By Michael Burns | on January 14, 2010
Price: 59 . 120 . 240 . 360
Company: E-on Software
Pros: Pros: Enhanced terrain editor with 3D sculpting, zones and brush effects; display enhancements; Spectral 3 clouds; separate displacement channel.
Cons: xStream unstable with Softimage 2010; Poser 8 import isn’t great; some EcoSystem limitations with xStream in Maya.
E-on claims that the new displacement engine and normalised LOD subdivision calculations make it between 50 per cent and 150 per cent faster than Vue 7. This and the new terrain editor features are impressive, but you’ll need tight control. We were warned on more than one occasion that the terrain was composed of over a million polygons, which could slow down the system.
Spectral 3 technology is a boost to atmosphere creation, improving the Vue algorithms that simulate the interaction of light with the water present in the clouds. The technology has the effect of making clouds look more realistic, while shadows cast by the clouds are more subtle.
The enhanced OpenGL 2.1 (ShaderModel 4) mode taps higher-end graphics cards to produce Shaded Billboards. These are a new way of displaying EcoSystem instances, using shaders to accurately react to light.
Vue can import files from other 3D software including Collada, SketchUp, 3ds Max, LightWave and others; version 8 also nominally supports Poser 8, including the ability to render Poser characters using the Poser 8 shading tree.
To test this we created a high-res figure in Poser 8 and adding some motion-captured animation. At first we were able to load the animated Poser character inside Vue, but further attempts, even with static figures, were not as successful.
We installed the xStream version on a PC initially running Softimage 2010 on Vista, while the Infinite version ran on Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) on a MacBook Pro. It’s worth checking the graphics card requirements for Vue 8 on the E-on site, as we have experienced OpenGL problems with past versions of Vue.
Installation for both versions was straightforward, involving online activation, and in the case of xStream, choosing the host software that it would plug into (in our case Softimage 2010 and then Maya 2009).
Vue has gone from strength to strength, continuing to innovate way past old competitors like Bryce. However the several crashes we experienced in xStream when working with Softimage 2010 were not so impressive; Infinite also showed some slight instability.
The memory demands on your graphics system are a critical factor – as indicated by the amount of warnings the application gives you as you ramp up the scene complexity with the new Vue 8 features.
Vue is still a great product for its purpose and new users won’t be disappointed with the power on tap, but version 8 might not offer enough to tempt wavering users of Vue 7.5 to upgrade.
Vue 8 xStream works identically to Infinite but appears as a menu in the interface of whichever 3D suite you choose to use it with. This version adds access to sea level via the xStream interface, while you can also now edit Vue lights independently.
You can paint EcoSystems directly into the view ports of 3ds Max, Cinema 4D and Softimage, though painting is not yet supported in Maya or LightWave. By default, the Render Vue scene option and its sub-options are all ticked, so everything is rendered, but you can turn off elements, such as atmosphere, easily.
The host application will also try to match the render settings you choose in Vue, but we had our first crash when attempting to tweak these options. The default setting for xStream saves the Vue scene and the native scene together in a unique file, so you can use each application to its best advantage.
However, the several crashes that occurred while working within Softimage indicate that there may be some work still needed. We also tried xStream in Maya 2009, where the plug-in confusingly renamed itself xStream7 after installation to avoid compatibility issues. Maya ran far more smoothly as a host than Softimage, though.