All this talk about 3-D movies and TVs is depressing

By Grant Jacobs 14/01/2010

Not all of us can see in 3-D.

3d-glassesThis seems to be forgotten in every article I’ve seen on this so far.

For example, Jan Stokes writes “Eventually, though, you’ll take the 3D plunge–we all will, because we won’t have a choice.” [My emphasis added.]

Erm, no. Some of us don’t have a choice: we can’t.

Not unless they add some feature that reverts them to 2-D. (Who’d want that? It’d be cheaper to buy an “old style” TV.)

This was also a minor issue for me looking at the three dimensional structure of molecules displayed on the earlier molecular graphics displays (in the late 1980s and early 1990s).

My background is analysing the sequence, structure and function of the “macromolecules of life”: DNA, RNA and proteins. I am particularly interested in the latter, especially those that interact with DNA to control the use of genes.

Glutamine synthetase
Glutamine synthetase

Proteins have complex three-dimensional structures and are viewed using molecular graphics software like PyMol or Chimera (for what it’s worth I usually use Chimera).

Stereo display systems on computers are usually equipped with stereo glasses. These typically alternately allow one eye to see the image, then then the other by blocking each eye in turn by “flooding” the LCD-based (liquid crystal display) lens. This is synchronised to the graphics card, which projects left- and right- images with the proper timing for your left eye to see only the “left” image and vice versa for your right eye.

I’ll tell you about the early graphics molecular graphics systems I used some other time, but one problem you get seeing a complex 3-D image with only one eye and poor depth cuing is an inversion effect, where your brain inverts it’s perspective of the shading to effectively “invert” the image.

(I should emphasis that was the case on the old systems. Even then it was more of a minor annoyance than a real stumbling block. The depth perception in today’s graphics are so much better this isn’t an issue anymore.)

A simple fix to was to slightly rock the image, so that the foreground moves in front of and with a greater travelling distance that things further back.

It’s sometimes called “wiggle stereoscopy”.

A crude example of this is in the image to the right. This image moves too much and too fast for my liking, but it illustrates the principle of the idea. (My experience was that you only needed to occasionally move or “rock” objects slightly occasionally to “remind” yourself of the relationship of the shading, etc., to cue the depth perception, rather than the constant motion shown here.)

Modern molecular graphics programs offer a related effect as gentle “rocking” option. (It’s much more elegant that what is shown to your right.)

Similarly, animations of 3-D objects are helpful when giving talks for people unfamiliar with the shapes of the objects. Those studying them often forget it’s very hard to someone not familiar with a complex shape to quickly take it in presentations of it from new angles; it’s better to rotate to the new position if possible.

(I don’t expect to see this in movies anytime soon. I imagine audiences would be very queasy after watching a few minutes of Avatar rocking in front of their faces…)

0 Responses to “All this talk about 3-D movies and TVs is depressing”

  • Not to mention those that can’t see, those that become ill or get a severe headache watching 3D movies, those whose glasses prevent the correct placement of the 3D glasses (I’m in this category) and so on. Very sick of people raving about 3D so I’m glad you brought it up.

  • Katherine: absolutely. I was just writing from my own perspective 😉

    I also have glasses, and they’d be a pain for wearing the 3-D glasses if I were able to use them so I know where you’re coming from!

    I imagine they’ll tackle the glasses issue in time as that’d be far too big a minority to ignore. In the meantime, what a pain, eh?

    My reason for not be able to see using 3-D technology is that I’m blind in one eye. Bit harder to get around that one… 🙂

  • For those that came here the RSNZ newsletter blurb:

    Despite what the RSNZ newsletter blurb says, I’m not particularly worried that I can’t see Avatar in 3-D as, in a sense, I can’t see anything in 3-D anyway…

    What I am bothered by is people forgetting that a minority can’t use these things. As a silly example, I’d hate to have 3-D TVs foisted on us in the way that wide-screen format TVs are, by the TV channels only sending out that format.

  • This post is very timely for me, as I watched Avatar last night. A silly plot but a *very* impressive visual experience, assisted greatly by the 3D effect. Unfortunately I’ve been having a bit of irritation from one of my contact lenses lately, but I put it back in to see the movie, which may not have been entirely wise, and it looks like I’ll have to give my left eye a rest for a day or 2.

    Being ocularly differently-abled myself, I have considerable sympathy for you, Grant, but that 3D is gorgeous!

  • I did gather that you were blind in one eye from your post 🙂 I’m just glad you’re bringing it up at all, no matter the perspective. When they fix the glasses issue I’ll be sure to remember those that still can’t see in 3D. Wonder if they’ll be able to fix the nausea and headaches that some people report…

  • All this 3-D talk makes a guy that is blind in one eye want to sue claiming discrimmination.

  • It gets worse. It’s in danger of going mainstream horribly. The rumour-mill has the next Bond movie, Clash of Titans (no idea what that is) will be in 3-D and rumour now the next Potter movies (both of them) to be in 3-D too.


    I’m kidding. I can see why they’re heading that way. I’m sure they won’t only be in 3-D, but the day that they do that…

  • I found Avatar visually stunning (albeit a bit suss in the evolutionary department!), but although the glasses fitted over my own specs OK I ended up with rather a sore nose where the bridge rested. And you’re right, Mark, it was a very silly plot! The daughter & I went to see Alice in Wonderland last week & enjoyed that more – a much more nuanced plot, good character development & equally wondrous visuals (which in some places felt like what I imagine an acid trip would give you. But the whole glasses thing would be tedious & uncomfortable if you had to wear them to every movie. Not to mention expensive; there wasn’t much change from $50 once tickets were bought & grazing needs met…

  • Check out The Hurt Locker which Avatar was up against for best picture at the Oscars. Hurt Locker won, but its hard to find a movie more devoid of plot than this in recent movie award history. All adrenalin and little else…