As the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2011) kicks into high gear this week in Las Vegas, we're again seeing a number of 3D-enabled products from TVs to tablets to mobile devices. It's the second (or is it third?) coming of 3D, it seems, and this time around it's often glasses-free.
Much of the development around the technology is concerned with bringing 3D to your living room, such as is the case with the 3D-enabled TVs from LG and Toshiba, for example, Samsung's 3D LED monitors, or the addition of 3D movies to the streaming service VUDU, which can pipe Hollywood entertainment directly into your living room. But 3D is showing up on other screens, too - mobile phones and tablets, gaming devices and mobile 3D DTV devices - although still in early forms.
But before you go all in, early-adopting this new craze, there's a little tidbit of not-inconsequential data you need to know first.
3D Impacts Vision Development, Says Toshiba
Apparently, viewing 3D images, even the glasses-free kind, can negatively impact the vision development in small children. According to a report from The Wall St. Journal, both Nintendo and Toshiba have recently issued warnings about the vision damage that could occur when children under six view 3D video images. To quote, Toshiba's warning says that "due to the possibility of impact on vision development, viewers of 3D video images should be aged 6 or older."
?Outside the U.S., a Japanese 3D consortium with members like Samsung and LG for example, has issued similar warnings, the WSJ reported.
That sounds serious, right?
Engadget recently downplayed the dangers though, specifically referencing Nintendo CEO Reggie Fils-Aime's statement from six months prior that his company's warning is only in place because children, especially young children, have eyes that are not fully-formed. In other words, it's no big deal.
But the warnings, you should know, aren't just your run-of-the-mill precautions (do not eat silica gel packets, do not leave child alone with plastic bag) - they're based on the recommendations of an electronics industry group's recommendations, Toshiba says. The company's TV marketing chief, Yuji Motomura declined to tell the WSJ which one, however.
We think we may have an idea. The unnamed group could be the well-known 3D@Home Consortium, especially considering it recently held a meeting on an oddly related topic: using 3D to diagnose vision problems in young children.
Wait: 3D Identifies Vision Problems in Children? Doesn't Cause It?
According to 3D@Home's website, the group met on Dec. 7 in San Diego to discuss several topics relating to vision standards, including the "promotion of the benefits of utilizing stereo viewing for diagnosing and improving vision in children and adults." In fact, reads the article, "early research by experts has shown that binocular vision issues, which inhibit successful perception of 3D images, are often linked with reading and comprehension issues in children."
Or, more simply put, vision issues mean other developmental problems may be present. And 3D technology could help identify these problems.
Well now, that sounds great, right?
On the conference's home page, a session regarding "special issues related to 3D and children" was held mid-day on the 7th. Included in this session was a presentation by Dr. Maureen Powers of the Gemstone Foundation, a research institute in California. You can read through it for yourself here. In it, she described several issues related to viewing 3D images. To save you time, the conclusion is that a large number of school-aged children have binocular vision problems and a relatively large number have binocular dysfunction.
What This Means
What this means, says Dr. Powers, is that while most children will be fine viewing 3D, but some children will not be comfortable - in fact, the group experiencing discomfort may be as high as 25%. Some of the children will complain, some will not and some will be so uncomfortable that they will not watch 3D video images at all or play games. The best guess at this time is that latter group will be about 5% to 10% of school-age children.
This early research has clearly resulted in the "recommendations" to warn against 3D viewing by small children by the hardware manufacturers like Toshiba, we would guess, as it's believed that these types of problems fade as children age. (Dr. Powers notes that it's expected that children will "differ from adults" in terms of discomfort and related issues).
At the end of the day, what this really means is that tech enthusiast or not, it may be unwise to plop your smallest children in front of 3D movies like Avatar or Toy Story, for example, and it may be unwise for you to do the same. There's actually very little research in the effects of long-term 3D viewing on children and adults.
Until now, 3D video viewing has been a somewhat isolated experience - a movie here and there, where you wear silly shades for a couple of hours. But with the advancements in the technology, there's an industry-wide push to 3D-enable all your screens, before the research on what happens by doing so is even complete.
And for that reason, manufacturers are prescribing caution, at least for children. What 3D-related warning labels will crop up in the future for the rest of us is still unknown.