Short incubation time prevents deleterious effects of cumulus cell degeneration and excess spermatozoa in IVF embryos. We performed a short incubation (3 h) protocol in 328 IVF cycles, in order to compare the developmental potential of regular IVF embryos with those originating from 316 cycles entered our intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) programme over the same period. Embryo transfers were performed in all patients on day 2. The mean number of embryos transferred was 1.92 for the ICSI group and 1.73 for the IVF group (P < 0.007). This was related only to the wishes of patients. However, the policy of the centre is to transfer a low number of embryos in young patients in order to avoid multiple pregnancies. All spare embryos were permitted to grow to the blastocyst stage for freezing. Shortening incubation time did not decrease fertilization rates. In our overall population, no difference was observed in the implantation rates per embryo for IVF (19%) or for ICSI (20%). An age-related decrease in embryo production was observed for both groups of patients (P < 0.01 for ICSI and P < 0.001 for IVF). The age-related decrease in embryo implantation was only significant for the IVF group (P < 0.03 for patients <30 and >35 years of age). A significant overall decrease in blastocyst formation was observed for spare embryos after ICSI versus IVF (34.2 versus 43.8%; P < 0. 05). The significance of this observation is discussed.