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Health problems to drive 3D TV fine tuning

Posted: 05 May 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D TV  3D health issue  virtual reality 

Fine tuning of 3D TV technology could be required if even a small percentage of users suffer from health problems related to viewing 3D TV, according to Jannick Rolland, a professor at the University of Central Florida's School of Optics.

While most viewers of the 3D TVs being rolled out there is year should suffer no adverse reactions to the technology, there have been very few short-term studies—and no long-term studies—on the technology, according to Rolland.

Last month, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd issued a warning about possible health effects associated with 3D TV, including altered vision, lightheadedness and even stroke or epileptic seizure. Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Washington have published papers finding that visual disparities in 3D TV images can cause physical strain in viewers.

"I applaud the 3D TV makers for introducing this new technology, because right away they are going to get both criticism and accolades," said Rolland. "It's like news—people are looking for drama, but that is not the point. The point is the vision; 3D TV will happen, no matter what, we'll just have to wait and see how people are affected."

Rolland helped pioneer virtual reality (VR), which uses head-mounted displays to completely immerse users into a 3D world. Today she focuses on "augmented reality" which, instead of full immersion, just overlays additional information on the real world, such as adding X-ray imagery over a patient's skin, showing surgeons where to make incisions.

VR ultimately failed in the marketplace because engineers could not recreate all the necessary visual cues for full immersion in a device that consumers could afford. 3D TV sidesteps the immersion issue by not attempting to recreate all the cues necessary for a head-mounted device, where a user's viewpoint changes when they turn their head, instead just recreating the separate perspective cues for the left and right eyes at a single viewpoint.

"The difference between VR and 3D TV is that it does not entail the full immersion of the user, since there is no head-mounted display," said Rolland. But many questions remain regarding the one-size-fits all approach that has to be taken for mass audiences to enjoy 3D experience, according to Rolland. For instance, can the 3D glasses accommodate an interocular distance between eyes that is much less or more than average? Will adaption to visual disparities interfere with vision after a movie? Will extended exposure permanently change brain functions in unsupervised children who watch for hours on end? To find out the answers some labs are doing research, but the industry is marching forward regardless.

The Entertainment Technology Centre (ETC) at the University of Southern California will research reports from consumers regarding adverse reactions, over the next year as 3D TVs enter the mainstream.

"I think it will be safe," said Rolland. "It's challenging, but I think developers are on the right track—it's just a matter of finding the best implementation. 3D TV is such fantastic technology that it is going to succeed, but you are using your eyes in a different way than you do in the real world—you are focusing and converging your eyes at different locations, which could put a strain on your eyes if the system is not well implemented," said Rolland.

"If there is a problem, it is not with 3D TV itself, but with the implementation of the technology—that may take a while to work out all the bugs," said Rolland. "Unfortunately, people trust technology—like when they get on a plane they have to trust that the engineers have built it well. You can provide guidelines to users, such as shut the door of the airplane before taking off, but ultimately it's the quality of the engineering that determines whether the plane flies well or not."

VR faced that same challenge over a decade ago, but was unable to engineer systems that were both safe and inexpensive. The result was many systems that worked for most users, but not all. The systems could not be released to the general public because even a small percentage of users could add up to thousands of medical problems, according to Rolland.

"For instance, I had one student who was very sensitive to visual disparities—he would immediately become sick as soon as he tried any VR system. But the first time he was not made sick was with my VR system—because I was very careful how I built and calibrated my system. My point is that the engineering is very important," said Rolland.

Despite the recent warnings, Samsung said in a prepared statement emailed to EE Times that it believes 3D technology is safe.

"Samsung 3D TVs are safe," the email said. "Like many other consumer electronic products, Samsung 3D TVs—and all Samsung TVs—carry a consumer advisory to equip our customers with information necessary to enjoy our products responsibly. When used properly and instructions and advisories are followed, 3D functions should not pose adverse health or safety risks."

Samsung noted in the email that advisories regarding minors, pregnancy and alcohol consumption are common across a wide range of product categories, not just consumer electronics.

"We are advising customers to use their own judgement if they experience any type of discomfort while watching 3D TV," the statement said. "Samsung's advisory reflects its strong commitment to acting as a responsible company."

User experiencing discomfort are advised to report it to the ETC's Consumer 3D Experience Project.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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