Thanks for all your replies.
I can't agree that 3D is not worth having. I find it essential for visualising my work. Nowadays few architects work exclusively in 2D. All my design work is 3D.
Top class CGI's can be very expensive but you have to have a very good reason for purchasing them, ie to sell £1m apartments in London.
Sketchup is a brilliant piece of 3D design software which can be learned by anyone with reasonable 3D understanding (ie nearly everyone). It has simple rendering with shadows but can't do soft light and reflections. For a lot of work a standard SketchUp image is perfectly fine and is more than adequate to help you visualise a space. I now produce CGI renders directly inside SketchUp and don't go to external rendering companies anymore.
If you still want photorealistic images you can source them from China at extremely good rates but still hundreds of £'s.
As Jeremy said, it's hard to beat a physical model for understanding spaces but you can't really compare finishes, materials and colours the way you can with 3D software and a rendering package.
If you are interested I can send you some of my design images which I create using SketchUp.
It would appear that high end 3D is the domain of the commercial. As for outsourcing to China, I heard it can be a bit of trouble trying to get them to understand what you want, but it's an option.
3D comes into its own when linked to sales buying off plan etc,
The best option is Sketchup models imported into a games engine this way you walk around the building and see what it feels like in real time.
This is what I have done on my designs.
Trimble now own Sketchup as well as other Bim software, It isnt too much to imagine the day when Sketchup will be linked to a bim solution.
Thanks for the recommendations. Seems like it's free, along with Sketchup. Perhaps I have a little go of this myself.
I also did a little digging around and found SU Podium which gives you photorealistic results with a single click. It costs around $198 which might not be expensive if you do this kind of thing regularly.
Funny you should mention that. I heard that companies from the US and the UK have tried to use 3D renderers from Vietnam and China, but aside from the communication problems, the quality was very low. Actually, I think it depends on who you manage to find.
They outsource to these companies outside of the West in order to try and save money, but it ends up costing them even more, apparently.
The image on your avatar looks pretty decent though.