The BBC is pulling the plug on its 3-D TV programming, with the 50th anniversary Dr. Who special in November set to be the final installment for a regular series on the network. Despite 1.5 million homes being equipped with the specialty TV sets, the UK's largest broadcaster says the technology never really took off with its viewers, according to the Daily Mail. Less than half of the 3-D TV owners in Britain used the feature during one of the most watched events of this decade: last summer's Olympics opening ceremonies. But why?
Eye discomfort could be one possible explanation. Consumer reports have noted eye strain with short-term viewing. Although TV producers and health experts say there is a low risk of developing permanent eye damage from 3-D productions, any headaches, nausea, or other neurological symptoms that occur while watching may signal the presence of an pre-existing eye problem.
It is estimated that one-third of western Europeans have problems with visual depth perception, known as a refractive error, and many incidencts are subtle, undiagnosed, or untreated. This could have doomed 3-D TV from the onset.
Although it is thought to depend on how they are presented, 3-D effects can aggravate certain types of depth disorders. One study showed that viewers had more problems when 3-D images were shown at close range. Particular concerns have been raised in this regard for children and 3-D video game consoles. In 2010, Nintendo warned that its 3-D handheld consoles weren't suitable for children under six.
However, not all 3-D presentations are gut-wrenching and mind numbing. Dr. Martin Banks, an optometry professor and vision researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has performed multiple studies on what 3-D TV producers can do to reduce eye strain and other ill effects.
In a 2012 review paper, Banks and his colleagues wrote:
"Three-dimensional (3D) imagery should create a faithful impression of the 3D structure of the scene being portrayed. In addition, the viewer should be comfortable and not leave the experience with eye fatigue or a headache. Finally, the presentation of the stereo images should not create temporal artifacts like flicker or motion judder."
For now, the BBC is scrapping its 3-D pursuits, although the broadcast company promises to revisit the idea in three years.
Source: Banks MS, Read JC, Allison RS, Watt SJ. Stereoscopy and the Human Visual System. SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. 2013.