page on binocular dysphoria basically just refers back to Pesce's claims.
    And finally, his comment ''Your brain has about 10 different clues which it uses to detect depth. When you’re in the theatre [watching a 3D movie] you’re only getting one clue – which is parallax'' is demonstrably not true.
    Check the Wikipedia page on depth perception and you'll find that a 3D movie delivers all but one of the 10 cues/clues - and even normal TV/games deliver 7.
    I see big warning signs that this is just a wacky hobby-horse rather than a serious concern.

    This is nonsense. If you don't want to live life in 3d then close one eye.

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