Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Laptop vs. IMAX: An eyetracking experiment

As part of BBC Radio 4's Cells and Celluloid Christmas special on the science of film I conducted an experiment investigating the impact screen size had on viewing behaviour. Using head-mounted eyetracking equipment (SMI Glasses) I recorded the eye movements of Francine Stock and Adam Rutherford as they watched Fly Me to the Moon 3D (2008) either in the Science Museum's IMAX or on a 13 inch laptop.

Full discussion of the experiment will be available on the BBC iPlayer here:

As you will see from the video, the IMAX screen filled the entire field of view of the head camera (>60 degrees) where as the laptop screen only filled less than half of the image even when it was viewed at a typical viewing distance (~60cm), This difference in viewing angle meant that the gaze had to explore more of the image in the IMAX presentation producing a greater number of saccades into the periphery. The difference in gaze exploration of the image can clearly be seen in the scatter plot below. All the gaze to the laptop (green crosses) is tightly centred relative to the head camera whereas the gaze during the IMAX viewing (blue circles) is higher (possibly due to the viewer being positioned in the back row of the auditorium) and covers much more of the image.

These data give us an initial indication of how the viewing behaviour between small screen film viewing and large format (such as IMAX) may differ but to check whether these results are robust we would need to conduct a more thorough empirical investigation using exactly the same section of a movie and a larger number of viewers. A lot has been claimed about the "immersive" effect of large-screen viewing and these sorts of studies can begin to identify exactly what these differences might be in terms of viewer experience. There have not been enough real-cinema studies for us to be able to draw strong conclusions but those studies that have been conducted indicate that even when the amount of visual field occupied by a screen and the amount of light reflected off the screen is equated between a home cinema presentation and a large screen (e.g. at the cinema) our knowledge that the screen is physically larger creates an increased experience of immersion (Troscianko, Meese & Hinde, 2012). More research is needed to identify exactly what aspects create the "cinematic experience" and to predict what the future holds for this experience given the increased competition for our attention.

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