Richard Grunberg conducts research to find sweet spot for 3-D, high-definition

[From Ryerson University’s The Eyeopener; more information about Professor Grunberg’s work is available here]

This ain’t Avatar

One Ryerson professor is hoping to refine our 3-D viewing experience for the better, reports Jeff Lagerquist

21 September 2010

Not entirely convinced 3-D is worth your time? That’s something one Ryerson professor is hoping to change. Groundbreaking research at the school’s Digital Cinema and Advanced Visualization Lab could make wearing those embarrassing glasses slightly more enjoyable for movie watchers at home and in theatres.

“We’re looking to gauge the responses to 3-D in different forms in order to determine what’s good 3-D and bad 3-D,” said Richard Grunberg, professor with Ryerson’s school of radio and television arts.

The answer, he explains, could be found on a viewer’s face. Grunberg intends to measure the eye movements and facial expressions of volunteers as they are shown children’s programming in four different formats, ranging from extremely high definition 3-D to lower quality 2-D footage.

“We want to analyze how people react to the different formats and then quantify the results. That way we can determine, for example, if a 6 to 10-year-old reacts more to 4K high definition images,” compared to other broadcast formats, said Grunberg.

Unlike traditional 2-D content, viewing content in stereoscopic 3-D basically amounts to playing a trick on your brain; projecting images separately at each eye is used to create the illusion of depth.

Using a sophisticated piece of software called faceLAB, researchers will try to determine a viewer’s point of focus using coordinates in virtual space, while additional equipment measures the body’s physiological response. The idea is to find a sweet spot where 3-D and high-definition images are the most effective and entertaining, with the hope of creating better production guidelines for the filmmaking community.

But while Grunberg sees the potential for 3-D to enhance the viewing experience on the big screen, he admits there are differences when viewed on a smaller scale.

“On the large screen you’re more immersed in the experience. It pretty much fills your field of view depending on where you are sitting in the audience,” he explains. “The imagery is much more sensational. Watching 3-D on a television is more comparable to looking through a window into a 3-D world.”

The distinction is an important one. As 3-D enters the home, viewers will have the opportunity to experience the effect on a far more frequent basis.

David Long, a sales representative at Bay-Bloor Radio, says a basic 46” 3-DTV starts at just under $2000. Both Rogers and Bell, meanwhile, are rumored to begin offering 3-D television content by the end of this year.

However, making 3-D more accessible has some concerned the effect could be potentially harmful for regular viewers.

“It’s not natural, and we don’t know the long term effects. 3-D does things to your brain which we don’t fully understand yet,” Grunberg explained.

Samsung warns on its website, for example, that 3-D viewing could induce a number of unpleasant side effects, including altered vision, involuntary eye and muscle movements and nausea. The company also notes that the effect is best experienced sober.

However, Grunberg and his team plan to stay on the forefront of 3-D research. “I think we’re approaching the limitations of what human beings can actually perceive,” he said. That means researching ways in which to optimize current and upcoming viewing experiences.

“Do people really get a greater response from 3-D? [And] by how much?” The study should produce results within a year.

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