Reading the warning labels on a 3D system is like shopping for drugs at your local pharmacy. “Pregnant women, the elderly, sufferers of serious medical conditions, those who are sleep deprived or under the influence of alcohol should avoid utilizing the unit’s 3D functionality" warns one manufacturer. "This device should not be used during the waxing moon cycle of February's fourth week," says another. And the warnings continue. Clearly, there's a lot of situations where 3D imagery can totally screw us up. It almost makes you wonder if there's anyone eligible to use these things safely.
Luckily, engineers and developers are hard at work to constantly improve the state of modern 3D technology. Anyone who's convinced that 3D isn't going to succeed need only wait a few years for the technology to improve to a point where many of its most adverse effects are gone. Headaches, dizziness, and perhaps even apathy will eventually be cured by modern science, and what remains might just be the perfect 3D experience.
early work on a system to combat one of the inherent problems with current 3D stereo technology — focus. When watching a movie, your eyes are naturally focused on the screen upon which the image is projected. However, when a 3D effect is added to the mix, your brain is made to believe that images are occurring *in front* of the screen. Your confused eyes have a hard time deciding where they should look, making your brain work overtime to maintain a consistent image. Next time you're at the theater, try focusing directly on a 3D effect; the result is similar to a yo-yo, yanking your eyes back and forth between the different planes.
high-resolution 4-D light field". By using a screen composed of tiny micro-lenses, light from the display is refracted in such a way that your eye needs to focus on only one plane. By placing this screen in-front of an LCD panel, the viewer's focus can be corrected based on their position and angle from the screen, completely independent of where the 3D effect appears. Based on the company's description, the viewing experience would be far more akin to a watching a traditional 2D film, without all the discomfort and adverse effects.
Of course, Microsoft's solution is still very much a prototype, and unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. But with the headaches and dizziness gone, will 3D technology still be any less of a gimmick? Author and critic Orson Scott Card noted in a recent review of Alice that, even without the physical pain, 3D is still "the most worthless film technology ever developed, with the possible exception of smell-a-vision." Roger Ebert has been known to voice a similar opinion. The problem, they say? 3D is a waste of a dimension, attempting to portray the world as we actually see it, but instead producing an even less realistic result. Sure, better technology is on the way, but is there any guarantee that 3D will finally find a use? More now, my headache disagrees.
Lead image via Flickr user Caro Wallis.