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GPU Renderers - a civilized comparison

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UPDATE: Opening the thread now to include ProRender, as well as any other GPU-enabled renderers that you may want to discuss! 


So, people from all camps, come on in and share your thoughts, scene files, tips, etc! 


All we ask is that you keep it civilized.  It's ok to say you have your gripes with X or Y renderer (please elaborate), but anything beyond that (insults, posturing, etc.) will NOT be tolerated.  We're better than that here. ;)  


Dragon studio scene file (with a few Redshift materials to get you going)*: 



ESVRIENS (sand dunes) scene*:



*Redshift specific scenes! Please change lights, materials, settings, etc. accordingly, if you plan on testing with another renderer.  



Original post below:


I think it's an exciting time for rendering.   ProRender aside, the 3 GPU renderers on everyone's mouths seem to be Redshift, Cycles4D and Octane.   


Seeing as how the Redshift Alpha testing period is now closed, it's decision time. Before I go throw my money at the Redshift team (well-deserved!) I decided to give its main competitors one more run at it.    


Granted, I already own Cycles4D (so cheap. Why not?) - but I still thought it would be a good idea to put them head to head again and see if Cycles4D stands up to Redshift well enough that one could - theoretically - hold off for now.  


And then there's Octane.  I have to admit - I'm extremely biased against it.  My past experiences were not good.  But people love it so much - it must be worth another shot.  


So, here's part 1 of my totally unscientific, inexpert, artist-oriented comparison of the 3 most exciting, talked about GPU renderers right now. There's a bit of photoshop post on all three images, but it's minor, and the process was identical across the board. 


Hardware specs:

- Intel Core i7-6900K (overclocked to 4.4GHz)

- 2 x NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti


First off, the Redshift version:  



So, I have to say - this was the easiest, most straightforward, most fun one to work on.  Maybe it's because I've been using Redshift almost exclusively for so long now, that it all feels like second nature.  


Also, this was the fastest render of them all.  The final image (at 1024x1024) took about a minute and 30 seconds.  


Next came the Cycles4D version:



Not as straightforward as the Redshift version.  Took a bit of tinkering around, with lighting and materials.  Displacement was especially difficult to wrangle.  In the end, I wound up ditching the displacement maps and going with bump.   


Despite my best efforts to keep all variables as equal as possible, the end result was very different.  Definitely more contrasty / moody than the Redshift version. Not necessarily in a bad way.  If anything, I'd say this is a testament to how the tools can influence your aesthetic one way or another.  


This one took considerably longer to render - around 10 minutes - at the same resolution, and attempting to keep render settings as close to each other as possible.  


Aesthetically, I can't pick one.  Maybe I'm leaning towards the softer results from Redshift.  Even if it were just based on speed, ease, and joy of use, I'd still give Redshift the win here.    



Edit: Octane versions in posts ahead. Read on! 




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  • Part 2: A few more comparisons (between Redshift and Cycles4D -   UPDATE: Octane comparison is a few posts down. Read on!)


    Again, tried to keep all settings as closely matched as possible, but invariably, there will be differences.  Also, I went for material parameters that were immediately accessible without node-work (i.e., Redshift standard material and Cycles Principled Shader).   


    Redshift is that it has in-render tonemapping, which helps with dynamic range when you tweak it (results in "softer" renders, but less clipping on the extremes).  You can see it on this clay render.   

    shootout1-RSclay.jpg  shootout1-Cy4Dclay.jpg



    shootout1-RSbronze.jpg shootout1-Cy4Dbronze.jpg


    Transmissive / tinted: 

    shootout1-RStrans.jpg shootout1-Cy4Dtrans.jpg


    Single SSS: 

    shootout1-singleSSS.jpg shootout1-Cy4Dsss.jpg


    And of course, Redshift also gives you easy access to multi-SSS.  Cycles will require a  little more tinkering about, I believe: 




    Curious to hear people's thoughts on this. 


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    Well, first of thanks for doing this. This is much needed here for people to be able to decide. I am not sure what to think. Both render's looks great but again different. There are pros and cons for both renderers, so it really depends on what you wanna do as an artist. RS or Cycles, not sure can you made a mistake by choosing one of them. What I know is that I will as soon as I manage to spare some money, buy RS and probably sell my Maxwell license. Thank you once again and btw, SSS render looks sick!!

    | MAXON Quality Assurance | 3D Artist | C4D Cafe Manager | Gamer in Heart/PS4 ID: SIgor420 |:compEnjoy:

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    Nerv! So awesome you're doing this. Really appreciated.


    I'm relatively new to GPU rendering--started with Cycles4D (can't beat the price), quickly picked up a subscription to Octane, and then fell hard in the Redshift alpha. 


    I found Cycles4D a bit unwieldy at first, though I was also intrigued with its capabilities. But Octane was just so easy, albeit with some help (thank you, InLifeThrill!). But renders looked good, without much effort. I got pretty comfortable with the Octane material nodes and I thought that I had it figured out. 


    Enter Redshift. I'm not quite as comfortable with the material node system (haven't completely wrapped my head around it), but it flat out rocks. I pretty much check the alpha forums daily, and I'm so impressed with not only the progress of bug fixes and new features, but also the thoughtful responses to the testers and customers. I'll drop the $500 in a second (when the alpha ends). I'm not sure if I could work without it now.


    Truth is, I haven't given Cycles4D the love it deserves. And as for Octane: I'm at a breaking point with ORC. I have a project that I can't deliver, and I'm converting the scenes to Redshift at the moment. I'm afraid the love affair with Octane has soured. 


    I feel like I have so much to say, but I'm on my second gin and tonic, and should probably drink some water. 


    I'm currently working on a few projects with Redshift, and really looking forward to some feedback. Hopefully, I'll post in the next few days. 


    Again, keep 'em coming! 

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    Nerv - great topic. 


    Like yourself I use all three, although Cycles is the one I've used least. I'm not totally up to speed with its material system, so I only use it on jobs where I need to do very specific rendering with XParticles.


    I am a bit surprised by your summary of octane being difficult to use, to me it's by far the easiest as it's got the least settings out of any of them. I also like the look of octane straight out of the box best, but I think that's because by default it's rendering with a film look (agfacolor_futura_100CD).. so instantly everything has a nice tone to it. Once you turn that off then it looks a lot more "straight CG" like the other renderers. To me the biggest problem with it is how it addresses noise and fireflies, particularly in specular materials. Glass, water, caustics, take a long time to render clean in my experience.


    Lately however I've been using redshift on a couple of jobs and it's just awesome. The speed is crazy, and the granularity of settings to speed it up makes it easy to optimise on a shot by shot basis. Super cool. 


    It might be useful for you to run Octanebench or some other GPU benchmarking tool to give an idea of your system's speed, that way other users could see how their render times would compare to yours.


    But great topic, it will be interesting to add Prorender into the mix when R19 comes out. So.. many .. renderers!



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  • Thanks, all!  


    @grain I may have been a little unfair on Octane, and perhaps I didn't express my frustrations well enough.  I don't necessarily think Octane is hard to use.  If you know how to use Redshift, Cycles, etc. you can easily get into the basics of Octane.   My frustrations have more to do with little logical things that make perfect sense in all the other engines, but don't seem to be applicable in Octane - especially when you're trying to create procedural materials.  Too many to list. 


    Also, displacement seems to be pretty unruly for anything besides a flat plane. So many busted seams in geometry. Granted, I was able to eventually wrangle into submission (sort of - not perfectly), but wow.  That was more of a headache than it needed to be.  Worse than displacement in Cycles in some ways, better in others. 


    It also feels sluggish in comparison to the others.   It gets cleaner final renders much faster than Cycles.  But it's not faster during real-time previews.  I could even argue it was slower than Cycles during IPR, especially when applying displacements.   Redshift, on the other hand, just blew through the same scene like it was nothing, both in realtime and in the final render.  


    All that said, I'll give credit to Octane for all of its tone mapping and post controls.  It really does create some pretty images nearly immediately, especially with lal those LUTS, and bloom/glare.  It definitely shines when you quickly want a cinematic look. 


    Below is the first scene - now rendered with Octane (unfortunately cropped by the demo version).  It took roughly 2 minutes. 


    I'm posting the other two just below it again just for the sake of comparison.  You be the judge! 









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  • And, in an effort to continue making this a fair fight, here are the shader dragon test renders for Octane.  I'm also attaching the Redshift and Cycles versions here for comparison.  


    shootout1-octaneClay.jpg shootout1-RSclay.jpg shootout1-Cy4Dclay.jpg


     shootout1-octaneBronze.jpg shootout1-RSbronze.jpg shootout1-Cy4Dbronze.jpg


    shootout1-octaneTrans.jpg shootout1-RStrans.jpg shootout1-Cy4Dtrans.jpg


    shootout1-octaneSSS.jpg shootout1-singleSSS.jpg shootout1-Cy4Dsss.jpg


    One thing that stands out to me is that, even when I tried my best to match all variables to the other two, Octane came out brighter and more even throughout. So, maybe the tonemapping stuff is working some magic here, but it does seem to have a bit more dynamic range. Cycles was very contrasty, whereas Redshift was kind of in the  middle.  


    As far as which one came out winning, I don't know. It's probably subjective.  


    I personally think the transmission and SSS look the best in Redshift.  I'd say Cycles did a little better in SSS than Octane, but Octane did better in transmission/absorption.  


    As for the metals, tough call.  I think Cycles may have won that round, thanks in part to its contrasty output.  Redshift gets a close second.  The Octane version looks a little too flat to me. 


    Again, all subjective, and I'm sure I could've made the experiment a bit tighter, but this is just to give people an idea of what looks they can achieve with each.  


    In the end, they're all capable of getting great renders.   In overall user experience, I still prefer Redshift.  Especially when experimenting and iterating with material creation and lookdev, it just feels more immediate and snappier than the others.  


    It's worth saying that Octane was the crashiest of them all  Not sure if it's an issue specifically with the demo.  In one example, when closing a project or quitting, Octane would crash C4D, and C4D would not launch again until I went into Task Manager and killed it, then relaunched. 




    In terms of cost, Octane is now technically the cheapest - if you go the subscription route, at $20/month.  It has a limitation on the number of GPUs you can use (2), and there's no network rendering.  Otherwise, it's fully functional.  If you need to use more than 2 GPUs and/or need net render, be prepared to shell out $620 - and this only includes the C4D plugin. If you want to use Octane in any other DCC, it'll cost you extra.  


    Cycles is no longer the cheapest (or it is - read above), but still very cheap at 185 GBP (~241 USD).  I think the price includes up to 3 nodes for net rendering (may need confirmation there).  


    Redshift would seem to be the pricier of the three at $500.  However, this $500 includes the Redshift plugin for ALL the DCC's.  So, if at some point you feel the need to switch, at least you know you don't have to pay extra.  


    So, there you go.  What do you think? 

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    Thank you Nerv - this was very helpful and coming out at the right time.


    My hope is that you come back to this thread once R19 comes out and add ProRender to the comparison (or send your scene files to a beta tester and have them kick out a render).  I noticed you did not post the Octane render times.  Do you still have that information?


    Could you also show us the interface/settings of each of the three renderers for the clay dragon render (which I would imagine would be the least complex).   For me, it is all about intuitive interface and learning curve more so than cost (and to some extent quality).  I mean paying a lesser price for the better renderer is not really a better deal if the tool is so cumbersome to use and learn that you end up not using it.  So I would like to hear/see more about the interface and controls.


    Also....to be fair, one of the advantage to Cycles is the deep integration with X-Particles.  If you have X-particles, it would be interesting to know how much faster Cycles renders a pretty heavy X-Particles scene than the other two.





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    @nerv upload scene file and I'll try to make a render. :) 

    | MAXON Quality Assurance | 3D Artist | C4D Cafe Manager | Gamer in Heart/PS4 ID: SIgor420 |:compEnjoy:

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  • @3D-Pangel thanks for the feedback! 


    This touches on the subject of interface/usability, though admittedly a little too vaguely: 

    4 hours ago, nerv said:

    In overall user experience, I still prefer Redshift.  Especially when experimenting and iterating with material creation and lookdev, it just feels more immediate and snappier than the others.  



    I'll very quickly say that, for me, in terms of usability:

    1. Redshift 

    2. Cycles

    3. Octane


    It's a close one between redshift and cycles. There are things about the RS workflow that I wish cycles had, and vice versa.  Octane felt like the easiest to set up (in terms of render settings), but then cumbersome when actually working on materials. 


    I can go more in-depth into the interfaces later. 


    As for x-particles, cycles is the obvious winner. Not so much because of speed (I think they all more or less are even on that), but because of procedural integration between the two. 


    Volumes-wise, I'm going to give it to octane. I think it's got a more mature integration of VDB, turbulencefd, and procedural volumetrics.  Cycles comes in second. Redshift comes in third. RS just recently implemented volumes; it's well-done and easy to approach, but has a ways to go to catch up, feature-wise. 


    I can also go into more specifics later.  

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    I've done tests and from what I find Redshift can be good for a lot of things and be really fast.  Redshift does have a really good way of setting very realistic setting for metals.


    Some things it does not do so well.  Like caustics and mesh lights.  Caustics can look bad and mesh lights slow Redshift down to way slower than Cycles.  Redshift also does not seem to do a real bounce beyond the 1st one.  This is fine in most cases as the bounces beyond the 1st are not really seen much, but it is something to note.  I'm not sure if it was the alpha version, but I would also get glitches in my animations.  Every now and then it would pop on a frame.


    Here is one scene with the caustics.  Maybe I just have the settings for caustics wrong in Redshift.


    Cycles 21 seconds



    Redshift 21 seconds


    red glass cube.zip


    The render times were the same.  It's not a mistake.


    To switch between Redshift and Cycles swap out the mats, change the render engine in render settings, flip off the light of the render engine not being used and flip on the other one.

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    I would also like your test scene as the difference in render time seems like way too much.  I find Redshift is the same or faster in most cases so long as mesh lights are not being used, but that time seems like too much of a difference.

    Overall I'd say Redshift is fast in most situations and Cycles gives better quality with slightly longer render times.

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