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3D entertainment: Is it Safe?

Even though 3D entertainment is by no means a novelty, this technology has made a huge comeback lately. And everything indicates the next few years will be witness to a whole new slew of applications for 3D displays.

From video game consoles to digital cameras, a new generation of electronic devices allows enjoying the third dimension upon a flat screen… often with no need for 3D glasses or similar contraptions. Glasses-free 3D is a huge technological trend with plenty of room for growth and innovation.

While the increased realism and depth of auto stereoscopic 3D does add something new to the viewing experience, the question remains: "How (un)healthy watching 3D entertainment really is?" In case you've been contemplating such questions recently, this article will help you make an informed decision on whether or not you should be joining the 3D train anytime soon.

How 3D works and why it's not good for you

In simple terms, 3D technology works by tricking your eyes in a particular way that creates the illusion of depth upon a flat screen. This is a relatively simple illusion that has been known for decades, but in the past few years great advances have been made in the development of sophisticated new screens that replicate the 3D effect without need for accessories such as glasses.

Regardless of whether you're using 3D glasses to enjoy 3D entertainment, the same principle applies: each of your eyes is shown a separate image. When your brain merges both pictures together, which usually feature a slightly different angle – that's when the "magic" happens, and your brain perceives a sense of depth on what is actually a flat screen.

So the question remains: is this kind of trickery harmful for your eyesight? The short answers is that it can be harmful indeed; the long answer is that it doesn't necessarily have to be, provided you don't have a history of optical difficulties, and just as long as your consumption of 3D is moderate.

Who should avoid watching 3D entertainment?

In simple terms, anyone who either has sight problems or is prone to feeling motion sickness may want to refrain from indulging in 3D entertainment. This would include pregnant women, elderly people, anyone with sleep deprivation or anyone who is under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, no children under age of 6 should be allowed to watch 3D content, since the experience can hinder the normal development of their eyesight.

The main reasoning is that watching 3D content in such situations will either strain the eye muscles or vastly increase the odds of experiencing nausea or severe headaches once you come back to "natural 3D mode". Even people with good eyesight, no health problems and adult age can be prone to experiencing these negative effects, unless they take the necessary precautions (see section below).

Common side effects of simulated 3D experiences

Aside from the high odds of inducing nausea and motion sickness on the short term, watching 3D entertainment has the potential to cause a number of awkward situations in the long term. It can interfere with your special perception and your ability to judge distances in the real world, and the excessive strain on your eye muscles has the potential to precipitate the development of eyesight problems.

Proper scientific studies are still being made at this point, but most optometrists and researchers agree that the illusion that allows the perception of artificial 3D is likely not good for your eyes. It doesn't mean you will go blind or even that you will need to wear glasses because of it; it does mean that you have to take special precautions while watching 3D entertainment, even more so than compared to watching a conventional 2D screen.

Special precautions to avoid 3D motion sickness

The most obvious precaution you need to take if you plan to watch 3D entertainment regularly is to make sure you have no underlying eyesight problems that could escalate. As such, consulting with your optometrist is the wise thing to do, if you really enjoy this technology and feel like you'll be watching more and more 3D content in the future.

The second most obvious precaution you need to keep in mind is actually a no-brainer: taking regular breaks. You've probably been told that resting your eyes for a few minutes is advisable after staring at a screen for periods of 30 minutes. Like most people, you probably don't take such warnings seriously, but when it comes to watching 3D entertainment you really will have to start doing so.

If you want to keep it safe, it's better to avoid spending more than 2 hours / day in front of a 3D screen. While watching a full-length movie, you should be mindful to take at least one 5-10 minute break (two breaks would be ideal). Most importantly, if you start feeling nauseous or get a headache, you should turn off the 3D effect. You may feel now like it's worth it for the sake of getting entertained, but sooner or later you will realize that preserving your eyesight is much more important!

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