Thursday, May 11th, 2017 Posted by Jim Thacker

Nvidia releases Mental Ray for 3ds Max

Nvidia’s marketing graphic for Mental Ray for 3ds Max. Model: Stefan Morrell

Nvidia has released Mental Ray for 3ds Max, its new plugin version of the renderer, and first for 3ds Max 2018 users, following Autodesk’s decision to stop bundling Mental Ray with the software.

The release integrates the new features of Mental Ray 3.14, the latest standalone edition of the renderer, including the GI Next global illumination system and support for light path expressions.

The plugin is free to use when rendering from a single machine. Network rendering requires commercial licences, which are available on a rental-only basis.

Buying a commercial licence of Mental Ray also activates Iray for 3ds Max, Nvidia’s interactive physically based renderer, available as a separate plugin, and previously purchased separately.

The first version of Mental Ray compatible with 3ds Max 2018
For many 3ds Max users, the most important thing about Mental Ray for 3ds Max will simply be that it exists.

With Autodesk’s decision to stop bundling Mental Ray with its software in favour of its own Arnold renderer, legacy Mental Ray scenes are no longer compatible with 3ds Max 2018 out of the box.

Today’s release makes it possible to use those scenes again, with Nvidia’s blog post stressing that the new plugin is “fully backwards compatible for all the functionality and data people depend upon”.

Adds new features from Mental Ray 3.14 standalone
The release also introduces the new functionality rolled out last year in Mental Ray 3.14, the standalone edition of the software, and in Mental Ray for Maya, the equivalent Maya plugin.

That includes GI Next, Nvidia’s GPU-enabled global illumination system, which the firm claims is “over 10x faster again” when running with a GPU – presumably, Nvidia’s top-of-the-range Quadro – than a 14-core CPU.

It has “full support” of Mental Ray shaders, motion blur, depth of field, hair, volumes and particles, and only loads geometry into GPU memory, making it possible to render more texture-heavy scenes on the GPU.

The update also introduces support for Light Path Expressions, making it possible to generate AOVs on a per-light basis when rendering, giving more control over rendered output in the final composite.

You can read a full list of features in Mental Ray 3.14 here, although note that some of the functionality listed was actually introduced in Mental Ray 3.13.

Free for use on single machines, but you pay for network rendering
Like the version of Arnold bundled with 3ds Max 2018, the new plugin is free to use when rendering from a single machine, but for network rendering, you’ll need a commercial licence.

That’s a blow for many 3ds Max users, who were accustomed to the unlimited Mental Ray network rendering that Autodesk provided up until 3ds Max 2017.

However, Nvidia has adopted the same pricing model as for Mental Ray for Maya: if you’re using one of the firm’s professional GPUs – a Quadro or Tesla card – you get a discount.

That brings the cost down to $95/year per render node, or $325/year for a five-pack of licences. If you aren’t using a Nvidia Quadro or Tesla GPU, the cost rises to $295/year per node, or $995/year for a five-pack.

Nvidia has also now introduced separate pricing for local (that is, node-locked) and network (floating) licences, the latter priced at $395/year for one or $1,495/year for five.

(The same pricing has also now been applied to Mental Ray for Maya, which raises the price of floating licences “to be more in line with industry norms”, according to Nvidia.)

Paid licences also include Iray for 3ds Max for free
However, unlike Mental Ray for Maya, buying a commercial licence of Mental Ray for 3ds Max also gives you Iray, Nvidia’s interactive physically based renderer, for free.

(That’s the new plugin version of Iray, not the Iray render mode built into Mental Ray itself, which is now officially named ‘Mental Ray Iray’. You can read our review of the Iray for 3ds Max plugin here.)

Previously, the Iray for 3ds Max plugin had to be purchased separately, at a cost of $295/year per machine.

Existing licences of Iray for 3ds Max also now automatically function as paid licences for Mental Ray for 3ds Max: both renderers are now covered by a single licence.

So how does the pricing stack up against other 3ds Max render engines?
That makes the pricing of Mental Ray for 3ds Max fairly competitive, insofar as you can make comparisons – an issue we discussed in more detail in our story on Mental Ray for Maya.

(Note: since we wrote that story, Autodesk has introduced new rental pricing of $600/year per machine for Arnold, and announced that it is to discontinue perpetual licences of the software.)

In addition to the renderers discussed there, the new pricing is comparable to that of Corona Renderer for 3ds Max, whose Fair SaaS plan provides a workstation licence and five floating nodes for €29.99/month.

Over the course of a year, that works out at €359.88 – or around $391/year at current exchange rates.

Whether that’s more or less than Mental Ray for 3ds Max depends on which GPU you use, whether you want floating or only node-locked render licences, and whether you want Iray – but you get the general point.

Availability and system requirements
Mental Ray for 3ds Max is available for 3ds Max 2018, running on 64-bit Windows 7 or 10. To use its GPU accelerated features, you’ll need a Nvidia card of the Fermi generation or later, with at least 2GB GPU RAM.

Pricing for the plugin is discussed in the story above, although you won’t be able to use the new Pro GPU licences with Iray until the release of Iray 2 for 3ds Max, currently scheduled for the end of this month.

In addition, colleges and universities will get their network rendering licences for free.

Read Nvidia’s blog post announcing the release of Mental Ray for 3ds Max

Read a full list of features in Mental Ray for 3ds Max in the product’s data sheet (PDF format)

Download Mental Ray for 3ds Max for free
(Registration required, free only if not rendering over a network)