AMD offers Radeon ProRender for Blender and SolidWorks

Is this exciting news?

AMD has announced its free ray-tracing engine ProRender will run within Blender, as well as Maya, 3ds Max, and SolidWorks. AMD says ProRender uses a physically-based workflow, which allows multiple materials to be expressed in a single, lighting-independent shader, making it easy to color objects and have them usable in any sensible environment.

The key features of the ray tracer are:

  • Fast, free, and accurate – it’s designed to be physically based and “highly accurate,” as the term “accurate” always needs to be qualified.
  • Hardware agnostic – if your computer can run OpenCL 1.2, it can run Radeon ProRender.
  • Fully integrated – for use with Blender 2.78 and higher on both Microsoft Windows and Linux.
  • Viewport Integration means you can work with Radeon ProRender interactively, so you can see your changes as you make them.
  • Multiple camera views – Blender camera presets, depth of field, and object motion blur.
  • VR creation support with photosphere and stereoscopic VR camera views.
  • Emissive and Photometric Lighting, as well as image-based lighting from HDRI environments, let you blend a scene in with its surroundings.
  • Physically-based materials and lighting allow you to make true design decisions with global illumination and caustics, while also supporting displacement and volumetrics.
  • Comes with its own material library optimized for use with the Radeon ProRender Blender plug-in, providing an easy starting and reference point for your own shaders.
  • Integrated materials are simple to use and editable in Blender.

AMD’s Radeon ProRender is a physically-based rendering engine that is built on Radeon Rays technology which AMD says is a, scalable ray tracing engine that uses open industry standards to harness GPU and CPU performance for swift, impressive results.

AMD is now offering a ProRender Plug-in for Blender 2.78 and higher for both Microsoft Windows and Linux, and claims one can use its existing lights, materials, and textures, it also comes with a library of materials to get you started.

The biggest improvements would be improved viewport rendering performance so one can work with Radeon ProRender in real-time and have the ability to assign rendering resources to the GPU and CPU simultaneously. In addition, Radeon ProRender for 3ds Max, Maya, and Blender now support X-Rite’s Appearance Exchange Format (AxF), a vendor-neutral scanned material format. AxF is positioned as an open way to digitally store and share a material’s appearance across PLM, CAD and rendering applications. However, AXF may not be totally open. X-Rite very protective of it. AxF gains its portability by being just a 6-texture representation. What makes it special is that it comes from a physical scanner (the TAC 7).

What do we think?

Well, as most of you know, I’ve never met a ray tracer I didn’t like. Some people have suggested Radeon ProRender puts competitive pressure on Nvidia Iray, which is only accelerated on Nvidia hardware. The Radeon Rays technology that powers ProRender is more competitive to Nvidia’s free ray tracing framework, OptiX. Pro Render may also be seen as competing with V-Ray from an OpenCL GPU acceleration of ray tracing point of view, which is subject to interpretation as to how much, or how well it supports OpenCL.

The real question might be does the world, or AMD need another ray tracer? Although advertised as hardware agnostic, presumably ProRender runs best on the new AMD Vega GPUs. However, tests run by Nvidia have showed ProRender ran 2X faster on equivalent NV AIBs, and Nvidia claims they aren’t worried about ProRender. That can change with as little as a driver update.

But, it’s just one of the many, many, ray tracers available. Blender has its own, Cycles. There are several ray tracing programs for SoildWorks such as PhotoWorks using Modo’s renderer from Luxology and also Dassault’s own Bunkspeed; also RayViz and TracePro from Lambda, FRED form Photon Engineering, Light Tools from Synopsis. Autodesk too has a stable of ray tracers including its real-time in product “Raytracer” (how’s that for a clever product name), plus third-party solutions (including V-Ray from Chaos Group, Octane from OTOY, and many others). But Autodesk’s offerings don’t end with “Raytracer. In 2013 Autodesk acquired PI-VR, a German software developer with a sophisticated real-time rendering engine called VRED that also has a ray tracing mode. The company also acquired (in 2009) German-based Numenus NURBS rendering technology that’s now in VRED, and most recently the company acquired the popular Arnold ray tracer developed by Solid Angle. And lest we forget, Intel offers a robust set of CPU-based ray tracing kernels in Embree.

In our ray tracing report, we have identified 81 suppliers of ray tracing software, and estimate the market to have a TAM of $480 million, including hardware, for just software sales, the TAM is under $100mil/year.

However, the most critical part of ray tracing is the materials library, and one of the reasons there are so many ray tracing programs — they all have their own libraries. Material/Shader definitions are traditionally tied to the rendering algorithm, so what works for V-Ray isn’t going to work for Arnold, etc. No one makes the proprietary on purpose — it’s just a natural consequence. It’s similar to game engines and raster shaders. MDL is the first example of a generic description — but even it requires the renderer to be physically based.

Many of the ray tracing engines support material library interchange, and Nvidia is one of the leaders in that effort with their materials definition language (MDL). The “Open” to emphasize here is vendor neutrality for CPU and GPU. Embree can’t use GPUs and OptiX is CUDA only (no CPU or OpenCL so no AMD). Open has always beaten closed and proprietary — eventually, and so AMD and AxF have history on their side. However, AXF is too basic to ever be the default as it can only represent what X-Rite’s TAC device can scan. It’s a great starting point, but then you need to get it into something that can layer it and support more complexity and what can’t be scanned.

But part of the secret sauce in many rendered images is the proprietary materials library, and companies participating in the highly competitive rendering market/industry aren’t going to give up, or open up, those libraries easily, especially the movie studios. These are proprietary to the studio, not the renderer. Even if the renderer supported an open format of some sort the studio isn’t going to share what they craft.

And finally, physically based usually means that it’s “energy conserving,” meaning that light behaves as it does in the real world. This makes materials look better because they’re consistent, and makes lighting more realistic because it bounces and attenuates like real lights do. AMD claims its renderer is accurate and unbiased but PBR is a sliding scale, and it takes investigation as to how physically accurate a renderer is.