This year I returned to SIGGRAPH after an 11-year absence. I stopped going when my publishers stopped picking up expenses, and I no longer lived in LA. At that point, I believe the conference was a bit of a mad house. I'm told that SIGGRAPH has since shrunk to less than half that size. In the meantime, I've been attending European conferences such as FMX and Mundos Digitales, both SIGGRAPH-like but smaller. 
My first impression was the online program guide. Although much effort was clearly put into it, the design was poor from a user perspective. I found it awkward and difficult to use on my iPad. Incidentally, I noticed an enormous number of iPads in attendance. For example, setting up my daily schedule took a lot of unnecessary scrolling through many pages of content as I didn't see a way to jump to the day in question. The printed program was also difficult to use. By comparison, both Euro conferences I now attend have better layouts for their digital and printed programs. With such a large program with simultaneous presentations, a well-designed scheduler is essential.
In terms of program content, what I saw was excellent. I attended sessions on cinematic lighting and high-frame-rate cinematography, among others, and both were excellent. I found I had little interest in many presentations because of their esoteric and highly specific technical nature. But that is the purpose of SIGGRAPH: to get these ideas out there and into future pipelines. I heard from colleagues that most presentations were organized and presented well.
As for networking, it was good. I ran into friends from around the world. The range of attendees and speakers was excellent, going from students to industry legends. It was nice to chat with Dennis Muren, Doug Trumbull, Paul Debevec, Jon Landau, John Tarnoff, and Don Levy, but I also ran into Hanhee and several other students I know. 
As a journalist, I enjoyed the emerging technologies and industry expo best. At the former I got to see prototypes and ideas of potential products of the future, some crazy, others with potential. The expo hall was great for networking with people at the various companies, getting info on new releases, and hobnobbing with my daughter [Danielle Plantec, Vice President and VFX Supervisor] at the Scanline VFX booth. 
As for the facility, the L.A. Convention Center is just too big, too spread out, and too cold for a show like this built on mentoring and learning. It's a little intimidating and I found it a bit difficult to navigate to various talks as well. In general, FMX and Mundos Digitales are housed in far more intimate spaces, and exude a warm feeling of camaraderie. In a sense, there is a lot more love at those two. Although I found SIGGRAPH to be very useful and I connected with many colleagues, I strongly prefer both FMX and Mundos. Keep in mind that I am on the board of associates of FMX and I co-chair Mundos Digitales so I'm completely biased — but I'm not alone in my assessment. I discussed this with several other people who have attended all three conferences, and this is the consensus. SIGGRAPH will head to Anaheim next year. Perhaps it will be a better fit.
[photo top courtesy of]