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The Specular Render Element is an image that stores specular reflection (basically put, highlight) information calculated from the material's reflection value in the scene. Specular reflection is defined as the reflection of light from a surface in a single particular reflection, as opposed to a diffuse reflection which is reflected at many angles.

The brighter the area, the more highlight reflection the object exhibits in the render. Specular highlights will be colored if the Reflection Color parameter of a material is colored.

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Since V-Ray Next Update 1, some of the render elements are rendered differently than before. The Lighting render element now contains all direct diffuse illumination and the GI element contains all indirect diffuse illumination. Similarly, all direct reflections of lights now go to the Specular element and all indirect reflections go to the Reflection element.

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Previously this behavior depended on the sampling of the lights and not just on the type of the contribution. Some of the direct contributions that should be in the Lighting and Specular elements were written to the GI and Reflection elements instead. In both cases they compose back to Beauty correctly but the different types of contributions are now split between the elements more consistently.

This change makes the elements more consistent but it's also needed for preventing artifacts in these elements with the adaptive dome light (and possibly in the future with other adaptive lights).

The raw elements are affected only when the corresponding normal and filter elements are available, otherwise they're rendered as before. This is because the raw elements have to be derived internally from the corresponding normal elements in order to work with the consistent elements (f.e. VRayRawGlobalIllumination = VRayGlobalIllumination / DiffuseFilter).

There's an option to enable or disable the new behavior in the Global Switches rollout under the V-Ray tab in the Render Setup window. The consistent elements are automatically enabled when the scene contains an adaptive dome light so they don't have artifacts. They are also enabled by default for new scenes. For V-Ray GPU they are always enabled without an option to disable them.