NEW YORK — From Hollywood studios to Japanese TV makers, powerful business interests are betting 3-D will be the future of entertainment, despite a major drawback: It makes millions of people uncomfortable or sick.

Optometrists say as many as one in four viewers have problems watching 3-D movies and TV, either because 3-D causes tiresome eyestrain or because the viewer has problems perceiving depth in real life. In the worst cases, 3-D makes people queasy, leaves them dizzy or gives them headaches.

Based on an online survey, the American Optometric Association estimates that 25 per cent of Americans have experienced headaches, blurred vision, nausea or similar problems when viewing 3D.

Our eyes track an approaching object by turning inward, toward our noses.  Bring something close enough, and we look cross-eyed. 3D screens also elicit this response when they show something approaching the viewer.

The problem is that as the eyes turn inward, they also expect to focus closer, so the eyes have to curb their hard-wired inclination and focus back out.  This mismatch between where the eyes think the focus should be and where the screen actually is forces them to work extra hard.

“That causes at least part of the discomfort and fatigue that people are experiencing,” says Martin Banks, an optometry professor at U.C. Berkeley.

TV makers do their own testing, but don’t publish results. Samsung warns on its Australian website that its 3D TVs can cause “motion sickness, perceptual after effects, disorientation, eye strain, and decreased postural stability.” The last part means viewers risk losing balance and falling.

“We do not recommend watching 3D if you are in bad physical condition, need sleep or have been drinking alcohol,” the site says.

Researchers have begun developing more lifelike 3-D displays that might address the problems, but they’re years or even decades from being available to the masses.

That isn’t deterring the entertainment industry, which is aware of the problem yet charging ahead with plans to create more movies and TV shows in 3-D. Jeff Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation SKG Inc., calls 3-D “the greatest innovation that’s happened for the movie theaters and for moviegoers since color.”

Theater owners including AMC Entertainment Inc. and TV makers such as Panasonic Corp. are spending more than a billion dollars to upgrade theaters and TVs for 3-D. A handful of satellite and cable channels are already carrying 3-D programming; ESPN just announced its 3-D network will begin broadcasting 24 hours a day next month.

Yet there are already signs that consumers may not be as excited about 3-D as the entertainment and electronics industries are.

Last year, people were willing to pay an additional $3 or more per ticket for blockbuster 3-D movies such as “Avatar” and “Toy Story 3.” But that didn’t help the overall box office take: People spent $10.6 billion on movie tickets last year, down slightly from the year before. People went to the theater less, but spent more.

3-D TV sets were available in the U.S. for the first time last year, but shipments came in below forecasts, at just under 1.6 million for North America, according to DisplaySearch. Nevertheless, TV makers such as Samsung Electronics Co. and Panasonic are doubling down on 3-D and introduced more 3-D-capable models this month at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Those models cost more than regular ones and require glasses, just like in theaters.

Research into how today’s 3-D screens affect viewers is only in its early stages. There have been no large-scale scientific studies.

source: AP/Marketing Magazine

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