Meta's new VR prototypes won Siggraph awards, but what do testers say?
Meta's futuristic research prototypes Butterscotch Varifocal and Flamera made a splash at Siggraph.
The North American Siggraph conference is held once a year and focuses on innovations in computer graphics.
This year, Meta presented two headsets that the public could try at the show: Butterscotch Varifocal, which combines near-retinal resolution with varifocal optics, and Flamera, which demonstrates a new approach to distortion-free pass-through. The prototypes are for demo and research purposes only and are not intended to be productized in this form.
Massive congrats to our entire Display Systems Research team on an impressive three (!!!) wins at #SIGGRAPH2023 E-TECH: Best in Show for Flamera & Audience Choice + Official Selection for the Digital Content Association of Japan for Butterscotch Varifocal https://t.co/KqkvQ5zPVI pic.twitter.com/Q5mTyJuGjr
— Reality Labs at Meta (@RealityLabs) August 9, 2023
Nevertheless, they impressed the audience and won three awards in the Emerging Technologies category: Flamera won Best in Show and Audience Choice, while Butterscotch Varifocal got into the Official Selection for the Digital Content Association of Japan.
First impressions from Siggraph
A number of show attendees took to Twitter to share their impressions of the prototypes.
XR analyst Anshel Sag wrote about the Butterscotch Varifocal that it "looked great and focused well", but did not seem to work well for people with glasses.
This is @Meta's butterscotch varifocal, the combination of it's varifocal system with it's high PPD display in a single device. Looked great and focused well, did not seem to work well for people with glasses though. Note the side windows to watch display move #SIGGRAPH2023 pic.twitter.com/AO2qklBDGV
— Anshel Sag (@anshelsag) August 8, 2023
VR studio UWU was pleasantly surprised. "...If it wasn't for the FOV and a very small latency as the panels shift focus we would have a hard time knowing if we were wearing a headset at all. It's that clear..."
We got to try the varifocal + retina headset demo at #SIGGRAPH2023 if it wasn't for the fov and a very small latency as the panels shift focus we would have a hard time knowing if we were wearing a headset at all. It's that clear... The future of VR is very bright. pic.twitter.com/OQLV6fvEo4
— UWU (@uwu420games) August 9, 2023
VR developer and photogrammetry pro Azad Balabian was less impressed, finding neither demo spectacular. With Flamera, the field of view was "super narrow" (30 degrees) and therefore, a perspective-correct passthrough "not really perceivable".
Butterscotch Varifocal was more interesting to him, as it allowed him to experience the varifocal focus-shifting in VR for the first time, albeit in the form of an old and mechanical design. In addition, the resolution was impressive, but he has seen this before with other headsets.
Tried both, tbh, neither were spectacular demos IMO https://t.co/OlGH1HMLlT
— Azad Balabanian (@Azadux) August 9, 2023
The only detailed hands-on report I could find on the web was provided by David Heaney for UploadVR. His impressions of Butterscotch Varifocal make for an interesting reading. In his final thoughts, Heaney writes that the sharpness and detail were "stunning to behold".
Update from September 6: A few weeks later, David Heaney also published a detailed hands-on with Flamera.