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HomemistoryMore to 3D Than We Already Know

More to 3D Than We Already Know

3D viewing has been huge over the past couple of years… And it’s hardly surprising. When Harry Potter flies at you from the cinema screen on a broomstick, the wall tiles crack and crumble as Batman battles on your 3D console, and an entire city comes to life on your PC… you’ve got to admit, it’s pretty exciting. But while most viewers are besotted with 3D, others find it uncomfortable, and some just don’t get it at all.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]

When the first commercial 3D movies were introduced back in the 60s, many members of the optical industry turned their noses up at the potential for 3D eyewear. Even now, many eyewear suppliers think 3D is a fad. However the opportunities are endless – for eye testing, behavioural therapies and the sale of 3D glasses with and without prescription lenses.

3D works by ‘tricking the brain into perceiving depth by combining images with two different perspectives. It’s basically stereo for the eyes. With crisp, bright, ultra-realistic images leaping at them, viewers feel as if they’ve stepped inside the movie – they quickly become completely immersed.

In general, the ‘trickery’ is achieved by viewing images through 3D glasses, although ultimately, glasses will not need to be worn. The technology for ‘naked-eye 3D’ already exists. In fact, glasses free 3D PCs, consoles and televisions have already been developed. While the PCs and consoles are pretty good, television has a long way to go before it’s really market ready.

The technology for ‘naked-eye 3D’ already exists… the PCs and consoles are pretty good (but) television has a long way to go before it’s really market ready”

Passive vs. Active

There are two types of glasses that achieve 3D effects – passive and active.

Passive 3D glasses don’t require a power source and are inexpensive to produce. The early, rudimentary passive glasses were those released with the first commercial 3D movies back in the 1960s and again the ’80s. These ‘anaglyph’ glasses came with cardboard frames and cellophane lenses – one red, the other cyan. Because they used colour to separate the images for each eye some, or all, of the colour of the movie was lost to the viewer.

Polarised 3D glasses are a more recent version of passive technology and they come in two forms – linear polarised and circular polarised. Linear polarised lenses enable one eye to see vertically and the other eye to see horizontally polarised images. The problem is that if the user tilts their head, they lose the 3D effect.

Circular polarised lenses are more successful. One lens is polarised clockwise and the other anti clockwise. A circular polariser is placed in front of the projector and it quickly alternates between the two polarisations to create the 3D effect.

Active 3D glasses feature a sophisticated shutter mechanism. Each lens alternately opens and shuts at a high speed, which is barely perceptible to the wearer. These glasses require a battery to power them and they receive sync signals via an infrared beam similar to a TV remote. It is expensive technology to manufacture and as a result 3D televisions are typically sold with just one pair of glasses. Additional pairs must be purchased at a cost of about AUD$150 each.

Viewing Problems

Interestingly, while the advent of 3D technology has been a boon for movie producers, television manufacturers and gaming developers, this niche could also be a big earner for optometrists and vision therapists.

That’s because there is a significant number of people who find 3D movies very uncomfortable to watch.

According to Dr. Dominick M. Maino, Professor of Paediatrics/Binocular Vision at the Illinois Eye Institute/Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, between two and six per cent of the population have strabismus or amblyopia (lazy eye) and up to 56 per cent of adults have symptoms of binocular vision dysfunction. That means “millions of individuals will not be able to see in 3D or even worse… while viewing these technological marvels… become ill.”1

Chih Chi Lee, a behavioural optometrist from Sydney, NSW, who recently made a presentation to 3D movie film makers, says its all about eye teaming and eye focusing.

“A person’s eyes focus and team together to take in two slightly different views of the same object,” she said. “Together, they work out the nearness or farness of the object and in doing so, produce a three dimensional image. The pictures are fed to the brain which is responsible for interpreting the pictures and making sense of them,” said Ms. Lee.

While the eye focusing and eye teaming systems are always matching in people with normal vision working in real space, they do have to work harder when viewing 3D in virtual space. That’s because while the images seem to be coming closer, in reality, the screen isn’t. The eyes must curb their hard-wired inclination and focus back out.

3D Vision Syndrome

Children and adults who can’t see 3D movies comfortably are receiving mismatching signals from their eye teaming and eye focusing system.

The result is what the experts call ‘3D Vision Syndrome’ (3DVS). 3DVS symptoms include (but are not limited to) asthenopia, headaches, blurred vision, eyestrain, diplopia (double vision), dizziness, nausea and vision-induced motion sickness.

“The good news for the eyewear and eye care industry is that 3D movies are helping individuals who thought they had fine eyesight, to identify that they actually have problems,” said Ms. Lee.

Optometrist Emmanuel Calligeros agrees. “3D is helping people uncover eye problems they never knew they had. They may have had a lazy eye for years but their brain has adapted. It’s not until they sit in front of a 3D movie that they realise something is bugging them. They have a binocular vision problem.”

Most eye-teaming and eye focusing vision problems can be treated by using vision therapy, lenses and/or prisms. Furthermore, current research in adult neuro-plasticity studies show that even the adult brain can change… which means adults can benefit from optometric vision therapy as well.

Learning Issues

It is not just for the sheer benefit of entertainment that we should be concerned. The inability to see 3D can destroy a career before it takes off. Think of the position an architecture student or engineer is in who can’t see in 3D. There career would be affected significantly in not being able to take advantage of the latest 3D design software that most f t.

The inability to see 3D can also indicate other learning issues. According to the American Optometric Association, “often, subtle problems with these vision skills can lead to rapid fatigue of the eyes and loss of 3D viewing, but also loss of place when reading or copying, reduced reading comprehension, poor grades and increased frustration at school. Difficulties with appreciating 3D in movies, TV and Nintendo’s 3DS, or discomfort when engaging in these activities may be an important sign of undetected vision disorders.”2

Dr. Dan Fortenbacher, from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development in the United States, wrote about his first-hand experience identifying a child whose undiagnosed vision problem was affecting her learning.

“I examined… an 11 year old girl who has been struggling to concentrate in school for the last three years. Her teachers thought she had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) since she could not concentrate on reading or paper pencil activities for more than a couple of minutes. When asked about her interest in the new 3D movies her mother reported that they just give her a headache and she shuts her eyes!

“Until recently, her mother never suspected a vision problem since she had always passed the school vision screening with 20/20 eyesight. But, the frustration and headaches with reading prompted her to make an appointment for her daughter to see an optometrist. The primary care optometrist recognised this little girl’s poor attention and concentration was due to a binocular vision problem called convergence insufficiency and referred her to see me for a specific diagnosis and treatment.”3

The 3D Future

Given the difficulties that a large percentage of the population has with 3D, is it likely that this technology will continue to move forward at the pace we’re currently seeing?

The cinemas, gaming outlets and technology retailers, tell the tale. The answer is, unreservedly, yes.

3D movies are gaining even more momentum in the cinemas. In the next few months we’ll see 3D versions of Happy Feet Two, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Cars 2 and Smurfs. Giselle, the world’s first ballet film in 3D has just been released. In June, Warner Bros. will give away 1.6 million pairs of themed 3D glasses to people who attend the midnight premier of the last instalment to the Harry Potter movie.

3D has become a massive business for an Australian owned company called Look3D which has the licence to produce the themed 3D glasses for of these movies and others.

Look3D manufactures 15 per cent of the world’s disposable 3D eyewear for the cinema giant RealD, which equates to about three million pairs a month. The company was the world’s first to be certified by RealD to manufacture designer 3D glasses for its movies, which are projected on to 90 per cent of the world’s cinema screens. Now Look3D manufactures disposable 3D glasses as well as its own range of fashion 3D glasses. And, they’ve just “broken the technology barrier” by developing the technique to produce 4-base and 6-base curve 3D lenses.

Rhett Adam, Founder and Head of Product Development and Marketing at Look3D, is convinced the market for 3D is enormous. “Consumers love the experience and movie producers love the fact that the experience they’re providing in 3D just can’t be pirated in the way digital movies can be,” he said. Film houses estimate they lose 18 per cent of revenue from movies to piracy.

As for television, all the major brands; Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, LG and Panasonic have high definition models with active 3D capabilities on the market.

“Television manufacturers introduced active 3D to the market about 12 months ago as a way of getting 3D to consumers quickly,” said Mr. Adam.

But he says passive 3D technology is about to steal the show.

“Now they’ve found the way to deliver the passive 3D experience you get in cinemas to televisions. All of LG’s new 3D televisions are passive and the difference in the technology meets or surpasses the active production. In China they’re already selling passive 3D televisions for around AUD$1,500 but I think it will be about 12 months before they hit the mass market here.”

For Look3D, that’s great news. Not only will consumers buy disposable 3D glasses for cinema use, they’ll also look for more non-disposable options to wear at home, plus they’ll need extra pairs for when their friends drop by.

It’s also great news for traditional optical manufacturers. “People will soon get sick of wearing 3D glasses over their prescription specs – they’re going to want scripted polarised glasses – maybe with multi-focals too!” said Optometrist Emmanuel Calligeros.

Silhouette is already on to it. In conjunction with Samsung, it has released active 3D glasses it claims to be the “lightest 3D eyewear in the world with optional prescription lenses”.

Marchon introduced its Kiss & Kill 3D eyewear with photochromic lenses at Mido 2011. These new glasses can be worn to watch a 3D film in a movie theatre, play a 3D videogame, or even outdoors on a sunny day – the 3D lenses adapt automatically to the changing light.

But, just as the race begins for eyewear companies to design stylish, scripted 3D glasses, television manufacturers are moving towards ‘naked-eye’ technology. Known as autostereoscopic or true 3D, Toshiba revealed the first glasses free 3D televisions in October last year.


According to Mr. Adam, there is still time to make money from 3D eyewear.

“All the companies were showing naked-eye 3D televisions at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year. If you want to buy one right now it will cost about AUD$20,000. The resolution is about half that of a normal television and there are lots of bugs in the technology – its going to be five to eight years before the developers crack the code and get it right,” he said.

Ms. Lee agrees: “There is a lot to be done on naked-eye 3D televisions – I can still see the pixels and images flickering. That flickering can cause visual stress and discomfort for people that suffer from binocular instability pattern glare – the brain is too busy coping with the flickering to cope with analysing what it’s seeing reading at the same time.”

Pan away from the television, and you’ll discover that PCs are already going naked. Fujitsu launched a glasses free all-in-one desktop PC with a 3D display in February. Toshiba plans to launch its naked-eye 3D laptop in the next few months. The company’s 3D laptops will let users pick and choose specific parts of the screen to be displayed in 3D while other portions of the LCD can continue in 2D.

And then there are naked-eye gaming consoles.

The Nintendo 3DS was released for sale in Australia at the end of March this year. This handheld game console does not require special glasses to play 3D games and movies on its 3.5-inch screen. More naked-eye 3D tablets and mobile phones are on their way, perhaps led by Apple. In December, Apple was granted a patent on a 3D projection system that accommodates multiple viewers without glasses.

One problem that gaming developers can’t get around in the immediate future is the fact that 3D gaming causes eye fatigue. That’s because fast moving images leaping out at the viewer are hard work on the eye muscles. While gaming developers warn players to take breaks every 15 minutes it’s hard to imagine the average gamer taking heed of this advice in the middle of disintegrating an alien life form.

Gaming is Fun, But…

While Ms. Lee admits “3D gaming is fun to play”, she warns that when it comes to learning, it has its limitations. “If people spend too much time learning how to do things in virtual space, but not learning how to do things in real space, it can be harmful to their learning… they can’t learn the hand eye skills they need in real life… there is a difference in motion that you can only learn by experiencing the real thing. For example, children playing tennis on Wii, or surgeons using a hologram to learn about surgery will have a message conveyed but it’s not quite the same as learning from real practise.”

“I have had people say to me that after their child played on 3D for three hours, they tripped over. It makes sense to me because you have not used your spatial judgement for a while,” said Ms Lee.

While it is too early to determine whether extended 3D play can cause long term damage, Dr. Steven Nusinowitz, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of California-Los Angeles, said: “The visual system in children is constantly changing and developing. I’d be extremely cautious at throwing 3D at a child with a developing visual system. These are not experiments that can be run on humans, particularly children, without ethical considerations. I don’t know what could happen to a four- or five-year-old. Their system is going to be calibrated differently and it could be thrown off.”

With so many dimensions to the world of 3D, it is one that’s well worth keeping a close eye on.


  1. http://mainosmemos.blogspot.com/2010/11/3d-vision-syndrome_12.html
  2. New Hand-Held 3D Gaming Devices May Help Uncover Undiagnosed Vision Problems, American Optometric Association. www.prnewswire-USNewswire
  3. 4. http://covdblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/3-d-vision-syndrome%e2%80%a6linked-to-%e2%80%9cadd-like%e2%80%9d-behaviors-in-children/

Look-out World, Here We Come

A chance meeting at 35,000 feet with a movie studio executive gave Australian Rhett Adam the heads up on the rush of 3D movies that was about to change the cinematic experience for ever more. Mr. Adam, who was working at the time as a Polaroid eyewear development manager, instantly saw the opportunity to establish his own business.

Four years later, Look3D leads the world as a manufacturer of 3D eyewear. The company manufacturers three million pairs of disposable eyewear every month out of its factory in Guangzhou, China, along with 50,000 plastic injection moulded or handmade acetate 3D fashion glasses.

Look3D has also developed the technology to manufacture disposable 3D glasses from corn, an environmentally sustainable product that considerably reduces emissions. Mr. Adam says this is a fantastic opportunity for the movie industry to prove its commitment to the environment.

“If we manufacture 10 million pairs of 3D glasses from corn, which is the number of glasses required to support one 3D movie, we could save about 728 metric tons of CO2 emissions – that would eliminate the total annual carbon footprint of 129 driving passenger vehicles each year,” he said.

However, manufacturing the glasses from corn is expensive. “We’re negotiating with movie houses to stock the glasses and give consumers the choice to pay the extra .10 cents it costs to produce them,” he said.

Steep Learning Curve

Managing a factory in China has been a huge learning curve for Mr. Adam. In China, most of the factory workers move from rural areas to live and work in the cities so they can support their families. Until recently, this has produced a stable workforce for companies like Look3D. However, recently the Chinese government moved to established industry in rural areas. That has put pressure on employment, as workers are understandably tempted to move home to work closer to their families.

“We’re in the process of implementing changes to make our workplace more attractive to the 500 workers we currently have. But in doing so, I have become very aware of the vast cultural differences between Australia and China. Chinese people are not used to receiving thanks or any extras that employees in Australia might be used to, or celebrating corporate success,” he said.

“Our factory has just been audited by Disney and as a result certified to the company’s high standards. That means we meet their conditions of no child labour, wages that are 30 per cent higher than non-certified factories, high standards of safety and information for workers. We’re committed to doing things properly,” said Mr. Adam.