Software Review: POV-Ray

Overall Rating: 4.4/5

POV-Ray, the Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a raytracing tool used to create vector-based 3d graphics. I first learned of POV-Ray more than fifteen years ago, when I bought a 3.5” disk containing the program from a discount software catalog. At the time, I just wanted a program to create 3d graphics using my dad’s Windows 3.1 laptop. The program ran in DOS, and I never did figure out how to create my own graphics. Years later, I came across the program again while browsing the Internet. POV-Ray was now in version 3.5; much easier to learn and user-friendly than the old version I had on my disk. The program is now in version 3.6, and runs on several different platforms.

Compatibility: 4/5

As a raytracing program POV-Ray has its own proprietary format. There are various converters available to convert other 3d file formats to POV-Ray formats, but not many to go the other way. There is also a plug-in in the works for Blender which will allow Blender files to be rendered with POV-Ray 3.7. POV-Ray can also render to most major image formats using either the built-in renderer or a commercial renderer such as Rhino.

Cross-Platform Availability: 5/5

As an open-source program, POV-Ray has high cross-platform availability. There are versions available for Windows 32-bit, Windows 64-bit, Mac OS 9.2, Mac OS X, and x86 Linux. In addition, the source code for all these platforms is freely available for those wishing to create their own ports. One popular port for OS X is MegaPOV, which I’ve discovered generally works better than the official POV-Ray version.

Extensibility: 5/5

As an open-source program the POV-Ray source code is available for download, allowing anyone with the right knowledge to create their own versions of the program. There are also many support utilities and renderers available through links on the POV-Ray Web site, and the community and resource pages on contain links to several include, macro, and object files to make scene creation easier.

Support Quality: 5/5

The POV-Ray help files are very thorough and are available both locally and online. In addition, there is an extensive community of users available through newsgroups and forums. The site also maintains a wiki and FAQs list, as well as links to many Web sites and tutorials.

User-Friendliness: 3/5

The difficulty with POV-Ray still lies in its basic functionality. While it is no longer a DOS-based tool, POV-Ray is still a command-based graphic tool, not a GUI 3d editor. Use of the program requires knowledge of math and the patience to spend several hours writing lines of code. The code is not all that difficult once the user has learned the commands, but it can be tedious work. Fortunately, the help files offer quite a bit of assistance, and the community maintains a large library of includes and models for users to download. In addition, a couple of years ago Persistance of Vision Raytracer Pty. Ltd. acquired the rights to Moray, a Windows-based 3d modeller specifically designed for use with POV-Ray, providing users with a GUI interface with which to create POV-Ray scenes.

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