3D Alice is put under the looking glass

As a pre-Christmas service to FT readers, two reporters from the newspaper’s Tokyo bureau sacrificed part of a recent weekend to find out how Sony’s “3D World” of television, film and video games stood up to real-world testing.

Having convinced Sony to part with a 46-inch LED TV, a Blu-ray video player and a PlayStation3 game console – total retail value: Y465,000 ($5,515) – they gathered a demographically diverse panel of friends and family to take the kit through its paces. Here is what they discovered.

The testers were six children – four girls and two boys, aged 2 to 10 – and a handful of grown-ups with widely varying interest and proficiency at video games

The animated opening credits of Alice in Wonderland produced a chorus of “Wow!”, “Amazing!” and “It’s so real!” from the children. After 10 minutes, however, several were asking why the picture wasn’t “popping out more”.

Modern 3D is designed to form a subtle sense of depth rather than gimmicky “whoa-duck!” effects, but youngsters may miss the old-school thrills.

At the same time, even 3D-light can be a strain to watch for some. After an hour, at least one child had her plastic glasses off and was curled up in a ball, declaring that her eyes hurt.

By the time the children’s test session switched to Pain – a video game in which a rubbery adolescent thrill-jockey is launched from a slingshot against buildings, rubbish bins and other urban-landscape targets – the kids were happy to play in plain old 2D.

The 10-year-old Mhairi summed up: “It was fun – but it made me tired.”

For the grown-ups, the best 3D experience was delivered by Gran Turismo 5, the latest instalment of the popular car-racing game. It had all the right stuff: the enveloping “lean forward” game play was nicely enhanced by the third dimension, and less tiring too.

Much as car sickness affects passengers rather than drivers, eye strain seems to be more of a problem for passive viewers than players. The game’s shiny racecars and angular cityscapes, meanwhile, were the sort of objects that our test group agreed were most impressively rendered in 3D.

The World Cup highlights drew more mixed reviews. There was general agreement that 3D makes you feel closer to the action – in the stands, as it were, rather than on the sofa. But some complained of a sort of diorama effect, in which one appears to be watching layers of flat, 2D objects rather than true 3D – “cardboard cut-outs moving in three dimensions”, in one tester’s description.

Tsutomu, 37, summed up the situation: “The technology has some way to go. I might buy it if it gets cheaper.”

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