The last time I wrote about Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve was almost two years ago. Since then, the world of editing software, as well as pro video hardware, has evolved at a dizzying pace.
In the latest version, DaVinci Resolve 16, the company has expanded the program with hundreds of cutting-edge features and refinements to existing features.
DaVinci Resolve Studio 16: Free Or Studio Version?
Before diving into the features, though, I wanted to point out that there are two versions of DaVinci Resolve available—the free version and the Studio version, which costs $299. And while there are differences between the two, the great thing about the free version of DaVinci Resolve is that it’s a remarkably capable editing tool that hasn’t been “dumbed down” or oversimplified.
You can download the free version.
But for those who want the top-of-the-line version, here are some of the features and tools Blackmagic Design added:
- Support for 4K-, 8K- and higher-resolution projects, at frame rates up to 120 frames per second.
- Blackmagic Design’s new Neural Engine AI technology is used to power the software’s facial recognition feature, which automatically sorts and organizes clips into bins based on people in the shot. I tried this feature out on a couple of projects and found it alone makes the upgrade worthwhile in time savings.
- The new Neural Engine AI also lets users apply speed warp retiming, automatic color balancing and automatic color matching.
- Additional tools include film grain tools, advanced noise reduction, blur and mist effects, HDR grading, 10-bit H.264 support, 3D-immersive audio, stereoscopic-3D support, multi-user collaboration, motion blur effects, dozens of ResolveFX and FairlightFX plugins and many additional features.
Blackmagic Design’s website also has a comprehensive comparison page of the two versions.
Exploring DaVinci Resolve’s Video Editing Pages
Overall, the software’s interface is organized into various workspaces, which Blackmagic Design calls Pages. These include the Media page, Cut page, Edit page, Fusion page, Color page and Fairlight page. Although both versions offer a deep editing suite of tools for many tasks, including media management, quick cutting, full-featured editing, color correction and grading, 3D and composting, and sound mixing, I’ll focus on mainly its editing capabilities—in the Media, Cut and Edit pages. Plus, I’ll touch on some of the improvements to color correction, compositing and sound-mixing functions.
The media page is the primary interface for importing and organizing your media and timelines (even timelines from other applications). And while testing it, I found it can perform even the most complex media import tasks.
To provide flexibility, DaVinci Resolve keeps source media used by a project separate from your timelines, which means you can easily update and manage the clips used on timelines. It also lets you import and reorganize new media clips, switch between offline and online media, and troubleshoot problems you might run into.
One of the main sections on the Media page is the Media Storage browser, which is divided into two sections: the Volume List and the Media Browser. The Volume List shows all of the volumes connected to your computer, allowing you to easily browse them for media that you want to preview and import into your project.
One handy feature I especially liked in the Media Storage browser was what Blackmagic Design calls “scrubbable clip view” (which is similar to Apple’s Final Cut Pro X’s “clip skimming”): It allows you to scrub or skim through a clip’s contents quickly by simply hovering your mouse over the clip and scrubbing through it by moving the mouse left or right.
Viewing Options: In the Media Storage browser, you can view clips as scrubbable thumbnails or switch to a list view to fit more clips and clip info into the same space. It’s also pretty easy to configure other parts of this browser. In order to prioritize what information you want to view, you can choose items from a pull-down menu. Or arrange or resize the columns into the order and width you want by dragging and dropping the columns or dragging their borders to the size you want. Sort any column in ascending or descending order, too.
Viewer: The clips you select in any area of the media page show their contents in the Viewer. The current position of the play head is shown in the time code field at the upper right-hand corner of the Viewer. There are also simple transport controls that appear underneath the jog bar, which let you move through the clip quickly: Jump to First Frame, Play Backward, Stop, Play Forward and Jump to Last Frame.
Media Pool: The Media Pool section, which is your central media control center for all of the pages in DaVinci Resolve, contains all of the media that you import into the current project, as well as all of the timelines you create.
It also contains all media that’s automatically imported along with Projects, Timelines or Compositions that have been imported into DaVinci Resolve.
On the Media page, there is enough room given to the Media Pool to make it an ideal place to organize the clips in your project. I was impressed that the Media Pool is also mirrored in the Cut, Edit, Fusion, Color and Fairlight pages, as well. That means you always have access to all of your clips in a central location as you build timelines in the Edit page, composites in the Fusion page, grades in the Color page, and sound design in the Fairlight page.
Audio Meters: I’m very audio-focused since I used to own an audio post facility. In DaVinci Resolve, an audio meter to the right of the Viewer shows you a graphical representation of the audio levels playing in the current clip or in the timeline as you play through the Viewer. The audio meters are animated vertical bars that are tinted to indicate how loud the levels. The colored indicators represent:
- Green, for safe audio levels.
- Yellow, for levels that are peaking at approximately safe levels.
- Red, for levels that may be peaking too high, risking clipping the signal and causing distortion.
DaVinci Resolve’s Cut page is a focused environment for fast editing. It does share some panels and control with the Edit page, but the controls on the Cut page are designed for speed. It’s particularly useful in situations where you need to quickly cut a news segment, build an episode of web content, edit a straightforward program, experiment with multiple arrangements of a scene, or put together a first assembly edit.
The Cut page is also a good introductory editing interface for people who are new to editing, since it presents a streamlined set of tools that are fast to learn and simple to use.
Because I’ve been a Final Cut Pro (FCP) X user, I can see the resemblance between Resolve’s Cut page and FCP X’s interface and functionality. That’s good news for DaVinci Resolve since FCP X is a fast app to learn how to use.
However, although the Cut page is for quick edits, it doesn’t mean it has to remain a cookie-cutter interface. There are several ways to customize the Cut page, including using the Projects Settings Quick Menu, which allows you to access project settings or create or open existing custom project presets.
Understanding DaVinci Resolve’s “Gaps:” One intriguing feature that I discovered on DaVinci Resolve’s Cut page is that Blackmagic Design had engineered something that it refers to as “Gaps,” a feature that functions similarly to FCP X’s magnetic timeline.
Here’s how it works: In DaVinci Resolve, because Track 1 is meant to hold the principal clips for your program, the timeline automatically rearranges itself to close gaps that would otherwise result when you move or rearrange clips in Track 1. Superimposed clips in Tracks 2 and above will then move to keep in sync with the clips they’re superimposed over.
However, this behavior works just on Track 1. If you move superimposed clips on Tracks 2 and above to place them wherever you want, the gaps will be left between multiple clips on the same superimposed track, so they can be edited at specific places.
The Edit page in DaVinci Resolve is where I spent the majority of my time working with the program. My overall impression of the Edit page is that it felt remarkably like working in the timeline in both Adobe Premiere CC and AVID Media Composer, and quite different from working on FCP X’s trackless magnetic timeline.
I also found that the Edit page has evolved into a source-record style Nonlinear Editor (or NLE) and, to me, a source-record interface really only has one way to function: You have three main working areas—the browser on the left and the source and timeline viewers at the top center and right of the page, with the timeline taking up the bottom half of the interface.
I’ve worked using both source-record style and magnetic timeline style for years and now, jumping back to DaVinci Resolve’s timeline, I was struck that it felt a bit slower to quickly cut together material in comparison to FCP X, while it feels almost identical to the speed I would experience in Media Composer or Premiere.
On the other hand, DaVinci Resolve 16 now gives you a choice if you want a simplified magnetic timeline such as Gaps on the Cut page or a traditional source-record interface on the Edit page.
In comparison to the DaVinci Resolve Cut page or FCP X’s magnetic timeline, DaVinci Resolve’s Edit page seems to let the editor decide exactly where and how a clip in the timeline will merge with the media that surrounds it. In contrast, I had to “fool” Apple’s FCP X interface into letting me do what I wanted. (However, I may have been able to find out, but I’d need to take extra time to figure out how to do it the “magnetic timeline” way.)
What’s nice is Blackmagic Design has built in both a traditional timeline into the main Edit page and an FCP X-style magnetic timeline on the Cut page. That means the editor can choose the best method for each project. That’s very impressive, and it makes DaVinci Resolve the only editing tool that gives the user a choice about the approach they want to use. None of the major video editors allow the user to do that.
Additionally, let me also say that if you have experience editing in AVID Media Composer, Adobe Premiere or Apple’s discontinued Final Cut Pro Studio, you will be very at home in the Edit page of DaVinci Resolve.
Lastly, let me highlight a few special functions I discovered on DaVinci Resolve’s Edit page that set it apart from other video editors:
- Superimpose Audio Waveforms in Viewer: By selecting Show Full Clip/Zoomed Audio Waveform in the three-dot menu, you can make DaVinci Resolve display a superimposed audio waveform over the Source Viewer window.
Since you use the Source Viewer to mark your in and out points, being able to look at the dialogue waveform lets you quickly and easily make your cuts in between words and sentences.
- Rapid Color Coding Clips From The Timeline: DaVinci Resolve isn’t the only NLE to allow you to color code clips on the timeline, but I found the implementation and ease with which you can color-code your clips in the timeline convenient, easy and, most importantly, fast!
- Color Grades Are Associated With A Timecode Of A Source Clip: Within any given timeline, color grades are associated with the instance of the clip. Moreover, each clip in any single timeline can have multiple grades kept as independent “local” versions, easily switched between, and each instance of each clip in different timelines can as well. That means that as you alter the timeline, each clip’s grade moves along with it, making it extremely easy to move back and forth between editing and grading as your needs require.
By default, each timeline in a project has independent sets of grades using local versions; this is true even if your timelines are duplicates. That means each clip within every timeline has a completely independent grade.
- FX: DaVinci Resolve supports the use of third-party OpenFX filters, transitions and generators in the Edit page. Once you install these effects on your workstation, they appear in this section of the effects library, organized by type and group depending on the metadata within each effect.
In addition to third-party OpenFX, DaVinci Resolve includes dozens of ResolveFX plugins for use in Edit, Fusion and Color pages.
I’ve spent most of this review discussing the editing functions of DaVinci Resolve, but it’s important that we also at least give a mention to the other pages available in the program.
Fusion Page: The Fusion page is intended to be a feature-complete integration of Fusion, a powerful 2D- and 3D-compositing application with over 30 years of evolution serving the film and broadcast industry, creating effects that have been seen in countless films and television series. Fusion is a very capable, node-based compositing tool that could easily be covered in its own comprehensive review.
Color Page: Given the origin of DaVinci Resolve as a professional grading application, the Color page is a significant part of the overall DaVinci Resolve experience. The Color page features all of the controls available for manipulating color and contrast, reducing noise, creating secondary color corrections, building image effects of different kinds, adjusting clip geometry and making many other corrective and stylistic adjustments. It’s a node-based tool that has become an industry standard in color correction and grading and could easily support its own long and comprehensive review.
Fairlight Page: The Fairlight page is an optimized look at the audio tracks of your project, with an expanded mixer and custom monitoring controls that make it easy to evaluate and adjust the levels of your program in order to create a smooth and sophisticated sound mix to add the final polish to your project.
Is DaVinci Resolve Studio 16 For You?
Deciding which video editor to use or switch to has become more and more difficult these days, in part because apps are including so many more tools. But to figure out if DaVinci Resolve Studio 16 is right the right choice, you need to evaluate your workflow, and, more importantly, who you work and collaborate with.
If you are a solo editor who performs all functions on a given post project, DaVinci Resolve Studio is a strong contender. Unlike other platforms in the market, which require an expensive monthly subscription for life, DaVinci Resolve Studio is only $299 and doesn’t require a connection to the internet. Upgrades are free, and there are no monthly subscription fees.
This factor alone makes its value equation superb, in my mind.
Also, the toolset is very deep. For example, many colorists use and are comfortable with DaVinci Resolve for color grading and color correction.
However, realistically speaking, ProTools is still the tool of choice for audio postproduction professionals, and Adobe After Effects is still an immensely popular compositing and motion graphics tool that’s widely used. However, both Fusion and Fairlight are very capable tools that can definitely be well utilized, depending on who you are collaborating with for those functions and if those tasks are being handled in or out of house.
For me, the functionality of DaVinci Resolve Color and Fairlight are the main drivers in learning the program.
However, as an experienced editor, I feel that the more editing programs I am well versed in, the better. And for those looking just to try it, the free version of DaVinci Resolve is still a polished and capable tool. If you like it and continue using it, upgrading to the Studio version is well worth the $299.