Is 3-D Video Hurting Our Eyes ... Or Saving Them?

3D movies bad for your eyes?From television to BB guns to pointed sticks, it sometimes seems like everything that's fun is also a potential threat to your eyesight. With this in mind, it's hardly surprising that 3-D movies, games and TVs have drawn fire from critics who worry that they could cause long-term eye damage.

According to a recent study commissioned by VSP Vision Care, a not-for-profit vision benefits and services company, 64% of parents worry that 3-D "will negatively impact visual development," and 70% believe that 3-D "will negatively impact short-term or long-term vision." Surprisingly, the medical establishment -- usually the first to warn about the dangers of new technologies -- has ridden to the rescue, suggesting that not only is 3-D safe, but that it may actually prove beneficial for some users.

Manufacturers Cover Their Assets

Oddly, the most damning testimony against 3-D -- or "stereoscopic" -- technologies hasn't come from parents or watchdog groups, but from Sony (SNE) and Nintendo (NTDOY), both of which are poised to realize massive profit from 3-D sales. Late last year, Nintendo issued a warning about the 3DS, a portable game console, telling potential users that the machine's eye-tricking technology "has a potential impact on the growth of children's eyes."

In some ways, this warning was a masterpiece of corporate doublespeak: Dire-sounding yet nonspecific, it suggested that Nintendo doesn't have any idea about the possible permanent effects of stereoscopic viewing, but is laying the groundwork for a future legal defense.

Sony offered a similar caveat in the terms of service for its PlayStation network, noting that some 3-D users "may experience discomfort," in which case they should consult doctors. The warning goes on to observe that "The vision of young children (especially those under six years old) is still under development." While the company doesn't indicate any particular problems that 3-D may cause, it suggests that parents should "supervise young children" and "consult your doctor (such as a pediatrician or eye doctor) before allowing young children to watch 3D video images or play stereoscopic 3D games."

Sony's warning isn't just hard to understand -- it's also hard to find. Tucked into the company's online Terms of Service, it is the kind of legal boilerplate that many consumers routinely skip over on their way to clicking the "accept terms" button. Even among parents who actually slog through to the end of Sony's dull, legalistic document, it's hard to imagine that many will follow its advice to consult a doctor before plugging in a 3-D console.

Then again, if Sony's users actually called an optometrist, they would most likely receive a very surprising response.

Support From an Unexpected Corner

While manufacturers are wishy-washy about the potential health effects of 3-D viewing, the eye care industry has been surprisingly supportive. The American Optometric Association has stated that 3-D is "a safe and appropriate technology for all viewing audiences," and is partnering with "a consortium of 45 companies" to promote the technology. Similarly, The American Academy of Ophthalmology has offered a measured endorsement of 3-D, noting that there are no "persuasive, conclusive theories on how 3-D digital products could cause damage in children with healthy eyes." The academy's statement goes on to note that children who exhibit negative reactions to 3-D may suffer from pre-existing eye problems, in which case it recommends that "the child be given a comprehensive exam by an ophthalmologist."

Dr. Martin Banks, a professor of vision science at UC Berkeley, echoes this, noting that the technology "could be helpful in the early detection of some vision problems." Basically, the reasoning is that children who are unable to process a 3-D image may suffer from a variety of eye conditions, including strabismus -- "crossed eyes" -- and amblyopia, which is better known as "lazy eye." While these diseases may go unnoticed for years, 3-D movies and games can bring them to the attention of sufferers -- and their parents.

Dr. Justin Bazan, a New York-based optometrist, notes that early detection of eye problems can increase the effectiveness of treatment. More importantly, he stresses, strabismus, amblyopia, and other eye problems can be devastating for school-age children: "Learning-related visual conditions can affect a child's ability to progress in school," he notes. "You can't recover years that are lost due to eyesight problems."

Moderation Is Key

This isn't to say that eye care professionals aren't cautious about 3-D technology. Bazan, for example, suggests that users follow the "20/20/20 rule": "After 20 minutes of stereoscopic viewing," he advises, "you should take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away to give your eyes a rest." Bazan notes, however, that this technique also applies to viewers of traditional 2-D computers and televisions, which can also cause eye strain.

Banks also encourages moderation: "I think it's appropriate to be cautious," he stresses. "When you introduce a new technology, a reasonable person will ask about its long-term effects. We need to do more research into stereoscopic technology."

For that matter, he notes, the technology should cause less eye strain when it is used by a careful director: "Poor quality stereoscopic films, in which images come jumping out of the screen, are more likely to cause discomfort. Better stereo producers are aware of this and try to keep the viewers' eyes focused at the distance of the screen."

Warnings aside, Banks theorizes that 3-D technology may actually be easier on the eyes than traditional TVs and movies: "One could argue that stereo images are closer to visual cues in the real world than traditional 2-D. In that sense, once we get used to it, it would make sense that stereoscopic images would be less jarring to users."

But regardless of whether or not it's good for users, one thing is for certain: With billions of dollars in movie, TV and gaming revenues on the line, stereoscopic viewing is definitely here to stay. And with eye care professionals on board, it isn't hard to see how the technology could be a virtual gold mine for its manufacturers.

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I dunno. I've only ever seen one 3D movie in theaters.. and I doubt I'd ever buy a 3D tv.. it always hurts my eyes. I feel sick after. SMH So regardless of whether it hurts or helps, I'll pass.

June 15 2011 at 7:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have a 3-D television and the more "Out of Screen Images" there are in a Movie or an IMAX title the better that title seems to sell. That is what I want in a 3-D title...not just depth.

I watch them on a 73 inch Mitsubishi and when I saw the "7 wonders of the Solar System" by the History Channel there were a couple of segments where you drift through the Asteroid Belt. At this point there are Out of Screen shots which made me feel like I was floating through them. Out of screen is what it is about.

June 15 2011 at 6:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

e a

June 15 2011 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


June 15 2011 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


June 15 2011 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It says "Poor quality Stereoscopic films, in which images come jumping out of the screen, are more likely to cause discomfort."

I do not know about everyone else but I prefer to see the "Out of Screen Images". That is what makes it much more enjoyable than regular 2-D Television.

June 15 2011 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

well since I was born ive been seeing life around me in 3 dimensions..oddly enough it hasent caused a problem with my vision yet .In all probability viewing 3D devices may be safer than going outside for a breath of "fresh air" nowadays.

June 15 2011 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to barbarianxx's comment

Only difference is that in nature your eyes aren't seeing things through glass lenses that alternately turn on and off dozens of times a second between the 2 eyes, in an unnatural attempt to confuse the brain into thinking it's seeing 3D when it's not. People have already reported dizziness and migraines as a common, immediate result. Betcha you've never had a migraine or dizziness because you looked at anything without those 3 D glasses.

June 15 2011 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ol Bob

I don't know about 3D tv, but I know three martinis can affect the vision.

June 15 2011 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So lets see. The companies that sell 3D equipment are worried enough that on advice of their lawyers they are issuing numerous warnings about the potential negative effects of 3D viewing. Yet the very doctors that make a buck off of eye problems are saying "don't worry", there's no danger, watch all you want, even though 3D has only been out for barely a year and there is not one single long term study to support 3D's safety?? I wonder if they'd be saying that if every single optometrist and ophthalmologist saying 3D is good for you had to sign a legal contract that they would have to give up their license and never work in the medical field if future studies proved them wrong?

June 15 2011 at 3:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

don't be fooled folks there here trying to make a buck off of you.

June 15 2011 at 9:37 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply