SolidWorks Decision Highlights Competitive Angst Between Luxology and Mental Images

The latest release of SolidWorks dumps PhotoWorks, based on Mental Images technology, for PhotoView 360, based on Luxology technology. Contributing Analyst Steve Wolfe thinks its getting personal between the two rendering experts.

By L. Stephen Wolfe, P.E.
Contributing Analyst

[Editor’s Note: Our complete review of SolidWorks 2011, also by Steve Wolfe, is “SolidWorks Rolls Out 200+ New Features for 2011.”]

The new release of SolidWorks, version 2011, replaces the aging PhotoWorks rendering add-in based on Mental Images Mental Ray software with new tools from Luxology. Dubbed PhotoView 360, the new software (which previewed as a distinct application in SolidWorks 2010) is easier to use and faster than PhotoWorks. It gives SolidWorks customers more control over the appearance of materials with slider bars that change properties such as reflectivity and transparency.

Even though SolidWorks 2011 isn’t shipping yet (expected in October), Luxology already has a “Welcome, SolidWorks users!” site waiting to help users ease through the transition.

PhotoView also provides a preview window that employs successive refinement of ray-traced images instead of displaying a patchwork of square tiles like PhotoWorks. The new approach enables designers to quickly see if the settings, materials, and scenes in the rendering are okay. If they’re not, the process can be stopped and changed without waiting for the preview window to be completely rendered.

The preview window of PhotoView 360 enables designers to check rendering setup quickly before processing a high-resolution image.

SolidWorks executives and managers insist that Luxology offered better rendering technology than Mental Images (now a subsidiary of Nvidia). However, Bunkspeed recently introduced novel rendering technology based on Mental Images Iray that appears to do most of what PhotoView 360 can. (See “Bunkspeed Shot Debuts as First Iray End-User Application.”) So why did SolidWorks switch suppliers of its rendering software technology?

By the standards for usability customers have come to expect from SolidWorks, PhotoWorks was disappointing. According to a Mental Images executive, PhotoWorks never took full advantage of Mental Ray’s capabilities, because the SolidWorks product managers responsible for it insisted that PhotoWorks mimic the procedures of the even-older rendering software it replaced. Mental Images was blamed for cumbersome user controls even though they weren’t in control of the design decisions.

SolidWorks managers counter that Luxology was ready to provide the tools they needed two years before Mental Images made Iray available to them. They felt it was more important to deliver the improved rendering customers need sooner than to continue employing a component supplier with which parent Dassault Systèmes has a company-wide agreement.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it appears that a conflict of personalities had as much to do with the choice of rendering tools as technical capabilities.