3-D: some can’t see it

CBC’s recent 3D broadcast of a documentary about the Queen may help provide clues about how many Canadians can’t actually see programming in the third dimension.

CBC’s recent 3D broadcast of a documentary about the Queen may help provide clues about how many Canadians can’t actually see programming in the third dimension.

Manufacturers and content producers are eager to push everything in 3D nowadays — including movies, TV shows, sporting events, video games and even commercials — and hope consumers will embrace a slow march toward experiencing virtually all their entertainment with glasses on (or at least until glasses-free 3D is fully commercialized).

But what if the 3D revolution arrives in full force and Canadians can’t see it?

McGill University researchers launched a study connected to the CBC’s 3D documentary and got about 1,000 people to test their stereopsis, or 3D vision. While the numbers are still being crunched, one of the leads on the project says he’s taken aback by how many people can’t see 3D.

“We’re just analysing that data at the moment but we were surprised at the extent to which there’s so many people out there who have very poor stereo (vision) and we don’t know the reason for that,” said Prof. Robert Hess of McGill’s department of ophthalmology.

“It could be trivial, it may not involve actual brain processing, it may involve how people align their eyes. But whatever it is, it means their stereo capabilities are not really that good. They can see in 3D but they can only see quite large disparities, they wouldn’t pick up subtle changes.”

He expects to have a full report completed in a few weeks.

It’s been estimated that about three per cent of the population has amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye, which means people only use one eye and can’t really detect the 3D effect.

Other studies around the world have pegged the numbers of people who can’t see 3D in the range of five to 12 per cent.

Hess, one of Canada’s leading researchers on measuring stereo vision, said this study has been interesting because it involves a much larger group of people than other similar projects.

“We got about 1,000 people responding, which isn’t huge, but the numbers of people that had previously been tested were in groups of five or six,” he said.

“We measured stereo vision using the simplest, most valid test we could put together — and it’s by no means foolproof, it’s not the way you’d measure in a laboratory — but it did have a lot more rigour to it than ordinary clinical testing would have done.”

Hess said there’s obviously a lot of interest in the research for its commercial implications, but he’s also hoping it sheds light on why people lose their stereo vision.

“Of course we’re looking into what exactly are the reasons for the stereo loss in some of these people and the idea is to take a few examples of people who don’t do very well and see if we get to whether there’s a common reason for it.”

He also said a new process to restore lost stereo vision has been found, so people who can’t see 3D now aren’t entirely out of luck.

“We have a new, very convenient way of re-establishing 3D vision in children and also adults who have previously … had this lazy eye problem,” Hess said.

“Since we’ve had experience at restoring 3D vision in people who haven’t had it before, our hope is we can develop a means of improving the 3D vision in the people who don’t have very good 3D vision.”