Peter, good luck with NIK refunds. A couple more comments.
There has been a long standing debate about the pros and cons of feeding RAW files directly to HDR progams vs. converting those RAW files to TIF with a dedicated RAW converter and then feeding the resulting TIFs to the HDR program. I'm on the side of converting first and feeding converted TIFs to HDR programs.
All the HDR programs, like Photomatix and NIK, use a freeware called DCRAW to convert raw files. None of the HDR programs work directly on the original RAW data. The DCRAW program is a decent raw converter, but it does not compete well with others like LR/ACR. Most importantly, DCRAW, when imbedded in an HDR program, does not allow you to apply noise reduction, capture sharpening, white balance, lens corrections, CA removal, or camera profiles. Even if you set those adjustments using LR or ACR, they are ignored by DCRAW.
The "new" process using Photoshop+ACR does process raw files, and honors all those key settings. In fact, the Merge to HDR Pro function works best using RAW files, and works rather poorly using converted TIFs. However, it ignores all ACR tone controls - exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows, blacks, whites, etc. That makes sense because adjusting tones is what HDR is all about, so pre-adjusting tone is kind of counter productive.
I find the Photoshop+ACR approach to HDR greates good "natural" results. It's actually incapable of creating the bizzare, "over-the-top" results that come out of many HDR programs. The tonemapping controls in ACR, mostly Exposure, Highlights, and Shadows, simply won't go far enough to create garbage. However, after much experimenting I still find myself using HDR programs instead.
I use Oloneo, DynamicPhoto, and SNS. I still have Photomatix, but gave up on it long ago. Oloneo wins about 80% of the time. I feel DynamicPhoto does a slightly better job on cloudy skies, but at the same time DynamicPhoto tends to make mush out of midtones in trees, grass, bushes. OloNeo does not tame highlights as well as others, leaving some areas too hot. SNS is confusing. Sometimes it creates beautiful, superior results, sometimes not. But it's default settings are usually very close to perfect, requiring no further adjustment. SNS increases noise more than the others, including the potential for introducing a strange cross-hatch pattern in skies. But only when there is noise in the originals. If I apply good noise reduction both before and after SNS processing, results are OK. SNS is particularly good at tonemapping single exposures (as opposed to bracketed sets).