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3D Television


After detailing a brief history of 3-D technology, this study examines the psychological and physiological effects of, and the technology used in 3-D television and films. Pouring over books, journals, websites, and letters, we have discovered the origins of 3-D technology, dating back to 1903. More importantly, the data collected enlightens readers about the several “pros and cons” of the two main methods of 3-D technology: Anaglyph and polarized. However, the crux of the article lies in the information about the psychological and physiological effects of 3-D technology. Readers may be surprised to learn that 3-D technology may have a greater effect on the brains, motor functions, and mental states of its viewers; to name a few, these effects include stress, involuntary movements, mental confusion, and eye fatigue. We also question whether 3-D technology and its “invasion” of our homes is a gimmick or the future of home television. After reading this article, maybe you can decide.


While the topic of 3-D technology in the home and its methods, effects, and future may not have ignited an argument or controversy in the past, the same cannot be said for the present or future. This article investigates the several effects of 3-D technology in order to inform readers of its possible consequences. We take into effect physiological and psychological effects, prices of 3-D television sets, and the quality, or lack thereof, of historical and recent 3-D movies. Not only are the effects, prices, and quality taken into account, but we also discuss the methods with which 3-D technology will be viewed in the home. We aim to inform readers of the aforementioned attributes of 3-D technology and to see if we can predict what the future holds for our home-television viewing pleasures.

History of 3D Technology



The first 3-D motion picture, titled L’arrivée du Train (seen above), was made by Auguste and Louis Lumiére in 1903. At the time, the technology only allowed for this motion picture to be shot in one scene with one camera angle; the entire film lasted only a few seconds. However, it was one step in the right direction for 3-D films.

Technology didn’t allow much progress, and the people didn’t show much interest either.

In his book entitled 3-D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema, R.M. Hayes states that 3-D technology would hit its “first boom” in early 1952 when Arch Oboler of the Natural Vision Corporation began production on “a very modest African adventure tale called The Lions of Gulu” (Hayes 22). Filmed stereoscopically, which means with 3-D imaging, The Lions of Gulu was renamed Bwana Devil (seen below) and it started the “Hollywood stereo-vision boom” (Hayes 22).


Several successful 3-D films followed this; as a result, Hollywood stood firmly behind stereo-vision and the concept of 3-D. However, Hollywood’s stance was short lived. In 1954, “Hollywood was washing its hands of the stereoscopic process. They had cheaper ways of attracting audiences” (Hayes 37).

This era is referred to by Randy Hoffner as “The Golden Age of 3D Movies” (Rupkalvis 1). After the “golden age” was over, 3-D technology almost completely disappeared from the film industry until the early 1980s. 3-D made its comeback: “Comin at Ya!, in widescreen 3-D, color and stereophonic sound, opened big on August 14, 1981” (Hayes 89-92). Not only did this movie make a multi-million dollar profit on “a cost of $650,000,” it also propelled 3-D technology back into the public eye; it started the “Second Boom” (Hayes 94). The early eighties also brought with it an interest in 3-D home television.

During the second boom, a firm called 3D Video Corporation began converting “films to stereoscopic (3-D) TV via anaglyphic duo color format” (Hayes 117). The anaglyph method is discussed later in this article. 3D Video Corporation did not stay in business for long. Hayes writes: “While the company managed to bring stereo-vision to the home screen, they did so on such a low grade level it not only tainted for years any decent work along the same lines by others, but was a contributor to patron apathy when 3-D started hitting theatre screens big in the early eighties” (Hayes 119). While the quality may have been bad, it was an attempt at bringing 3-D technology into the home.

R.M. Hayes wrote his book in 1989; therefore, it is a little out of date. He says, “For now, true 3- D television seems like a dead issue… yet there is a small glimmer of hope” (Hayes 120-121). For having written his book over 20 years ago, Hayes wasn’t too far off. 3-D technology in the home may have been a dead issue in 1989; however, in the year 2011, the issue is alive, practical, and popular.

Technology of 3D Television


Anaglyph Method


The Anaglyph Method produces two slightly offset images, each individually tinted in either red or cyan. The red-cyan glasses filter the light given off by the television appropriately, allowing each eye to see the image that was intended for it. The brain then merges the two images to produce a 3D effect. This is the method that was used in movie theaters before the advent of polarized glasses. The diagram to the right illustrates how two offset images, of differing colors are displayed on a screen. The light then bounces towards the viewer and the lens filters the light to restrict the image that is seen by each eye, producing a 3D effect.

Pros: Inexpensive, quick and easy way to watch and create 3D movies or shows.

Cons: This method can cause headaches, nausea and a feeling of being unwell that hinders the overall 3D experience. The 3D picture is substandard.

Polarized Method


The Polarized Method is similar to the Anaglyph Method, but instead of using colors to control the image that reaches the eye, the viewer wears polarized glasses. These glasses function in much the same way as sunglasses except that each lens is polarized to allow light in that is perpendicular to the light entering the other lens. The picture to the right displays how light rays from the television are filtered by each lens.

Pros: Light weight, pictures with amazing levels of detail and color.

Cons: Not a popular technology.

Shutter Glasses


In this method, the left and right images are alternated rapidly on the HDTV. For the eye to view the right set of images, viewers have to wear a pair of battery-powered glasses with shutters that open and close rapidly. Each shutter is synchronized to transmit the wanted image and block out the undesired one. The shutter glasses are in sync with the screen’s refresh rate of 120Hz.

Pros: Glasses are relatively inexpensive, no ghosting effect or delayed images due to tinted glasses. There is also reduced user fatigue.

Cons: There is a 50% loss in picture brightness and if there is any timing lag the picture can get a little rocky. In fast moving sequences, like NASCAR, the flicker can be noticeable.

No Glasses / Autostereoscopy


There are two ways to create a 3D television without the use of cumbersome and expensive glasses: leticular lenses or the parallax barrier.

Leticular Lenses

Leticules are cylindrical plastic lenses that are placed on a transparent sheet that is fixed on the LCD screen. These lenticules must be perfectly aligned with the image underneath, and each lenticule then acts as a magnifying glass to enlarge and display the portion of the image below it. The viewer’s eye directly perpendicular to the screen sees one image, whereas the other eye, which is slightly offset, sees another image entirely. This difference in view creates an illusion of depth that the brain interprets into a 3D image.

The Parallax Barrier

The parallax barrier works similarly. It has a lay of material with some precise slits placed in front of the LCD screen. These allow each eye to see a different set of pixels creating a 3D effect.

Pros: Glasses are not required.

Cons: An optimum viewing distance of 13 feet. If you sit outside the zone, images will be muddled.


At this time few 3D channels exist, as companies are still developing and distributing the technology. But, the following is a diagram of the 3D television scheme, a map of how it can be delivered.


3D Channels

In 2011 a 3D channel will become available to the public:

“Discovery Communications, which operates the Discovery Channel, TLC and other cable channels, will distribute the channel, which has a 2011 start date. It is expected to showcase a mix of 3D content, including entertainment and sports. It will also show some of the natural history programming that Discovery is well known for.” –NY Times [3]


For more information about the specifics of Digital Video Broadcasting in 3D see: DVB 3D-TV.

Psychological Effects of 3D Technology

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What is it?

The best way to describe exactly what 3D technology is and what it does is with one word-Trick. 3D technology is currently the most popular gimmick into tricking our brain to view the typical 2D image into one with real depth and feeling-3D. The way that it essentially works is simple, your brain is basically given a set of two different images for each viewing eye and so your brain will basically interpret these two images as one cohesive 3D image.

Possible Psychological effects

  • mental confusion
  • stress
  • loss of awareness
  • dizziness
  • involuntary movement
  • eye fatigue (Buzzle staff and agencies)

What 3D Movies can accomplish (Psyche)

Think about being in a auditorium, cinema, or show in which you are viewing something in 3D. There's an explosion and pieces of glass are flying around and you quickly react and put out your hands as to protect yourself. This reaction is that of your psychological response to viewing something in 3D. “3D movies provide a sense of realism that isn't necessarily available when watching something in regular 2D. It in turn activates our reflexes which makes us have those involuntary movements.”(Clyde) When you're viewing in 3D you basically lose a sense of reality and are transported into whatever the reality is that the film wants you to believe. Your brain becomes confused and now has to take this film and store it as an experience rather than just "watching a film" which is just data stored. Now this makes your brain tired and stressed from all the activity it has just experienced which can make the person feel tired after watching or experiencing the movie.
It’s said that 3D images can be up to 8 times more memorable than 2D images which leave a much more lasting impression in our minds after were finished watching. The scenes and events we’ve just witnessed start to embed themselves with situations and experiences from our own lives and when we dream they all get mixed up and become one big experience for us. This cloudiness of what’s reality and not reality can have subconscious effects for us. We’ll retain these unwanted experiences and this can result in human behaviors that are unwelcomed because now our brain see’s this information as a learned human experience. Now if our brain thinks we’ve actually lived through this experience then the outcome can be much like that of a Vietnam Veteran. Personally I know my uncle whose experienced post traumatic stress disorder with being in the war has had moments when my aunt has said he’s awaken her up with outbursts during the night. This is basically working the same way as when viewing something in 3D. He’s not able to distinguish reality from not reality in his dreams because of the event’s he’s experienced.

3D Technology and Children

When you think about the research that has been done with children especially, and the effects of watching or playing violent video games or viewing violent movies, this poses an even further question about what it can do if viewed in 3D format. The researchers have found correlations between aggressive human behaviors when exposed to these intense scenes so if 3D is supposed to enhance your viewing and sense of reality, the outcome could be devastating. The best way I can think of this situation is as follows: Children are miniature versions of adults. They are more sensitive, vulnerable and prone to various things and they rely on protection usually from another adult. If I think back to movies that have been released and especially targeted in 3D technology, it really seems to me that a lot of the movies (especially the more recent ones) were targeted for the younger audience. Like I stated before, vulnerability is something that children are more likely to have or experience and so “3D technology could be something negative for them and maybe just a little too real.”(Children’s hospital Boston staff)

Incorporating other approaches

If we take a look at how far the television has come from when it first became available in the 1920’s, we can see the progression from that tiny enormous box to a sleek and sexy 60in screen. We went from video cassettes to dvd’s and now blu- ray and we also have internet television and can view programming through our phones. The point is that technology has come a very long way since the 1920’s and the same way that we’ve advanced into 3D technology and making things seem as real as possible to create that extra effect, we can still take it even further. 3D technology provides that realism with colors, sounds, and pictures that attracts our attention but what if we incorporated something more, something like fragrances? Our sense of smell is something that is connected greatly with our own memories. When you go to the store to pick out an air freshener and read things like: summer breeze or ocean air, it’s because these smells can portray the effect of making you feel like you’re back at the beach experiencing some of the best memories you’ve had. “Fragrances have this effect on us to make us feel or increase the sense of reality”(Waseda) that you are transported into that particular “fragrant” air. This is why often times when you go into a spa or to get a massage elements like lavender and roses and even soothing music like waterfalls are all laid out for you to enjoy.
3D is all about experiencing something as if you were really there. Sure there are effects that go along with it that can vary between people but ultimately the most psychological effect is the actual ability to make you feel like you’re really there and experiencing it. Just like in the movie avatar where James Cameron did an excellent job at making us feel like we were actually in Pandora, “his use of bright colors along with special effects sounds was memorable” and that’s what the psychology behind 3D films is about-a sense of being memorable. (Douglass)

The Future of 3-D Technology

Many people theorize that James Cameron’s Avatar has created the renewed interest in 3-D technology, especially of that in the home. Avatar grossed over one billion dollars; because of this, the ideas of more 3-D films and new 3-D television sets are gaining steam. In their article “Television Begins the Push Into the 3rd Dimension,” Brian Stelter and Brad Stone call this the “Avatar effect.” They mention that, after witnessing Avatar’s success, “Companies are now determined to bring an equivalent experience to the living room” (Stelter and Stone). They are quite right. Several companies, including ESPN, Discovery, IMAX, Sony, and satellite service DirectTV have jumped on the 3-D television bandwagon. 3-D television sets have already started coming out at steep prices; Best Buy offers a 55 inch, 1080p, 240Hz, 3D ready LED-LCD HDTV for $2,199. The link can be found here.

Stelter and Stone also mention that, “for decades, 3-D technology was a gimmick for B- movies and occasionally on television (in bad quality with flimsy paper glasses). Will this 3-D technology in our homes be a similar gimmick? That is one of the controversies. While the quality of the technology may have drastically improved, there are still movies today, such as the recent re-make Clash of the Titans, that have featured less than stellar 3-D picture. Will we be buying a great experience? Or will we just buy into the 3-D name? Melissa J. Perenson from PCWorld magazine does not think that 3-D technology in the home is a gimmick; she states that it is a “technology that will transform the way we think about imaging” (Perenson PCWorld). She also says that “3D will become the new normal” in years to come (Perenson PCWorld). Only time will tell.


Whether it is a gimmick or not, 3-D technology is invading our homes. After considering the leaps that 3-D technology made from the threshold of the 20th century to the 1950s and then the 1980s, it should not be so hard to believe that 3-D will make this leap right into our homes. While the technology may not be a success at first, it should eventually rid itself of all negative attributes and effects with the help of the always-advancing technology of the 21st century.

Works Cited

  1. Buzzle staff and agencies. “Watching 3D TV could be harmful” 23 April 2010. Web. 25 February 2011
  2. Childrens hospital Boston staff. “What goes on in the brain during a 3d movie?” 26 February 2010. Web. 25 February 2011
  3. De Souza, Clyde. “The psychological impact of a 3d scene.” 13 August 2010. Web. 25 February 2011
  4. Hart, Richard. "UC Berkeley Researchers Study Health Effects of 3D." ABC 7, 29 Aug. 2010. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.
  5. Hayes, R. M. 3-D Movies: a History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989. Print.
  6. How Does 3D TV Work?. Web. 27 February 2011<>
  7. IMAX, Sony, Discovery Broadcasting 3D TV Channel. 5 March 2011 <>
  8. Kawai, T, Waseda U, School of Human Sciences, Saitama, Japan Noro, K. “Psychological effect of stereoscopic 3-D images.” Ergonomics Vol. 39, 11. (1996): pp. 1364-1369. Electronic Journal
  9. Kenrick, Douglass; Kenrick, David. “Avatar 3D: Evolutionary psychology goes to Hollywood” Psychology today. 5 January 2010. Web. 25 February 2011.
  10. Perenson, Melissa J. "3D Comes Home." 10 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <>.
  11. Rupkalvis, John A. "A history of 3D." TV Technology 2 Feb. 2011: 4. General Business File ASAP. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
  12. Stelter, Brian and Stone, Brad. “Television Begins a Push Into the 3rd Dimension. The New York Times 12 Jan. 2010: A1.
  13. "THX Looking into 'physiological Effects of 3D'" 3D Radar - 3D News and Reviews. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.
  14. "UC Berkeley Researchers Study Health Effects of 3D — UC Berkeley College of Engineering."Home — UC Berkeley College of Engineering. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.
  15. “"What Is Stereo Vision? Stereoptic? Stereopsis? Stereoscopic Vision? Depth Perception? Lazy Eye? Strabismus? Seeing Avatar 3D Movie"" "Seeing Avatar Movie in 3D, How to See 3-D Eye Exercises, Magic Eye 3D, Stereograms, Stereo Views, Games, Puzzles, Lazy Eye, Cross Eyed, Vision Therapy" Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <>.
  16. Wired Explains: How 3D Television Works. Web. 5 March 2011 <>