Colin Freeman tests the RenderStreet One flat-fee based rendering service. How does it stack up against a 'per-hours' based pricing plan, and what are his experiences? Read on!
Oh, the joy of rendering!
Rendering: that special time when you hit the F12 key, walk away from your computer and go to bed, while all of your computer's processing power gets sucked into Blender's gaping vortex. You deserve a break though; after chiseling away at your models, tediously placing your lamps, and building node trees more tangled than an old box of Christmas lights. Hours later you wake up feeling like a kid on Christmas morning; anxious to see what the Blender fairy has brought you in the night. Only there's a problem: You forgot to check an inconspicuous box in the layers panel, and now your entire render is nothing but a blank canvas. So now you're left with the choice of starting the render over again and not being able to use Blender (or anything more intensive than your web browser) for a good chunk of your day, or wait to start rendering hours later, before you go to bed again.
This would be a whole lot easier if you could just send your files off to another computer to render them, but few of us have the time, money, and expertise to build our own render farm in our closet. That's where RenderStreet comes in. It gives you the rendering power of multiple servers, while freeing your computer up to continue working on your projects. Oh, joy!
Many well known Blender users have adopted and endorsed RenderStreet before. Does Blender Guru, CG Masters, or Blender Institute ring a bell? The thought of having to pay for rendering time though might cause some of us shrug it off; considering how conditioned we are to getting things open source and free. The costs can add up quickly and it hurts when you make mistakes. RenderStreet One is a service which makes your rendering costs much more predictable and pain-free.
What it’s all about
RenderStreet's initial, on demand service charged you by how much time it took your file to complete rendering. With RenderStreet One: instead of charging by the hour/minute/second, you pay a flat monthly fee ($50 at the time of this writing) for "unlimited" rendering.
The process is simple: you upload your files to RenderStreet, they render them, you download the result.
Files can be sent to RenderStreet in three different ways. The first being through their website interface; which is not my preferred way of doing it. This method requires you to pack all dependent files. So all of your textures and other linked items have to be embedded into the .blend file before you upload it.
Another method is to use FTP access to manage you files on the server. This is the method I always tell myself I should be using, because it’s the most efficient. If you want to update an image between renders then you only need to upload that file and nothing else. This method is especially great for large complex scenes with many dependent files. Using FTP does require you to be fairly well organized with your file structuring, and I’m, well... often guilty of pulling textures from all over the depths of my hard drive.
By far my favorite method of uploading is through their Blender plug-in. In just a few minutes you can install the plug-in and a RenderStreet panel will appear under the render settings tab. From there you can login, name your job, and with the click of a button: all of your dependent files are gathered, packed and uploaded. It’s so simple even a monkey object could do it. This method does create duplicate Blender files for uploading purposes. So when you’re all done with the project be sure to go in and clean house. Also, it’s not always the fastest method since all the files are packed and uploaded for each render job. Be sure not to close or switch to a different .blend file during the upload process. This will likely stall out the upload and you’ll have to start over.
The website interface is quick to learn and easy to use (well, after learning Blender just about anything should seem easy, right?). All of your rendering options can be configured in Blender, but RenderStreet also allows for some modifications within the interface, such as: Blender version, output format, resolution, samples, etc. Once you’re happy with your settings just hit the launch button. The job goes off to render and you can go back to work, or sit and stare at the progress timer. Once the job is done an email will be sent out to you; letting you know it’s hot and ready. You can download your rendered image files one at a time, or, for animations, all at once in a zip file.
Is it really unlimited?
Well, eh... There is a catch. Yes, you can upload an unlimited amount of render jobs. The limitation is that there are time limits per job. Still frame renderings have to be wrapped up in an hour, and animations are limited to 15 minutes per frame. For most still frames I’ve done well within the hour time limit. Animations can be much more troublesome though, and you won't be able to do much more than low res testing.
If you feel like you're going to go over the limit: the RenderStreet One program operates seamlessly with RenderStreet's existing on demand rendering service. After you upload your file and RenderStreet processes it you'll get a rendering time estimate, and the choice to decide to switch over to on demand pricing (starting at $4.49 per hour). Once you've switched your project to the on demand service the time limits are removed.
Other limitations come with the One program as well that you won’t have with the on demand service:
- Only Blender Internal and Cycles rendering engines are currently supported. Sorry, Yafaray users.
- You can't use RenderStreet One for baking (but you can bake on your own machine and upload the cache).
- They claim that it doesn't support Multilayer EXR files, but I have rendered to Multilayer EXR and it came out fine. Shhh! ;)
- The rendering speed is set to "best effort"; meaning that your job will take a backseat to higher paying, on demand jobs. Most of the time this is not an issue, but every once in a while you may find that your job is sitting in the queue for longer than usual. In one particularly high traffic incident I had to wait over an hour for my job to start.
How fast is it?
In all the jobs that I've done within the One program I've found the speed to comparable to, or better than, my local machine. But I should probably back up that claim with some evidence. I ran my own, impromptu bench test to see how RenderStreet’s performance matches up against my local machine and itself.
I picked one my old Architecture Academy project files to use as the test subject:
- Verts: 697,433
- Faces: 674,101
- Tris: 1,345,222
- Objects: 245
- Mem: 2466.37M
- 1920 x 1080p @ 1000 samples
My computer is a Mac Pro, 2 x 2.4 GHz Quad-Intel Xeon processors, with 24 GB 1066 Mhz DDR3 memory. Rendering was done on CPU. I left Photoshop, Illustrator, and iTunes open on my computer while testing because under normal circumstances I wouldn’t close everything else down before rendering.
- Local rendering time: 01:11:38.98
- RenderStreet One time: 29:42
- RenderStreet On Demand Bronze time: 32:07, Cost: $2.40
So, the results clearly show that my computer is nearing junk status. Ouch! Aside from that, even if I were running the latest and greatest processor I don’t think it could compare to the power that one would get out of outsourcing to an array of servers. I’m more surprised that One came in slightly ahead of On Demand, and I’m thinking I should demand my $2.40 back.
RenderStreet also offers a few higher tier, on demand rendering plans which would allocate your job across more servers; rendering at even faster speeds. I’m not exactly in the financial position to drop 500 bones a month for the Platinum, 100+ servers plan yet, but if anyone out there is: please let me know how that works out for you, and are you hiring?
Is it worth it?
The value in RenderStreet’s service will depend on how much time you spend rendering and what level you use Blender at. For beginners, students, and hobbyists the price point may seem steep. For Blender professionals and enthusiasts the value is impressive. What you end up spending in cash you will more than make up for in time and productivity. Even if most of your final renders go over the time limits, the ability to send out your test renderings is a valuable tool to have.
Since starting on the One program I’ve mostly abandoned rendering on my own computer. I’ve found that when only using the on demand service I would do most of my test rendering on my local machine and reserve RenderStreet for final output. I only wanted to pay for those big, high sample renders if I knew they were going to be perfect. There were a few times when I would be sweating it out with my finger over the launch button; knowing that if this goes wrong it could cost me big time. RenderStreet One alleviates that stress, because it’s not going to cost you anything extra to run test renders before committing to the final output. Surprisingly, most of my final output renders also fit into the One time limits since their server array can process jobs so much faster than my pitiful box of scrap metal. I was spending $100 or more per month on Render Street prior to the One program, and now I rarely go over the $50 flat fee.
So if you didn’t come to the conclusion already: yes, I would recommend this service. For someone who is rendering mostly still images I can’t think of a better solution. The One program is not so ideal for final animation output. 15 minutes is a very small window for rendering HD quality frames. I can understand though, how offering unlimited, high-res animation renders at 50 bucks a month wouldn’t be a feasible business model, as it would be a crushing blow to their server power. It would be nice to see a more extensive, flat-rate solution for animators, but for now RenderStreet One still offers them a great resource for rendering still frames, and test animations.
- Product page: render.st/one
- Price: $50 per month
A good service for those who render frequently. Very useful for still frame finals and animation tests.
- Ease of use
- Customer service
- Value for money