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3DTV Eye Strain? Take a Break, ESPN Says

While some viewers in an ESPN lab study experienced eye strain and headaches while watching the soccer World Cup in 3D, the adverse effects were reduced after viewers took breaks, the network said Thursday.

"We think that breaks are a good thing for 3D viewing," Duane Varan, executive director of the Disney Media and Advertising Lab, said Thursday at an event covering the results of the study. Most adverse effects are reported on the first day that a viewer watches 3D programming, and are reduced in subsequent days as viewers get more accustomed to it, he added.

ESPN based the study on 2,700 hours of tests it conducted at a lab in Austin, Texas, in which participants were wired to electrodes that measured everything from heart rate to arousal levels. It also used cameras and infrared technology to track how their eyes watched World Cup action and advertising in 3D compared to 2D. (See ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game and Comcast Plays Ball With ESPN 3D .)

The network said it used a wide range of 3D television sets in the study, including those that used passive and active shutter lenses that are heavier, battery-operated and more expensive than their passive counterparts. Varan said the study found no difference in enjoyment levels from viewers watching the World Cup on passive versus active 3DTVs. However, users rated passive glasses as more comfortable and less distracting than active lenses.

And while ESPN found few instances of headaches from viewers watching active 3DTVs, headaches were "almost not present" in sessions with viewers watching passive 3DTVs. (See Yankees Net, DirecTV Recover From 3DTV Glitch.)

"Passive was much more comfortable," Varan said, noting that participants were more likely to interact with other viewers in the room while wearing the lighter 3D glasses.

ESPN flipped the switch on its part-time 3D channel June 11 with a broadcast of the opening match of the World Cup in South Africa. ESPN will produce its 38th 3D telecast on Saturday, when it shoots the Boise State-Hawaii college football game.

While VP of business and strategic development Bryan Burns said ESPN will also produce 16 NCAA basketball games this season in 3D, he said the network doesn't yet plan to produce any of its "Monday Night Football" games in 3D. Burns hinted that ESPN doesn't yet have the rights to produce NFL games in 3D, noting that its deals with rights holders "are complex."

Also worth noting from ESPN’s 3D study:

  • Viewers with strong vision may not notice as much of a difference in 3D programming compared to 2D. "The worse your real-world depth perception, the better your 3D experience," Varan said.

  • 3D advertising is more effective, with "purchase intent" from viewers watching an ad in 2D jumping from 49 percent to 83 percent while watching an ad in 3D. Viewers were also better able to recall ads in 3D.

  • Participants in the study enjoyed watching programming in 3D more than 2D. "The results demonstrated strong viewer enjoyment, greater game involvement, and a stronger sense of presence," Varan said.

  • Viewers enjoyed native 3D programming more than 2D video that was upconverted to 3D. "The upconverted does do better than 2D, but native 3D does better than both," Varan said. (See 3DTV Warning: Poor Quality Could Poison the Well.)

    — Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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