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Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Friday, 28 January 2011

Could 3D television be dangerous to watch?

By Alex Hudson
BBC Click


DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg denies 3D TV safety risk

Recent safety advice has said 3D TV is not suitable for children, but does that mean the technology is a health risk?

When Peterborough mayor Keith Sharp wanted to rent Piranha 3D on DVD a few weeks ago, he was not expecting to have his request turned down on health and safety grounds.

A shop employee, misinterpreting head office advice not to rent out 3D glasses, did exactly that - prompting the story to first be picked up by the national newspapers and then spread around the world.

But is there any truth to the idea that 3D TV, which gives the illusion of depth by flicking between two separate images, could be dangerous?

Man plays with the new Nintendo 3DS console
Nintendo said its new 3D device was not suitable for children under six

The Nintendo 3DS portable console, to be unveiled in Japan on 26 February, is the first major release to allow 3D images to be seen without the need for glasses.

But last year, Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's president and chief operating officer, said he would "recommend that very young children not look at 3D images" and that was "standard protocol" within the industry.

When this advice was formally released this month, many articles appeared about "the dangers of 3D" and how viewers, particularly children, could be affected. It was a reaction that Mr Fils-Aime has described as "a bit over the top".

Mark Pesce, an early pioneer in virtual reality, said last year that children "could potentially suffer permanent damage from regular and extensive exposure [to 3D images on a screen]".

His main critique was that he believed "none of the television manufacturers have done any health and safety testing".

Eye fatigue
Development of children's eyes
Lazy eyes or squints

Sony, Samsung, LG and other manufacturers have now released health and safety guidance with their products. Most echo Nintendo's advice about young children but advice also extends as far to those who have been drinking alcohol, pregnant women, senior citizens, people with heart problems, those who experience frequent drowsiness or are in need of sleep.

Perhaps above anything else, this seems to clash with the big effort to get 3D TVs into pubs - over 1,000 establishments have signed up in the UK alone.

So should we be worried?

Samsung declined to comment, as "it is more of an industry issue than a Samsung one" but Sony, according to a spokesperson, has conducted research and evaluation concerning the effects on health by watching 3D under the influence of alcohol.

There is not anybody legitimate in the medical profession who has suggested that we're jeopardising the health of our children
Jeffery Katzenberg, CEO DreamWorks Animation

Its report indicated that "while some people may experience discomfort - such as eye strain, fatigue, or nausea - no evidence was found which may cause health problems for normal use of 3D contents".

An LG spokesperson said that there has been no issue with people drinking and watching 3D TV in pubs.

All stressed that anyone worried or experiencing symptoms should seek professional advice.

'Low risk'

"Companies are just erring on the side of caution and covering all the bases," said Karen Sparrow, education adviser at the Association of Optometrists.

"The patients that we see [who would need treatment for this] would be a very, very tiny percentage and is a very low risk.

"It very much depends on the individual but, because 3D technology only really burst on to the high street in the last two or three years, the research hasn't really been done yet.

"Especially with children, you need lots of years of data before you can know for sure whether it's a problem or not."

Screen seen partially through 3D glasses
Around 4m 3D televisions were shipped worldwide in 2010

Jeffery Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, has more reason than most to hope that the technology really takes off - his company now produces all its films in 3D. He said he did not believe that it was harmful whatsoever.

"It does not seem to be based on any meaningful research or medical advice," he said.

"We are in the kid business and we have talked to many people, experts in the fields of eye and eye care and so we've asked 'is there something we need to be concerned about?', and it's a hypothetical.

"What people have said is that for very, very early eye development - which we were told is three years and younger by the way, not six years - there is some concern that there might be some issue of... straining the eyes."

But this is not an evaluation that Ms Sparrow agrees with.

She said: "When I was trained, we were always taught that eyesight was flexible up to seven or eight but new research suggested that it could be longer.

"When a child's eye is growing, their eyes are forming a balance, and so for that natural progression to occur you have to have a perfectly clear image in both the right eye and the left eye.

"Anything that disrupts that could cause that child to develop a lazy eye. However, it will probably take a lot of hours before any damage would be done."

I can't imagine seeing EastEnders in 3D anytime soon
Geoff Slaughter, editor 3DTV Watcher

So could these reports mean that 3D could be finished before it has really begun? Mr Katzenberg does not think so.

"For a five or six-year-old child to go in and see an 82-minute movie once every month, I have to say there is not anybody legitimate in the medical profession who has suggested that we're jeopardising the health of our children," he said.

"No-one, not a single solitary person, so I don't understand it."

And some people have argued that 3D could be a benefit as an early warning system to catch sight problems in children that might otherwise go undetected.

"Watching 3D programming can unmask issues such as lazy eye, convergence insufficiency, poor focusing skills and other visual problems consumers might not have previously known existed," said Dr Dominick Maino, of the Illinois College of Optometry's Illinois Eye Institute.

And perhaps the one thing that could mute any further health warnings is that, at least currently, 3D is not being used as the "normal" way to consume everyday viewing.

"Not all programmes work in 3D," said Geoff Slaughter, editor of 3DTV Watcher.

"Even in the medium term, it is not going to be everyday viewing. It's good for movies and for some sports events or documentaries but I can't imagine seeing EastEnders in 3D anytime soon."

Watch a full interview with Jeffery Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, on Click on the BBC News Channel on Saturday at 1130 GMT and 2030 GMT, Sunday at 0430 GMT and 1130 GMT, or on BBC World News on Friday at 1530 GMT, Saturday at 0630 GMT, or Sunday at 1230 GMT, and 1830 GMT.

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