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Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12

This working editor is impressed with the color correction tool’s NLE offerings.

By Brady Betzel

If you’re looking for a nonlinear editor alternative to Adobe Premiere, Apple FCP X or Avid Media Composer you must check out Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 12 Studio. The best part about the continuing evolution of Resolve is that Blackmagic has been adding NLE functionality to its color correction software, instead of building an editor from the ground up.

In terms of editing systems, Avid Media Composer has been in my life from the very first day I started working in television. At school we edited on Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere, but once I hit the big time it was all Media Composer all the time. Now, of course, that is changing with Adobe Premiere Pro projects popping up more and more.

Many of today’s editors want to work on an NLE offering the latest and greatest features, such as resolution independence, wide codec support, occasional VFX integration and the all-mighty color correction. So that leaves us with Adobe, Avid and the newest player to the NLE game, Blackmagic and its Resolve product.

Resolve's multicam capabilities.

Resolve’s multicam capabilities.

Adobe realizes how important color is to an editor’s workflow and has added color correction inside of Premiere by incorporating Lumetri Color. In fact, Adobe’s After Effects also features Lumetri Color. But even with these new additions some are still wanting more. This is where Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12 is making its move into the nonlinear editing world.

Inside Resolve 12
With Version 12, Blackmagic has reinvented its internal NLE environment to catch the eye of any editor looking to make a change from their current editing system. In this review I’m looking at Resolve 12 from an editor’s perspective, not a colorist’s. Some NLEs say you can stay inside of their environment from offline to online, but oftentimes that’s not the case.

I think you will really like what Blackmagic is doing in Resolve 12 Studio — you will also like their visual effects and compositing app Fusion, which recently released its Version 8 public beta.

Blackmagic offers two versions of Resolve: Resolve Studio and Resolve. They also offer the DaVinci Resolve Advanced Panel, which retails for $29,995. Resolve Studio sells for $995, while plain Resolve is free, and you get a lot of horsepower for free. If $30K is too pricey for your budget, remember that a lot of high-end colorists use the Tangent Element coloring panels — they retail for under $3,500. (You can check out my review of the Tangent Element panels here.) Color panels will change the way you look at color correcting. Coloring by mouse or tablet compared to panels is like playing baseball with one arm tied behind your back.

The Resolve Panel

The differences between Resolve Studio and Resolve is Studio’s realtime noise reduction and motion blur parameters using CUDA and OpenGL GPUs and stereoscopic 3D grading. The free version has mastering limitations; very limited GPU and Red Rocket support; lack of collaborative teamwork-based features; lack of remote grading; limitation of proxy generation to the UHD frame size; limit of project frame sizes to UHD; and a lack in ability to render the Sony XAVC codec. But keep in mind that even the free Resolve will support the Tangent Element panel if you have it.

Powering It Up
Technically, you should have a pretty beefy workstation at your disposal to run Resolve, especially if you want to take advantage of the enhanced GPU processing and realtime playback of high-resolution sources. One common debate question is, “Do I transcode to a mezzanine format or stay native?” Personally, I like to transcode to a mezzanine format like DNxHD or ProRes, however with systems becoming the powerhouses they are today that need is slowly dying. Even though Resolve can chew through different native codecs such as AVCHD it will definitely be to your advantage to find a common intraframe codec such as ProRes 4444, Cineform or DNxHD/HR as opposed to an interframe codec such as XDCAM, which is very processor-intensive and can slow your system down during edit.

A very thorough explanation can be found over at Sareesh Sudhakaran’s website: http://wolfcrow.com/blog/intra-frame-vs-inter-frame-compression. The minimum requirements for Resolve on a Mac are OS X 10.10.3 Yosemite and 16GB of system memory, although 8GB is the minimum supported. For a Windows system you need Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit with SP1 with 16GB of system memory, although 8GB is the minimum supported as well.

In addition, you will need up-to-date drivers from your GPU, and if I was you a high-end GPU (or two or three) with as much memory as possible. Many people report a couple prosumer Nvidia 980 Ti cards to be a great value if you aren’t able to jump up to the Quadro family of GPUs. In addition AMD and Intel GPUs are supported.

Let’s be real, you should either have a sweet X99 system with as much RAM as you can afford or something on the level of an HP z840 or recent Mac Pro to run smoothly. You will also want an SSD boot drive and a RAID (SSD if possible) to get the most out of your editing and color experience with minimal lag, especially when adding Power Windows, motion blur and grain.

The Interface
My immediate reaction to Resolve’s updated interface is that it looks and feels like an amalgamation of FCP X and Adobe Premiere CC 2015. If you like the way Adobe separates out their assembly, color and NLE interfaces then you will be right at home with Resolve’s Media, Edit, Color, and Deliver keys. In the timeline you will see a similar look to FCP X with rounded corners and an otherwise intriguing graphical user interface. I’m not going to lie, it felt a little shiny at first but coming from Media Composer almost every NLE interface will feel shiny and new. So the questions is: will it perform on the same level as a tried and true behemoth like Avid’s Media Composer?

Testing the NLE
There are a few key functions that I test on every NLE I jump into: trimming, multicam editing and media management. For the most part, every NLE can insert edit, assemble edit and replace an edit, but most can’t replicate Avid’s trimming and media management functionality.

Jumping into trim mode there are your standard ripple, overwrite, slip and slide trims. You can perform that multitrack asymmetric trim to pull time between those huge acts and even one type of trim that I really wish Avid would steal — the ability to trim durations of multiple clips simultaneously. The best way I can describe this is when you are building credits and you need to shorten them all by one frame. Typically, you could go in card by card and remove one frame from each card until you are done. In Resolve 12, you can trim multiple clips at the same time and in the same direction, i.e. trim one frame from every credit in a sequence simultaneously. It’s really a remarkable addition to a trim workflow, not to mention a time saver.

Second on my checklist for running an NLE is its ability to work smoothly with multiple camera angles in a grouped set of footage, sometimes referred to as groups. One of my personal pet peeves with Media Composer is the inability to change a group after it has been created (and by pet peeve I mean bane of my existence when I was assistant editor and a 12-hour group was off by one or two frames… but I digress.)

Luckily, Blackmagic has given us a solution inside of Resolve. After a group has been created, you can step “inside” of that group, add angles, add a final mix and even change sync. All of these changes ripple through the edits; it’s very impressive. My two favorite features in Resolve’s new multi group abilities are mixing frame rates within a group and auto syncing of audio and video based on waveforms. If you’ve ever needed Red Giant’s PluralEyes because there was no jam sync timecode on footage you received, then you will feel right at home inside of Resolve’s auto sync. Plus you can adjust the group after it’s been created! I love this… a lot.

Media management

Last on my list is media management. I have pretty high expectations when it comes to media management because I was an assistant editor for a little over four years working on Media Composer, and for the most part that system’s media management works rock solid — if you need to vent about how I am wrong you can tweet me @allbetzroff) — especially when used in conjunction with an Avid Shared Storage product like the Unity or ISIS. What I realize is that while Avid’s way of media organization is a little bit antiquated, it is reliable.

So what I’ve really started to embrace within the last year is metadata and I now recognize just how valuable it is with NLEs like FCP X and now Resolve. Metadata is only valuable, however, if someone actually enters it and enters it correctly.

If in Resolve you have properly kept your metadata game extremely up to date you can quickly and efficiently organize your media using Smart Bins. Smart Bins are incredible if they are set up properly; you can apply certain metadata filtering criteria to different bins such as interview shots, or have shots from a particular date to automatically populate. This is a huge time saver for assistant editors and editors without assistant editors; another feature I really love.

I couldn’t cover everything within Resolve in this space, but believe me when I tell you that the features not covered are just as great as the ones I have covered. In addition to the newly updated audio engine under the hood, there is a command to decompose a nested timeline in place — think of a nested sequence that you want to revisit but you don’t have to find the original and recut it into the sequence — one click and magically your nested sequence is un-nested. There is also compatibility with Open VFX, such as GenArts Sapphire and Boris FX BCC Continuum Complete. There is remote rendering and grading, plus many, many more features. One of my favorite resources is the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12 manual written by Alexis Van Hurkman (@Hurkman on Twitter), who also wrote Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema, a phenomenal book on color correction techniques widely regarded as the manual for color correction.

Summing Up
In the end I can’t begin to touch on the power of Resolve 12 in this relatively small review; it’s constantly being updated! The latest 12.2 update includes compatibility with plug-ins like New Blue Titler from Media Composer via an AAF! I didn’t even get a chance to mention Resolve’s integration of Bezier curve adjustments to transitions and keyframe-able movements.

If you are looking for an upgrade in your color correction experience, you need to download the free version immediately. If you’re an editor and have never taken Resolve for a test drive, now is the time. With features like greatly improved dynamic trimming to the extremely useful and easy to set up Smart Bins to the new 3D tracker and foreground color matching, Resolve is quickly overtaking the color and NLE market in one solid and useful package.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously, he was editing The Real World at Bunim-Murray Productions. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.

 

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