CAD viewmasters share 3d models31 May, 2003 By: Ron LaFon
The ability of viewers to interface via the Internet enables design groups to meet, mark up, and evaluate drawings simultaneously, from anywhere in the world, without incurring the cost of a CAD license for each user. No wonder viewers have proven incredibly popular among CAD users, who can also use them for more mundane but important tasks such as drawing management. For this review, Cadalyst Labs requested software to view 3D solid models and other file types, with the minimum requirement that the product view AutoCAD 2002-based DWG files on a stand-alone workstation.
Only vendors with new versions since our roundup last May were eligible for inclusion, so some familiar applications and vendors are missing. Cyco, for example, has not released any considerable new functionality for AutoManager View since we last reviewed it, though it updated its viewers and is adding AutoCAD 2004 DWG support.
Other companies released products too late for this roundup. Autodesk just announced VoloView 3, which works with DWF, AutoCAD 2004 DWG/DXF, and Autodesk Inventor 7 IDW, IPT, and IAM files. NavisWorks announced NavisWorks3 3D CAD viewer that offers interactive visualization and interference checking. It also introduced a free NavisWorks3 NWD viewer called Freedom.
The final shipping version of AutoCAD 2004 arrived on my doorstep during the course of this review. Viewer developers plan to add support for the new DWG format as soon as possible, most by the second or third quarter of this year.
Viewer functionality continues to grow. It's now even possible to view CAD drawings as you're walking from your car to a meeting-at least one software provider enables CAD viewing on some of the sophisticated multifunction phones that are currently available (see June 2003 issue, p. 12).
Some software vendors are switching from hardware locks to software-based locks. We encountered a few problems during the course of testing, but all problems were swiftly resolved.
As viewer software matures, we see a greater variety of supported file formats. Cimmetry's AutoVue SolidModel Professional now includes a number of leading EDA (electronic design automation) formats among its extensive file support. Most viewers have moved beyond the AutoCAD-only paradigm and provide functionality for most major CAD formats. It's also common for viewers to support a range of graphics file formats. See the feature table [PDF] below for details.
EVALUATION AND TESTS
I rated the viewers on functionality, price and performance, speed, and user interface. For the speed portion of the testing and evaluation, I used CAMPUS.DWG, a drawing that ships with AutoCAD 2002. I started timings when I selected Open from the file menu in each viewer and stopped the moment the drawing was completely loaded. I was unable to benchmark Informative Graphics Corp.'s ModelPress v2.0 because at the time of testing it didn't directly load DWG files-although we considered it "fast" at the functions for which it was designed. As we go to press, the company reports that it now reads DWG with SAT files.
It's impossible within the scope of this review to test every nuance of every feature in each viewer. Most vendors have time-limited versions of their products available so you can test the viewer for suitability under your specific operating conditions. Because accuracy and quality can vary so widely when viewing complex files in non-native viewers, it's best to personally test a viewer on your mission-critical data.