DaVinci Resolve is one of those unusual pieces of video editing software: fully featured, extremely powerful, yet completely free.
There is some logic behind that decision: Blackmagic Design, the company behind the tool, sells a lot of hardware that complements this impressive free video editing software for professionals, so this business model must somehow subsidize the work done on Resolve.
There’s an even more powerful version called DaVinci Resolve Studio, which includes over 50 advanced features on top of what Resolve offers. It’s available for $295 for a perpetual license - which means that all future updates, no matter how major, will be free to you from then on. The video editor even packs in its own VFX software, Fusion - one of the best Adobe After Effects alternatives out there for designers.
Back when we tested DaVinci Resolve 17, we called it “an incredibly impressive piece of software. It may look overwhelming at first glance as it’s so full featured, but that’s because it contains pretty much everything you need to catalog, organize, edit, alter, and composite your video project, at a price that’s truly hard to beat.”
With DaVinci Resolve 18 now in beta and readying for launch, we’re taking a look at what’s new, what’s improved, and what to watch out for in DaVinci Resolve version 17.4.6.
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Resolve is huge, and is thankfully broken down into various ‘Pages’. There’s one to check your ‘Media’, another to prepare and ‘Cut’ your footage, yet another to ‘Edit’, although you can also do editing in ‘Cut’. ‘Fusion’ lets you assemble and apply effects to clips via a node-based interface (it’s more confusing and less straightforward than how other editors work with special effects, but it’s also immensely powerful). ‘Color’, is where your color grading takes place, ‘Fairlight’ is for intensive audio work and manipulation, and ‘Deliver’ focusses on exporting your finished product.
Despite not being a major leap in version numbers, this iteration of Resolve still packs a fair amount of improvements, from the subtle interface tweak, to the large under the hood performance enhancements.
We’ll be taking a look at some that caught our eye, while experimenting with a video editor we consider one of the best alternatives to Adobe Premiere Pro..
Improvements in the Edit
The Edit page is where you may well be spending most of your time. It’s Resolve’s section where you build your video, one clip at a time, and it’s received a lot of minor, yet highly useful tweaks which should be welcomed into most workflows.
For instance, it’s now possible to quickly mark a gap in your edit with in and out points using a simple keyboard shortcut. This then allows you to fill that gap extremely quickly with a selected clip from the Media Pool. Anything that shaves a few seconds of work is a benefit in our book.
When it comes to working with audio straight from the timeline, your options are pretty limited, but you were always able to alter the gain by dragging a clip’s volume line up or down. The downside of this was the difficulty in performing precise alterations. Until now. All you have to do now is hold the shift key as you drag to get more precise control over that clip’s volume.
If you work on a complex edit, it’s likely that you might have multiple timelines open at any one time. As before, they all appear as tabs which you can click on to switch from one to another, but now, you can make use of the customisable keyboard shortcut feature to set a shortcut to the ‘Next Tab’ and ‘Previous Tab’ commands. It’s odd that such shortcuts aren’t set by default though.
If you like to play with visual effects, the Fusion page is the place to be, although you’ll find many other areas are available to perform simpler changes. The Composite Mode menu in the Video tab is one such. Prior to this upgrade, you’d have to select a new mode to see what the effect looked like on your chosen clip, and the one underneath it. If you weren’t sure which one to go with, it would require many trips to this menu to select one, then choose a different one, and another, and another.
You know how much we love it when video editing software saves us time, and now, this tedious process is no longer necessary. Just mouse over the menu and the main preview section instantly shows you what the mode you’ve moused over will look like, removing tons of guesswork, and greatly speeding up the selection process. When improvements are so cool, you end up wondering how you managed without them before, and why it took so long for them to be implemented.
Details in the Cut
You’ll also find improvements elsewhere, such as in the Cut Page, which is where you get easy access to your transitions for instance. By default, Resolve, and so many other video editors, assume you want a transition between two clips to be placed right in the middle: half on one clip, half on the other.
Some allow you to place said transition fully on one of these clips instead, for instance, but Resolve now does one better: by holding down the Command or Control key (depending on the platform you use), you’re able to asymmetrically trim video or audio transitions, giving you precise control so the effect looks exactly as you want it to.
You’ll also find additional controls in the Text tool, which has seen many improvements, including support for combined glyphs, as well as finally right to left support.
Color and Fairlight
Perhaps the most interesting addition in ‘Color’ is ‘automatic color management’ in the form of the ‘DaVinci YRGB Color Managed’ option. With it enabled, your options are greatly pared back as Resolve automates a lot of the process for you, simplifying your workload.
And when it comes to audio editing work you’ll find multi-channel support for Linux systems, and support for VST3 plugins for Macs and Windows.
You’re also bound to notice manual plug in controls on each channel strip, allowing you to drag to reorder plugins, move them to another channel, or option-drag to duplicate them.
Time to Deliver
One thing worth noting when it’s time to export your work, is your ability to color-code markers, allowing you to specify which color is the one you’re using for chapter markers. This way, when you go to ‘Deliver’, you can set that color when saving the file as a QuickTime or MP4 format. This also works when sending the video straight to YouTube, saving you having to do it manually later yourself.
Under the hood
Let’s not forget all the under the hood improvements that have occurred. Like Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, Resolve is now fully compatible with Apple’s M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, and you’ll see significant performance improvements when working with those chips.
Blackmagic’s info claims an increase of up to 5-times faster, and those chips can handle up to 12 streams of 8K footage.
Decoding speeds of 12K Blackmagic RAW files are now 3 times faster, and the DaVinci neural engine performance is up to 4 times faster for real-time face detection, object detection, and smart reframing.
DaVinci Resolve is a tough app to beat. It’s incredibly powerful, it’s updated regularly, and to top it all, it’s free. It puts a lot of competing software to shame. The only downside is so much power leads to a complex interface.
But if you’re serious about video editing, this shouldn’t overwhelm you, and you’re perfectly capable of sticking to the Cut and Edit pages for instance, leaving the more difficult pages for a later time. They’ll still be there when you’re ready for them.
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