Siggraph 2023 Highlights New Graphics Technologies — And Missed Opportunities
Oct 31, 2023
Wearing the Flamera prototype headset at Siggraph 2023
In my previous post, I focused on the slew of announcements that Nvidia made as it dominated this year’s Siggraph conference. In this post, I want to take the time to showcase some of the other companies and devices that made an impression on me during the event. I’ll close with some observations about why this year, for the first time ever, I left the world’s premier annual graphics conference feeling a little disappointed by the show.
AMD’s W7600 Professional Workstation Graphics Card
AMD’s New Professional Workstation Cards
Not to be left out of the conversation by Nvidia, AMD announced a pair of new graphics cards a few days before the show to help further expand its line of professional graphics cards. AMD announced the Radeon Pro W7600 and W7500 mid-range cards to complement the already available W7900 and W7800 high-end models.
The W7500 and W7600 are targeted towards the largest part of the professional graphics market, with a single-slot design and $429 and $599 price tags, respectively. What makes these cards exceptional is that they offer a single-slot design with very low power consumption. The W7600 require only a single 6-pin power connector, while the W7500 draws only 70 watts, meaning that it doesn’t need any additional power via connector and can harness the full 75 watts supplied by a computer’s PCIe slot.
In addition to these new GPUs, AMD also had system integrator Silverdraft at their booth showing off a workstation with seven W7800 GPUs and an AMD Ryzen Threadripper Pro W5996WX 64-core CPU. In fact, AMD’s booth was very much a marriage of the company’s wildly successful CPU business with its latest professional workstation graphics cards easily running all kinds of professional workflows. This included a Dell Precision 7865 running the DaVinci Resolve video-editing application using the latest and greatest 4K reference monitors from EIZO.
Meta’s Prototype Headsets
Siggraph would not be complete without interesting research and development devices from some of the world’s leading organizations, whether that’s a university, the U.S. Government or, in this case, a company investing heavily in the XR space like Meta. This year, Meta demonstrated two prototype headsets that utilize the latest in optics and display technologies.
Meta’s Butterscotch Varifocal headset
The first headset, codenamed “Butterscotch Varifocal,” is a combination of technology developed for the half-dome varifocal prototype headset shown in 2015 and a retinal-resolution VR display that the company debuted in 2022. This headset also had windows cut into the sides to easily show how the varifocal nature of the headset works as it moves the display towards and away from the users’ eyes depending on the virtual object that the user is focusing on.
I found the headset to be very impressive both for its high resolution and for its varifocal experience, especially considering how difficult this is to accomplish in most headsets today. The Meta engineers even included a great toggle for turning varifocal mode on and off, which really made you appreciate the ability to change focus. That said, the focus system definitely could be faster and more responsive, which I hope is something they work on for future versions. While it remains unclear when or if either of these technologies will ever make it into a shippable consumer headset, it is quite clear that Meta continues to innovate and explore ways to make VR better for its millions of users.
Meta’s Flamera flat composition camera headset
Moving on from VR, Meta also demonstrated the Flamera flat composition camera headset—one of the most interesting-looking headsets I have ever seen. Meta designed this headset to showcase some of its latest pass-through optics technologies, which create a more realistic and higher-resolution AR experience. Pass-through is short for camera pass-through, which uses outside-facing cameras that provide a real-time view of the external world inside a closed headset to create an AR-like mixed reality experience.
Meta claims that its Flamera computational camera uses light-field technology for distortion-free, perspective-correct MR pass-through. Meta also claims that it has patched together dozens of sensors to create a realistic reproduction of the real world. While it did look good, the headset ran quite hot for many people and it had only one focal point, which to me defeats the purpose of using light-field technology. Meta also said that it chose to use waveguides inside the headset to enable as thin of a form factor as possible, but unfortunately this choice affected the field of view of the headset. It will be interesting to see what Meta does down the road with its pass-through tech, especially when you consider how important pass-through will be for the next few years until waveguide technology improves enough to become mainstream.
Leia Acquires Dimenco
Without a doubt, one of the biggest pieces of news from the show—one that will likely reverberate within the industry for years—was Leia Inc.’s announcement that it acquired Dimenco, which is another 3-D display manufacturer based in the Netherlands. Dimenco’s focus has primarily been on Windows users and building 3-D display technologies for laptops and monitors, enabling 3-D productivity and 3-D gaming. Leia’s strengths have mostly been in smaller displays like the Red Hydrogen One or the Leia Lumepad 2, which debuted earlier this year and I reviewed here.
This acquisition will create one of the most comprehensive 3-D display manufacturers in the world, with expertise in both Windows and Android operating systems. Hopefully, this will help unify the two worlds, making the industry more cohesive and helping to drive more product volume. I don’t think we understand yet what the two companies will be able to achieve working as one, but it is quite clear that together they will be able to create technologies and opportunities that simply didn’t exist before.
Edible lenticular lenses
On a lighter note, one of the most fun things I saw at Siggraph 2023 was a poster by researchers from Meiji University in Japan who have managed to create edible lenticular lenses using a specially designed knife. A lenticular lens is a type of lens that allows different angles of an object to be viewed in such a way that it can appear to be three-dimensional. A friend of mine pointed out this poster, and when I went to check it out myself I saw firsthand how the researchers created an inverse structure of a lenticular lens and turned that into a knife of sorts that would then cut an edible jelly to create the desired lens shape.
While this is purely a research project without a real application, it is interesting to think about the types of applications that could utilize edible lenticular lens technology. Currently, lenticular lenses are usually made of plastic, but these researchers have used the edible lenticular lens to create color-shifting and vanishing effects, and there may be other applications in the future.
My disappointment with the organization of this year’s show
Unfortunately, in terms of overall coordination Siggraph 2023 felt like a step backwards from previous years. It seemed that the organizers rushed certain planning aspects, especially because some talks were staged in rooms that were far too small. Perhaps Siggraph underestimated how many people would actually attend in person this year—after the pandemic-induced uncertainties of the past few years—and simply didn’t have enough space for all of them. Whatever the case, I attended multiple talks where there were literally hundreds of people waiting in line outside the rooms, many of whom paid hundreds of dollars to attend arguably the graphics conference in the world.
In my opinion, Siggraph truly is the premier graphics conference because it encompasses researchers, artists, engineers, students and the software and hardware companies that drive so much innovation. Siggraph is a much more diverse event than GDC, which focuses primarily on gaming, and it encompasses so much of the graphics industry; it would be a shame for a conference that is usually so well-organized and -curated to take any more steps back. I have loved attending Siggraph in many prior years, but this year it felt like the show was simply not planned well enough in advance and that things were hastily put together. That’s the last thing I would want from one of my favorite conferences, especially one that has been around for decades and that was celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary this year.
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