Hello again readers,
It is once again that time of year, time for Autodesk’s annual release of its new software. I have spent the better part of a day evaluating the software, upgrading projects and using the UI to give you an unbiased review of the new version. Revit 2016 has many welcome cosmetic tweaks (such as the ability to change the background color of the workspace) and the ability to print to pdf (assuming you have a pdf writer already on your machine). The video below by Excitech summarizes the cosmetic changes to the Revit 2016 UI quite well. While some of these new features are welcome and useful, they all fall under the category of low hanging fruit (meaning quick fixes to implement on the part of the software development team) not requiring much time or effort. If this is all we got, I would say don’t bother and stick with 2015. Thankfully Autodesk did give its users a couple of really nice upgrade features to make 2016 really worth it.
I have to say I really like the string based search and select functionality (demonstrated at 3:45 in the video). When you add a component/wall/door/window instead of scrolling through the long list of objects already loaded into the model you can now type the first letter of the component and it will narrow the list of choices to the object you have in mind. That is a big time saver. Saving the thin lines setting in the project file is also a time saver, so you don’t have to re-enable that every time you open a project. The show constraints option is also a great feature. This is particularly helpful inside the family editor. Many times when you are creating constraints or parametric variables within a family you are never really sure how the constraints will effect the object you created. By being able to highlight which elements are constrained you can better diagnose odd outcomes.
However the best feature has to be the new rendering engine. Autodesk had been using NVIDIA’s Mental Ray engine to perform rendering functionality (and while this was considerably better then the original Accustudio engine used in Revit 2008 and earlier releases) it still was very slow taking an unacceptable amount of time to create high quality images. Mental Ray has always been limited by your computer’s video card’s capabilities. The new Autodesk Raytracer rendering engine changed to CPU based processing, rather then relying on the computer’s graphics card to create the rendered image. Moving the work to the CPU, makes the new engine super fast. Even at the HIGH rendering setting, rendering jobs were not taking more then 5 minutes, compared with the sometimes hours wait with the Mental Ray engine. The new engine really shines with interior lighting schemes. Many times I have found that the Mental Ray engine couldn’t complete a rendering job and would end up crashing Revit as the image maxed out the graphics processor’s memory. Take this photo below.
This 3D interior view has 16 artificial lights along with daylight. In the past I could not get my computer to successfully render this image. The new engine finished it on the High setting in 13 minutes at 150dpi with no difficulty.The new engine also has better sky background depiction and better material representation with better color saturation. Compare the 2 renderings below. The top image was created with Mental Ray while the image below it was created with the new engine. Both were set to BEST.
At the highest setting BEST, the new engine takes about the same time as Mental ray (maybe a little faster) but unlike Mental Ray you can see the results instantly instead of starring at a black screen waiting for the Mental Ray engine to complete its first pass over the image. So if you don’t like the look of a material in the rendering, you can cancel the rendering quickly instead of having to endure the hours of downtime waiting on the old engine to reveal even a fuzzy picture. Huge productivity gains are imaginable with this new engine.
Bugs & Surprises
In my day of using the product, I experienced no crashes/blue screens or other application faults, making 2016 a really solid release. My only complaint is that Sketchup import support seems to have ended with Sketchup 8.0. Any Sketchup models created in the Trimble owned versions of Sketchup (2013,2014,2015) will fail to import into Revit forcing you to save the Sketchup model down to version 8 before attempting to import those models into Revit. (Note: Sketchup import support for the current version of Sketchup is included in the version of Revit available to Autodesk Subscription customers only).
When you do import an object from another application, Revit now pins those object in the family editor, so you have to unpin it within Revit to move it around. It is a minor inconvenience, but I can also understand the logic of making this change. Pinned objects are much easier to track if you change the scale values on the imported item (there is a tendency for the imported object to shift in space as it gets larger or smaller. Pinning saves you the trouble of playing where’s waldo scrolling in and out blindly looking for the imported object in Revit space.
The only bug I encountered was the need to zoom into views within the family editor when creating a new family from any category. When you create a new family, the family editor defaults to the floor plan view as normal, with the pinned reference planes at the center of the screen, but when you select the front or right views you are taken off somewhere in space, loosing sight of the default reference planes, forcing you to execute a zoom extents command (ZE) to re-locate the default reference planes in the right and front views. The screen captures below illustrate this problem. This is an annoyance I hope gets fixed quickly with the first service pack of Revit 2016.
Batch File Upgrade Utility
Another surprise discovered in 2016 was the disappearance of the rfa upgrade batch files (used to upgrade families created in earlier versions of Revit). The batch files are no longer included among the installation files. Click this link to download an add-in for Revit that will perform the same family upgrade process even more efficiently. This applet works many times better then the old batch files. It works on project files, templates, as well as families. It is very fast, even though the installation is a little tricky. I created some basic Fileupgrader installation instructions to install the add-in on Revit 2016.
Items that really need to be addressed and continue to be ignored are the lousy railing editor which remains primitive and hard to use. The railing editor in its current state severely limits the complexity of crown moldings and trim that you can include in a 3D model. Having preview functionality in a new railing editor is really essential. If you can add or subtract a baluster in whatever location you choose you can better represent the final appearance of the railing in the to be built structure. The justify at center, end, or beginning is just insufficient; a more robust editor should be able to meet all of these requirements not just one. Allowing railings to act like walls that can be edited for situations such as door and window casings is also needed. Under the hashtag of dream requests, would be the ability to insert railings (trim) via schedule (a trim schedule) into rooms saving yourself the effort of having to create railings around the perimeter of each room.
The site/topography tools are another component in need of significant alteration and embellishment. There is a dire need for a gradable sweep tool to lay out level roadbeds for streets and sidewalks and a site-based railing to create fencing that follows the topography over grade changes. The absence of this basic functionality combined with Revit’s high price tag is what keeps Autodesk’s competitors in business.
While Revit 2016 has many new tweaks, the new rendering engine is what makes this release worth while. It will probably be several years before the Autodesk Raytracer is made robust enough to offer the same level of customization found on more sophisticated/expensive rendering products, but being able to create multiple high quality renderings in minutes (not hours or days) without exporting to a secondary product is a huge productivity selling point.