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3D Movies Causing Headaches?

January 11, 2010

Watching 3D films such as Avatar could give some viewers headaches, experts have warned.

According to Reuters, the $1 billion box office hit has inspired a crop of 3D TV sets, and while new digital 3D technology has made the experience more comfortable for many, for some people with eye problems, a prolonged 3D session may result in an aching head.

According to Dr. Michael Rosenburg, an ophthalmology professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, watching a 3D movie confronts viewers with an entirely new sensory experience.

Rosenburg told Reuters, “There are a lot of people walking around with very minor eye problems, for example a minor muscle imbalance, which under normal circumstances the brain deals with naturally.”

In normal vision, each eye sees things at a slightly different angle.

Dr. Deborah Friedman of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York told Reuters, “When that gets processed in the brain, that creates the perception of depth.”

“The illusions that you see in three dimensions in the movies is not exactly calibrated the same way that your eyes and your brain are. If your eyes are a little off to begin with, then it’s really throwing a whole degree of effort that your brain now needs to exert.”

Experts say there are no studies tracking how common it is to get a headache after watching a 3D film.

Rick Heineman, a spokesman for RealD, which provides 3D equipment to cinemas, said headaches and nausea were the main reasons 3D technology never took off before.

Older 3D technology involved the use of two film projectors, one that projected a left eye image and one that projected a right eye image. Three-D glasses would allow viewers to see a different image in each eye.

“People often complained of headaches and it was really because the projectors weren’t lined up,” Heineman said.

But he said new digital technology addresses many of the problems that had previously caused sore heads.

Friedman said she thinks most people will do fine with 3D movies and with 3D TVs, but Rosenberg said people may quickly tire of the novelty.

“I think it will be a gimmick. I suspect there will be a lot of people who say it’s sort of neat, but it’s not really comfortable,” he said.

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