What Happened to the Promise of 3-D Media Entertainment?

It was only five years ago when 3-D was at the zenith of its potential.  Ostensibly emerging in the movie industry, home theater, research, and education, we were convinced enough at the time that this wasn’t simply the Nehru jacket of visual style that would fade in a few years that we arranged a Symposium on the subject at the Annual COVD meeting in 2013.

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Dr. Dominick Maino and I had been involved considerably with the AOA’s effort to promote awareness about potential issues related to binocular vision problems and 3-D viewing comfort.  Our crossing paths in various circles led to a 3D panel that we felt would help place the discussion in a useful dimension, featuring two presenters not particularly well-known in optometric circles.

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One was Len Scrogan, a former teacher, principal, and technology director for the Boulder Valley Schools,  A Digital Learning Architect and author of Digital Shapeshifter, a book on creative visual teaching and learning, Len’s work concentrated on innovative projects in the area of 3D, visual teaching and learning, blended learning, and technology leadership. He was a co-author of the American Optometric Association’s report on 3D in the classroom.

The other was Shun-Nan Yang, a Ph.D. in cognitive neurophysiology and human-computer interaction and a research scientist with a background in behavioral and computational modeling of visual perception and ocular control.  At the time, Shun-Nan was Director of Research of the Vision Performance Institute at Pacific University College of Optometry, focusing mainly on the vergence response to near work and stereoscopic 3D viewing.

A clue as to why 3D movie popularity seems to be slipping again to its nadir comes from movie critic Ann Hornaday, who writes in her new book (Talking Pictures: How to Watch Movies, pp. 138-41):

“There are few things I truly despise in life – other than bullies, white chocolate, and the designated hitter rule – but 3-D has earned a spot at the very top of that list … In addition to spectacularizing action thrillers by filmmaking them in super-widescreen or IMAX,not studios have re-embraced the 1950s gimmick of 3-D, a format that is generally not replicable at home and that, not coincidentally, adds three or four dollars to the average ticket price.  With very few exceptions – Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, the science fiction adventure Gravity, and Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams are a few – I’ve found 3-D to be of little more than a marketing ploy and cash grab than an aesthetic advance – it sacrifices pictorial detail and color saturation while providing very little in return … In the hands of artists like Scorsese, Cuaron, and Herzog, and with ever-progressing technological advances, 3-D may well win me over someday.  I might even learn to love white chocolate.”

It may be premature to declare the demise of 3-D in all its guises.  Although its popularity in movies seems to be waning, and home 3D TVs went the way of PIP (picutre-in-picture) screens, the 3-D vision health information campaign launched by the AOA is still very much pertinent.  I have a feeling the relevance of 3-D technology is merely dormant rather than dead.  This holds true particularly in the realm of educational and health care technologies.  The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a vibrant organization, and Len Scrogan participated in a session on 3-D for classroom learning this past June in San Antonio.

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Take a look at the handout that Len distributed as part of his presentation, coupling virtual reality (VR) with the 3-D learning experience.  Two significant items of note:

  1. “There is some evidence to suggest that the effects of maintaining artificial stereopsis, such as when viewing a 3D film in the cinema or participating in a 3D classroom, take a little while to ‘wear off’. It is advisable, therefore, for educators to plan for a period of five to ten minutes at the end of each 3D class, in a comfortable visual environment, during which the students can readjust to normality.”
  2. “Students with problems who really want to see 3D VR should consult with a certified optometrist/vision therapist. (In most cases, comfortable 3D VR viewing can be acquired with focused practice under the care of a professional.)”



One thought on “What Happened to the Promise of 3-D Media Entertainment?

  1. I see most 3D movies in the theater. Few, however, are available for home without buying them from China. This is sad. in my opinion, there is no better way to pick up binocular problems than 3D movies. Those who get headaches, or dizziness, or eye strain, etc. when watching 3 D movies, likely have the same symptoms in some other circumstances–unless they avoid. We frequently find that those who avoid 3D movies–other than for reasons of cost–are avoiding something else in life, like reading for longer periods of time or driving at night. The movies are often a better vision screening than a routine eye exam, even if the exam offers a check for central 3D vision. The movie forces the viewer to focus at one distance and point his or her eyes at another distance–as we check during a vision therapy evaluation. For myself, the after-affect of watching a 3D movie is that I am aware of more space; I consider a larger area to simultaneously view. The 3D television movies are similarly an excellent bridge for the treatment of crossed eyes (strabismus). I am sorry that the financial returns were insufficient to continue 3D. Instead audiences are encouraged to buy the same movies, yet again, in intense colors that were probably never experience by anyone in the natural world prior to modernity. Oh well: there is progress, and there is change. Either provides the novelty to keep us awake..

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