Focus was to study viewer reaction to 3D images

3D has long been subject to myths and conjecture. There has been relatively little hard science studying viewer reaction to 3D images, and almost none specifically on 3D TV.

This past summer, Disney and ESPN stepped up to fill that gap.

The Disney Media and Ad Lab in Austin, Texas, did 1,000 testing sessions comprising 2,700 hours during the 3D presentations of World Cup soccer. The lab worked on isolating individual variables using strict scientific methods, such as infrared gear to measure eye gaze and electrodermal measurements to track arousal. They used dial testing to measure discomfort. All tests were run with 2D control groups.

Among the questions they sought to answer: Is 3D better than 2D for enjoyment? Are 3D ads better? Does 3D affect viewers’ stereo vision?

ESPN and Disney researchers presented the results to reporters in New York last week, and many of the findings bolster the case for 3D television:

• General enjoyment of the games went up in 3D, with the strongest increase in viewers’ sense of “presence.”

• All things being equal, 3D commercials are more effective, with much higher numbers for recognition, cued recall, purchase intention and ad liking. Electrodermal measures showed 3D ads were more arousing.

• Eye gaze measurements showed viewers were more focused watching 3D than 2D. That contradicts concerns that viewers’ eyes tend to wander around a 3D image more than a 2D image.

• Viewers enjoyed active-glasses and passive-glasses TV systems equally with the exception that viewers found the passive glasses more comfortable. Headaches were rare with active glasses but almost nonexistent for passive glasses.

• Eyestrain was the biggest source of discomfort for viewers watching 3D. Viewers acclimated to watching 3D after one day, but in general, a 15-minute break every 45 minutes helped cut down on viewer discomfort.

• Health effects were statistically insignificant. Though some technologists worry 3D will prove bad for stereo vision, by one measure viewers’ 3D vision actually improved slightly after viewing 3D TV.

Dr. Duane Varan, executive director and chief research officer of the lab, noted, “We tend to think more aggressive 3D is better, but we don’t know that. Subtle 3D may be better. We must learn that through research.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more