Ah, 3-D. It's the latest gimmick that every consumer electronics manufacturer would have you believe is the Next Big Thing. Including, of course, Nintendo, which is introducing its new 3DS handheld platform with the promise of 3-D without the dorky glasses.
Nifty plan, that, because by all accounts the 3-D effects work surprisingly well, even with the normal hiccups associated with early products of any new technology. There's only one problem: It might ruin your child's vision.
Well, ruin is a strong word, but Nintendo (like some other 3-D media manufacturers) is including a consumer notice on its website that says the product may damage the eyesight of children younger than 6. That's not really what parents want to hear about a gaming company's latest gadget, I suspect.
The key is how 3-D works. By now, you probably know the latest technology works in movies like Avatar by filming with two different cameras at slightly different angles, then superimposing them over each other (instead of the traditional manner of projecting doubles of the same image). A phenomenon known as bipolar disparity — in which your eyes see two different images because they're placed in your head at two different places — allows your brain to place the images together and perceive depth, thanks to those glasses, which are called polarizers.
Nintendo's new device, which is due in Japan on Feb. 26 and in North America in March for a rumored $300, reportedly uses a lenticular lens and a parallax barrier LCD to direct your eyes to different angles of the graphics onscreen, creating the illusion of depth. But monkeying with the eyes may not be the best idea for youngsters, some scientists say.
"With a near display, like if you're looking at a TV and you are sitting up close, your eyes actually focus on the surface of the TV, and that's at one distance," Ahna Girshick, a vision researcher at New York University, told National Public Radio. The problem occurs when your eyes focus on an image on a nearby TV screen, but your brain thinks you're looking at a far-away object. "These two systems are now in conflict. In the natural world they're never in conflict."
And that could cause issues for kids whose eyes are still developing. Some experts say that it's entirely possible children's vision could be hurt, but they caution there's little hard evidence to prove it. This may, in fact, just be another case of mania like that surrounding the introduction of the microwave oven or airport metal detectors, both of which didn't turn out to do all that much to our physiologies.
But Nintendo's not taking any chances. Don't worry, though. If you're concerned about Johnny hurting his eyes, the games for the system will allow you to simply turn the 3-D mode off.
Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.