So, I took a day off work to play with Daz Studio's new release with NVIDIA's Iray (you should have seen my boss's face when I told him why I wanted the day off...) Here are some thoughts about the BETA release.
Performance: For context, I'm testing on a single GTX 970 which I consider a fairly moderate card for GPU rendering. Performance with a single card is still very good. For results that are very similar to LuxRender, I'm turning out projects in 20% of the time (compared to render times for a CPU render on an i7-5960X clocked at 4.2 Ghz.) When compared against LuxRender's GPU rendering, speed is fairly 1:1 comparable.
Workflow: The single greatest benefit I've gotten from Iray is the ability to use an Iray render in the viewport. While you can, technically' use it for a real time viewport draw, I've found that anything beyond a simple scene (V4+backdrop) bogs viewport performance down too much to be of significant utility. Additionally, any change requires Iray to start redrawing from scratch. Materials work takes place 100% in the Daz Studio surfaces tab. Note: Loading the base Iray shader to any item is a near must for optimal results.
Quality: Render quality is superb, easily on par with LuxRender or Octane for final render quality.
Ease of Use: If you've been using DS for a while and are familiar with Reality or other external render tools, picking up Iray is fairly straight forward. That being said, Iray's feature set goes deep and there is no hand holding. You're going to be put face to face with more sliders and dials than you may be used to and it's going to take some time to get into the advanced bits. I found myself missing the slimmed down interface in Reality more than once as I drilled through several nested features.
Overall: Overall, I've been more than a little impressed. The workflow speed is stunning and I find that I'm able to make minor corrections to things frequently along the way because I notice the problems in the render very quickly. I really do miss the ease of tweaking lighting & camera settings during a render in LuxRender though. While the speed makes this less of a deal breaker, it would be nice if I could adjust and not lose progress as I continue to refine a project. I've also noticed that it seems to have a delay in loading scenes... some times a scene will take 2-3 minutes to load before it starts rendering, though I have yet to pin down a cause. It's not something I can reproduce 100% of the time.
Final thoughts: Does this mean people should rush out to buy NVIDIA GPUs and jump on the Iray bandwagon? Well, maybe. If you've been thinking about a new graphics card anyway, keep an eye on Daz who has said they're working on a way to offer up some discounted Nvidia hardware and if you see a good sale, of course, jump on it. (Hey, I'd love a Genesis 2 bundle or two with a GTX 980 purchase wouldn't you?) If you're already running on high end AMD hardware though, you might be better off holding out for the next LuxRender update that will bring more features into the GPU rendering side of things. (of course, Maxwell series GPUs do just fine in LuxRender, so if you did buy a new card and just used it on Lux, it wouldn't be wasted.)