Bryce 5.0 review:

Bryce 5.0

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MSRP: $199.00
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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good New Tree Lab makes your landscapes look more realistic; supports slightly faster network rendering; new metaballs modeling allows organic image creation.

The Bad Rendering is still incredibly slow; more expensive than previous version; few new features; small preview windows.

The Bottom Line If you're already a Bryce user, we don't recommend this upgrade. The new features aren't compelling, and it takes forever to render animation.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

5.0 Overall

Whereas true 3D modeling and animation pros purchase expensive design programs, such as Caligari TrueSpace or Form-Z, Bryce has always been the poor animator's app of choice. That's why Bryce 5.0's higher price tag ($60 more than 4.0) confuses the target audience, especially since this program--Corel's first attempt to build on MetaCreations' Bryce franchise--doesn't deliver significant improvements. While Corel has produced some outstanding applications, including CorelDraw and WordPerfect, Bryce 5.0 doesn't hold with the tradition. If you're using Bryce 4.0, stick with it or save up for a more full-featured program. Whereas true 3D modeling and animation pros purchase expensive design programs, such as Caligari TrueSpace or Form-Z, Bryce has always been the poor animator's app of choice. That's why Bryce 5.0's higher price tag ($60 more than 4.0) confuses the target audience, especially since this program--Corel's first attempt to build on MetaCreations' Bryce franchise--doesn't deliver significant improvements. While Corel has produced some outstanding applications, including CorelDraw and WordPerfect, Bryce 5.0 doesn't hold with the tradition. If you're using Bryce 4.0, stick with it or save up for a more full-featured program.

Seriously slow
MetaCreations' Bryce 4.0 costs only $249 or $99 for the upgrade. Corel increased the price of admission to $309 and $159 for the upgrade. Unfortunately, the interface, the work flow, and the standard textures remain the same. Worse, Bryce 5.0 is now so bloated that its rendering engine is actually slower than version 4.0's. For example, using a Micron PIII-500 PC with a 40GB drive and 128MB of RAM, we created a 720x480-pixel canvas and enabled superfine antialiasing. Next, we dropped in two overlapping planes and textured both, hit the Render button, and timed the results. Bryce 4.0 rendered the scene in 11 minutes, 49 seconds--not an impressive time--while Bryce 5.0 took an abysmal 16 minutes, 51 seconds.

So, why even consider upgrading if the product runs more slowly and costs more than its predecessor? Well, if you're on a network, Bryce 5.0 now features network-rendering capabilities, and they're noticeably faster. In separate tests of networked machines, we rendered a 200x100, 24-bit, 15fps, 1,058Kbps, 16-frame, 1.10MB AVI animation on two identical 1.7GHz systems. Each PC featured 256MB of RAM under Windows 2000 SP2, and we networked them using 100Mbps Ethernet over an isolated VLAN with two clients and a file server. On a single computer, Bryce 5.0 rendered the file in 12 minutes, but using a second networked computer cut the render time to 7 minutes, 4 seconds. Of course, we consider Bryce a hobbyist's choice--for example, for illustrating a personal book or creating robot models--so we doubt most users have this type of networking power available.

Sketchy greenery; slick new lighting controls
Bryce 5.0's other major improvements include a new Tree Lab (yes, you can finally plant trees in your landscapes) and a Light Lab for controlling lighting direction, tinting, and intensity.

While the Tree Lab seems exciting at first (finally, landscapes that don't look like scenes from a foreign planet), the thrill doesn't last. Bryce 5.0 takes an insanely long time to render each tree. If you're thinking of creating animated forest flybys, be ready to render for days, if not weeks. You can tweak branch length, trunk, and foliage type, but with mediocre results. For one thing, the wireframe reference tree model, which should offer a look at your final tree, is so awkward and hard to see that it's hardly worth including. Furthermore, once you've finished tweaking a tree, you can view the final result only in a tiny preview pane at the top left of the screen or by rendering individual sections (which takes forever, of course).

The new Light Lab, on the other hand, is a compelling addition that lets you apply all sorts of effects to the lights in your scene. You can alter a light's intensity, soften its edges, adjust its color, and, coolest of all, create your own custom gels, which can lead to some pretty imaginative results. The lighting controls are logically organized and intuitive to use. Be warned, though: the lighting effects use lots of processor resources. Our 500MHz PC took 2 hours, 41 minutes to render a tree with light shining on one side.

Metaballs only a minor draw
While previous versions of Bryce let you model practically any shape imaginable, version 5.0 includes built-in support for metaballs, a feature that lets you create organic shapes that don't have incredibly high, processor-intensive polygon counts. Unfortunately, when you're working with the metaballs, you can see the effect only in the tiny preview window in the upper-left side of your screen, so it's almost impossible to see the final effect. The only way to view an image at a reasonable size is to render it--an incredibly time-consuming process.

Overall, Bryce 5.0 includes a few promising additions but not nearly enough to warrant the $159 upgrade price. Plus, it's so snail-paced, you'll spend more time rendering scenes than actually creating them. Save your money and wait for the next release. We're hoping for a better Tree Lab, a lower price, faster performance, plus a ton of new textures and free wireframe models.

The Light Lab lets you adjust a light's intensity, edge softness, shadow, and color, and you can apply your own funky gels to them as well. We created our own gel, then cast it on this tree for a funky, multicolored result.

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