The 3D hype: Evaluating the potential of real 3D visualization in geo-related applications

PLoS One. 2020 May 21;15(5):e0233353. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0233353. eCollection 2020.


The use of 3D visualization technologies has increased rapidly in many applied fields, including geovisualization, and has been researched from many different perspectives. However, the findings for the benefits of 3D visualization, especially in stereoscopic 3D forms, remain inconclusive and disputed. Stereoscopic "real" 3D visualization was proposed as encouraging the visual perception of shapes and volume of displayed content yet criticised as problematic and limited in a number of ways, particularly in visual discomfort and increased response time in tasks. In order to assess the potential of real 3D visualization for geo-applications, 91 participants were engaged in this study to work with digital terrain models in different 3D settings. The researchers examined the effectivity of stereoscopic real 3D visualization compared to monoscopic 3D (or pseudo 3D) visualization under static and interactive conditions and applied three tasks with experimental stimuli representing different geo-related phenomena, i.e. objects in the terrain, flat areas marked in the terrain and terrain elevation profiles. The authors explored the significant effects of real 3D visualization and interactivity factors in terms of response time and correctness. Researchers observed that the option to interact (t = -10.849, p < 0.001) with a virtual terrain and its depiction with real 3D visualization (t = 4.64, p < 0.001) extended the participants' response times. Counterintuitively, the data demonstrated that the static condition increased response correctness (z = 5.38, p < 0.001). Regarding detailed analysis of data, an interactivity factor was proposed as a potential substitute for real 3D visualization in 3D geographical tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Computer Graphics
  • Female
  • Geographic Mapping*
  • Geography / methods*
  • Geography / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / statistics & numerical data
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult

Grant support

Research team (P.K.) was supported by funding from the Masaryk University project “Research on Changes in Geographical Processes and Relations in Space and Time” (Grant No. MUNI/A/1356/2019; The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.