The manner we experience movies and television has reached another level with 3D technology. This allows the perception of depth which lets people to experience movies like they’re actually a part of the scene. 3D is becoming more common although it’s not really new. Stereo-viewing techniques were already used in early cinemas but the technology had to wait for new hardware, like high-definition camera, projectors, and screens before it became more than just a novelty. The movie Avatar sealed 3D as the new experience in screen entertainment. Groundbreaking in many ways, it also creates a few problems for viewers. It can cause nausea and motion sickness.
The new Fusion camera from director James Cameron allowed for better 3D images that simulated normal human vision. Its two lenses can actually move to focus on the subject much like the eyes do. This makes the 3D effect more realistic and natural on the eyes. But some people who’ve watched Avatar on IMAX experienced nausea. This effect is strong in scenes where the camera slowly rotates or turns. The opening sequence, where Jake Sully wakes up in the spaceship, is one scene that gave IMAX audiences a good reason to close their eyes. It’s like being in a car in traffic and you suddenly “sense” that your car is sliding back, when it’s actually the vehicle beside you that’s moving forward.
The discrepancy between what you see and what your body actually feels is what causes nausea for some reason. In the many flying sequences in Avatar, your eyes perceive movement and depth that are so real your brain interprets them as real motion. The sensation would make “sense” if you were actually flying, but the fact is that you’re sitting on a chair in a movie theater, practically motionless. The 3D experience of Avatar (and a few other 3D movies), can makes your head spin. The nauseating effect is not felt for the full length of the film; after an hour or so, you may get used to the sensation which may diminish. But, you may discover that after leaving the theater, you may feel like throwing up.
Admittedly, other films in 3D have not made audiences sick enough to puke. But you can never really know if and when a 3D film can make you nauseous. Beowulf was only slightly dizzying even in an IMAX theater-although it did give some people a stiff neck. Long movies tend to do this, and when you have to wear goggles that you must keep facing straight at the screen, you will definitely get an aching neck. The only way to prevent this is to drop your head every now and then. But of course, if you do this, you will miss out on a lot of what’s going on in the movie.
Thankfully, movie audiences have the option of seeing a movie either in 3D or in old-fashioned 2D-at least the option is still there. Now that 3D has invaded television sets and promises to do away with the glasses, it’s likely that 3D is here to stay, and so are the nausea and stiffness associated with it. The negative effects of watching 3D movies and television are not unknown to TV manufacturers. Samsung has included an advisory on watching pictures in 3D. It’s directed at parents and warns about possible effects on children. The warning recommends viewers to see a doctor if they experience dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, disorientation, loss of awareness, convulsion, eyestrain, cramps, perceptual after effects, and decreased postural stability.
Samsung’s warning makes sense, especially when nothing will stop the viewer from watching in 3D at home for hours on end. With 3D technology that’s so tempting to experience with favorite programs, the time spent in front of the TV may increase. But as with every new technology that can be addictive, there’s always room for control. If watching 3D does make you sick, then it may be better to watch movies and TV the old-fashioned way. If you insist on watching in 3D knowing you’ll just get sick, then you may just be paying to puke. 3D may not be for everyone.