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Review: RenderStreet One

16

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.

image02By 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?

image00

 

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 Specifications

 

8.1 A good service

A good service for those who render frequently. Very useful for still frame finals and animation tests.

  • Ease of use 8
  • Features 7.5
  • Speed 9
  • Documentation 7
  • Customer service 9
  • Value for money 8
  • User Ratings (11 Votes) 9.4

About Author

Colin Freeman

Colin Freeman is a graphic artist, based just outside of Portland, Oregon. His independent business, Colin’s Workshop, specializes in producing product images, motion graphics, and digital illustrations. Colin has been using Blender as the main 3D application for business since 2012.

16 Comments

  1. I should also mention that when I had to wait over an hour for my job to start I contacted tech support at Render Street, and Marius, the CEO, contacted me and had the issue resolved quickly.

  2. I have been using Render Street One for the past several months and basically agree with the review. It is absolutely fantastic for animation preview renders and some high quality still frame rendering. As mentioned, the time of rendering depends on the traffic - I sometimes see 3-4 frames being rendered at once, the other times just one. The rendering job can be switched to on-demand if necessary.
    You can preview animation as being rendered. If baking is needed, I usually upload the file along with disk cache using FTP client and that works very well.
    Most of all, I praise the superb customer service - my emails were answered immediately and all issues addressed promptly. Highly recommended.

  3. HI Colin, thanks for the review, always helpful for those who need to evaluate best value for needed rendering options.

    You were mentioning the need for a more powerful and affordable option for high quality animation rendering. I've been using the brenda render farm software for AWS over the last couple of years, and it is by far the most powerful and affordable render farm option for my Blender animation projects.

    The key is the ability to leverage Amazon's spot market pricing for the render nodes that you rent for each job. You can save up to 80% off the normal cost of commercial rendering with RS and others. You get whatever number of render nodes you need based on your budget and time priorities. I've even rendered jobs with one render node ordered for every frame of the render!

    Historically brenda has been a challenge for some to use due to it's command line format, which can make managing jobs a bit of a hassle. That's about to change though, as I'm currently developing an easy to use GUI app for OSX, Linux, and Windows platforms that will help many artists ramp up their access to powerful rendering options. For more on the project, you can check out http://www.brendapro.com/appdev/

    Thanks again!

  4. Thanks for the review! Great to know for the future.

    For those excited about the idea of using an online render farm, but not yet willing to spend money (beginners, students, and hobbyists) I'd recommend to look at Sheepit-renderfarm.

  5. A very interesting article. I have been keeping one eye on render farms for the animations I create at work, but at $600 year minimum this one still looks expensive. I think for that money I'd prefer to buy a high-end GPU (or two for only a little more) and get guaranteed instant previews / rendering power on my desktop. Currently, even with my two GPU's flat-out rendering my PC is still completely usable for other work, and I can see immediately if I have messed up my layer selections as soon as the first tile starts to render.

    • In my opinion, there is no such thing as a best solution for all people. Everyone's needs are different, and finding the most efficient one is a matter of learning about all available options and then doing some math.

      For instance, the minimum subscription time for RenderStreet One is one month. So if you only render 3 months per year, that's $150 in total. As a comparison, if you run an average PC (not a server) with a single GPU in Amsterdam (since I'm at BConf now) 24/7 for one month, the electricity bill alone is $62. Also, the service has a much lower chance of breaking down, has support and is portable (you can access it from any location).

  6. I think you definitely still need a decent gpu card in your workstation for quick previews and look development. However once you start needing to render long frame sequences at high quality, a single workstation, no matter how powerful, quickly becomes a bottle neck in your pipeline.

    Also, regarding the $600 cost, I've spent almost that much on a single shot with RenderStreet's on demand service. Later on I was able to re-render the same shot for a little more than a tenth of that cost with brenda and AWS spot pricing.

  7. Thanks for the very thorough review Colin, and thank you Bart for publishing it! I've just read it now myself, and I'm really glad to see that we got a thumbs-up in the end :) We'll keep working on finding ways to upgrade the service, so we can improve the experience we're offering to you guys. The final goal is to take the technical part of the rendering off the artist's mind, so he can focus on what he does best - creating awesome things.

  8. I just wanted to reply to mention that I used blender.st a while ago, and oh man they were awesome :D

    I was having some trouble with new Blender versions weird cache of dynamic paint (nothing to do with Render Street), and they were super helpful in support, got renders back so quick. I just wanted to give a shout of recommendation for them :)

    Cheers,
    Lee

  9. David McDermott on

    Render street really got me out of a pickle. I had an animation that I needed to render to deadline, but didn't have the computing power.I was really panicking! I was so happy when I found render street. Easy to use, great service and value.

  10. We've been using Render.St. for about 18 months, and their service and offerings continue to be at the top of the market: We have used a number of farms, but like the service and options we get when using Render.St. For us, simple renders are easiest from the Blender plug-in... but for bigger files, FTP is the way to go. Very easy to tile large stills, change from Render One to on demand, etc. And as has been noted, their customer service is terrific. And to the thought that you are committing to $50 a month with Render One, having the all-you-can-render plan really changes the way you look at farm rendering: We can now test several renders far quicker than we could locally... so it's not just for a finished render.... it becomes part of the workflow pretty quickly.

    The only shortcoming I have seen is that the 15-minute limit on animated frames really prevents any clouds or atmospherics -- or water -- from being renderable... but we still do almost all of our farm rendering with them, and they have terrific service.

  11. Just a quick update on the time limits mentioned in the article: now there is an option available to increase them, both for still images and for animations. So if your projects didn't fit in the original 15 minutes / one hour, now you can double that and get 30 minutes for animation frames and two hours for still images.

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