3-D impairment: Focusing on how eyes handle that extra movie dimension

Posted: May 06, 2011

TO PEOPLE who get headaches or feel nauseous while watching 3-D movies: Quit whining. At least you get a taste of the action.

Because some unfortunate souls can't see 3-D at all. Instead of the mind-bending visages of "Avatar's" Pandora, these deprived moviegoers see just another CGI-created world. Instead of the depth of field of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," it's just another fairy tale. And, instead of the popping action sequence of "The Green Hornet" . . . well, that was bad even with 3-D.

Admittedly, it's a First World Problem, but a problem nonetheless, especially in light of an increasingly crowded field of potential summer blockbusters that boast 3-D visuals. Thirteen 3-D movies will open in Philly between now and the end of August, including "Thor," which hits theaters today. The ticket prices are higher for 3-D movies, too. At South Philly's United Artists Riverview, for instance, it's $11 for a 2-D movie, $14.50 for 3-D.

So why are some of us 3-D impaired?

"I like to explain 3-D as simulated depth perception," said Wills Eye Institute pediatric ophthalmologist Kammi Gunton. "There are two images being simultaneously projected on the screen. But the [3-D] glasses allow one eye to see one image, and the other eye to see the other image."

When those images combine, they create the 3-D pictures that look as if you can reach out and grab them. Test it next time you view a 3-D movie: Take off your 3-D glasses and notice that the screen is blurry because it looks like two of the same images on top of each other, but just slightly off. But if the eyes don't work together, the image looks perfectly normal.

The visual problems behind 3-D impairment don't affect everyday perception, Gunton said, just the simulated images of 3-D.

If you have any condition that doesn't allow your eyes to work properly together, you probably see only the flat 2-D screen rather than the eye-popping visuals of 3-D. People with strabismus (misalignment of the eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye), astigmatism, significant cataracts or poorer vision in one eye all fall into this category.

There's not much you can do to fix the problem, other than making sure your eye prescription is up to date. Optometrist Tamara Hill-Bennett of Logic Eye Care Inc. in West Oak Lane suggests relaxing your eyes during a screening by taking off the 3-D glasses and looking at something far away for 20 seconds. That should help with any nausea associated with viewing 3-D as well.

But there's hope on the horizon. Gunton pointed out that two- image 3-D is only one way to create depth in the mind's eye. Some programmers, such as those at video game companies, are working to make 3-D with holograms, rather than overlaying two images. She said that the "Comcast Holiday Spectacular in 3-D," for one, used both of types of programming in its most recent holiday show in the lobby of the Comcast Center.

But until the technology improves, the visually challenged among us might as well stick with the lower-priced 2-D screenings.

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