by John Timmer
Consumer electronics companies are betting 3D will be the next big thing, and many are heavily promoting the latest 3D TVs. But with the advent of mainstream 3-D came concerns about the effect the hardware might have on the human visual system. Although there is no evidence of harm, most of these companies have issued disclaimers warning against the use of this material by children.
Now Nintendo Japan has joined them, warning against using its upcoming Nintendo 3DS system by anyone under the age of six.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the company posted the warning on its Japanese website ahead of an event promoting the device’s release in February. According to its translation, the company warns that “For children under the age of six, looking at 3D images for a long time could have a negative impact on the growth of their eyes.”
Hopefully the track “growing their eyes” is just a bad translation. Concerns about the impact of 3D are based on the fact that apart from holograms, no system is actually capable of generating an actual 3D image. Instead, various systems work by creating the illusion of depth by carefully manipulating the information received by the human visual system. Indeed, 3-D consists of playing tricks on our ability to perceive depth.
None of this will harm the eye itself, let alone the growth it undergoes during childhood. The concern is that the parts of our visual systems that reside in the brain are adaptive; they adapt to the information we receive and can remap connections to run more efficiently on a typical input.
This is especially true in infants, as the visual system is still developing in the early stages of life. This ability to rewire our visual system on the fly is the root cause of 3D health issues. If our brain is fed a diet rich in 3-D, it might begin to adapt to process it more effectively, and this process might come at the expense of normal vision.
At present, however, no research indicates that there is anything to these concerns. The last time a 3D panic happened – and it seems to happen every few years – we did an extensive literature search and checked the articles people had reported as evidence of damage caused by the technology. Most were in other subjects, and the few relevant studies were small and involved short-term disorientation in adults.
In short, Nintendo’s warning may be reasonable and prudent, but it does not reflect a known health risk.
So far, factors other than health issues appear to be affecting 3D TV sales, and it’s probably safe to say that 3DS’s sales will also be determined by hardware, price, and its game library.
This story was written by John Timmer and originally appeared on Ars Technica.
Photo: Jim Merithew / Wired.com