DaVinci Resolve – Review 2023 – PCMag Middle East
Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve is clearly professional-level video editing software: Many current blockbusters, Oscar winners, TV shows, and commercials make use of it. But it’s also a favorite among ambitious enthusiasts because of its capable free version. Learning this huge, complex, and supremely capable software does require an investment in time and effort, if not dollars. DaVinci Resolve combines video editing, motion graphics, color coding, and audio production in one tool, just as some consumer apps do. We found that the massive program delivers on all these points and adds innovative tools, but it takes some getting used to, as it doesn’t stick to typical video interface and workflow conventions.
The free download version of DaVinci Resolve is popular among YouTubers and gamers since it gives them a large subset of the program’s editing features without the pro-level capabilities they don’t need. In fact, it’s the most powerful free video editing option you can find. The free version is surprisingly robust, offering standard editing and cutting, effects, motion graphics, color correction, and audio editing.
Some of the more advanced capabilities like DaVinci Neural Engine, stereoscopic 3D tools, dozens of extra Resolve FX filters, and Fairlight FX audio plug-ins, plus advanced HDR grading and HDR scopes are missing in the free version, however. In testing, I occasionally got a message saying that I would need to pay to use a tool I was trying to use. That’s perfectly understandable—you still get a lot for free.
If you want all the premium features, you have to pay a one-time fee of $295. You can only get a full license through an authorized reseller, such as B&H Photo Video. That’s probably because Blackmagic sells optional custom keyboards and panels that work with the software—those run from the $295 Speed Editor keyboard to the $27,585 Advanced Panel. The company also makes pro cinema and studio cameras ranging from the $1,295 Pocket Cinema Camera 4K to the $6,385 URSA Mini Pro 12K.
The $295 price just barely beats that of the $299 Apple Final Cut Pro. The latter app requires you to buy the $49.99 Motion and the $49.99 Compressor ancillary apps to get parity in functionality, however. Premiere Pro is subscription-only and costs $20.99 per month with an annual commitment. If you do the math, that means that after a year and three months, you will have paid more for Premiere Pro than DaVinci Resolve.
DaVinci Resolve runs on not only macOS (10.14.6 Mojave and later) and Windows 10 (1703 and later), but also Linux, though only on CentOS 7.3 or later (a derivative of Red Hat Enterprise Linux). The program also requires at least 16GB RAM, and you need at least 32GB for Linux or if you want to use the Fusion motion graphics. It supports Apple Silicon CPUs natively for improved performance. The installer is a 3GB download, which is smaller than Premiere Pro’s 3.3GB, without the motion graphics and Media Encoder software. I tested the Windows version on a Core i7 PC with 16GB RAM.
After downloading the installer, you install the DaVinci Resolve program itself, but you can also optionally install its Control Panels, Raw Player, and Fairlight Audio program. The installation requires a system reboot, which isn’t common these days. For its size, DaVinci Resolve starts up reasonably quickly.
Before you get into the editing interface, you see the Project Manager window, which has hover-scrubbable thumbnails for each project you’re working on. Here you can open, import, or export an existing project, whether it’s on your local machine, a network, or in the Blackmagic cloud.
When you start a project, you see a bare-bones window with a single Untitled Project entry. There’s not a lot of the kind of assistance Adobe is adding to Premiere Pro, nor the amount of hand-holding you get in consumer-focused apps such as Movavi Video Editor Plus. There is exhaustive help documentation, however.
In place of what other software would call modes, DaVinci has seven pages: Color, Cut, Deliver, Edit, Fairlight (sound), Fusion, and Media. These pages are also represented by buttons along the bottom of the program window. The full-screen view is implemented well, which is important because with this complex interface, you’re going to need all the screen real estate you can get. You can choose Auto, 100%, 150%, and 200% UI scaling, a help for when you’re using a high-DPI display. For my QHD, the Auto setting produced perfectly readable scaling. Many apps trip on this resolution, only working well with HD or 4K screens.
The Media page is where you find and organize media, using color coding, bins, and metadata. You can also pre-trim source clips here using the I and O keyboard shortcuts.
Once in Editing mode (on either the Cut or Edit page), you see the familiar three-panel working interface, with the source panel at the top left, video preview at the top right, and timeline across the whole length of the bottom. Like Final Cut and Premiere Pro, DaVinci offers take selectors, compound clips, and nested timelines, so timelines can be very flexible (and complex). There are two timelines on the Cut page. The main one at the bottom shows image frame previews and audio waveforms, while the solid blue one at the top is useful for navigation. You can view source material in thumbnail, metadata, strip, or list views, but you can’t adjust the thumbnail size.
The Source panel buttons let you easily control what appears in the Source section: Media Pool, Sync Bin, Transitions, Titles, and Effects. A search box lets you find anything in the source panel—in this page as well as the others.
DaVinci lets you choose between a locked or free playhead. With the former, you drag the clip across while the playhead remains centered. The latter is more like what you see in other editors. With a free playhead, you move the playhead rather than the media. I couldn’t zoom the timeline with the prescribed Alt-Mouse wheel action in the Cut page. It did, however, work in the Edit page, and there are even buttons for Full Extent Zoom and Detail Zoom, as well as a custom zoom slider.
You get all the standard keyboard shortcuts: J for reverse, K for stop, L for forward, and Spacebar to stop and start playback. The Keyboard Customization panel lets you go to town with your own shortcuts, and you can even set the program to use Final Cut or Premiere Pro shortcuts. One very handy option when you’re in the Fusion page is to press Shift-Spacebar to call up a searchable list of all the tools you can use in your project.
Like Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve offers multiuser collaboration workflows, so that editors, colorists, and sound people can all work on the same timeline—even simultaneously. Use of proxy media makes this more efficient, and the software integrates with Frame.io, an online collaborative video editing platform that can sync projects.
When adding clips to the timeline in Cut mode, buttons let you choose among Smart Insert, Append, Ripple Overwrite, Close Up, Place on Top, and Source Overwrite (requires synced time codes in the clips). As you’d expect in a pro video editor, you can trim the source clips before adding them to the timeline. While you’re doing so, the preview window splits into two, showing your start and end frames, along with the frame number in a mini-timeline. You can set in and out markers on the timeline to tell the program where to insert a clip from the source. The program lets you do three- and four-point editing, in which you mark the in and out points on both the source and on the timeline to control the clip position.
For trimming, DaVinci selects the appropriate edit tool automatically depending on where the cursor is—roll edit, transition duration, slip and slide—though you can manually select the mode you want.
Pro video editors usually don’t use canned transitions found in consumer products. They either simply jump-cut or use a custom transition. That said, consumer products have started adding custom transition tools such as Pinnacle Studio’s Seamless transitions, which let you identify areas of the before and after clips to zoom, pan, and swoop to. In Resolve, you get to the transitions on either the Cut page, where there’s a clear button, or on the Edit page, where you find them in the Effects section’s Toolbox.
Resolve has one of the coolest transition interfaces I’ve seen. Simple monochrome shapes appear in the list, but hover over an entry, and your own clips in the timeline show how the transition will look in the viewer when applied. Not only that, some striking transitions are at your disposal in the Fusion Transitions section, including Camera Shake, Drop Warp, and Tunnel of Light.
Many transitions simply work when you drag them to the timeline. For others that need more clip content, the program can automatically overlap clips if you choose Add to Selected Edit Points and Clips from the context menu. Controls for any effects that you apply show up in the Inspector panel, which you can open from the top right button. You can control any effects for which they make sense with keyframes, which smoothly animate the effect’s position or intensity from the start keyframe to the end one.
DaVinci Resolve’s unique Fusion Studio editor uses a node-based editing workflow that’s beyond the ken of the average enthusiast-level video editor. It’s basically an input/output system, where you add effects and media along the flowchart and connect one node’s output to another node to its right. You can reuse effect groups or restrict them to selected parts of the image.
DaVinci Resolve is excellent at motion tracking, even allowing multiple tracks. To do it, you need to create nodes in Fusion. Suffice it to say that it’s a much more complicated process than it is in Corel VideoStudio or other similar consumer software. The program actually has multiple tracker tools, including Camera, Planar, and Point trackers. The last two take 3D space into account, moving with your tracked object on three axes. A new capability even lets you track a surface as it warps.
Smart Reframe is similar to tools that recently appeared in Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut. It can take a landscape scene and reframe it as a vertical smartphone-shaped canvas, automatically keeping the point of interest, say a person, in the frame. This tool is only available in the paid Studio version of DaVinci Resolve.
It took me a while to figure out how to apply a chroma key effect: You have to switch to Edit mode (even though you can see and apply the Effects in Cut mode and in the Inspector in that mode), and then switch the viewer window mode to Open FX Overlay view. You draw a box inside the color you want to key out, and eureka! This gets you a reasonable key that you can fine-tune, but just checking the Despill box did an amazing job of cleaning up the key in frizzy hair, which can be difficult for chroma-keying tools.
Picture-in-picture effects are easy to produce. Simply turn on the Transform or Crop tool below the preview player and resize and position to taste.
You can apply stabilization from a handy option in the Inspector. You have three mode choices, Perspective, Similarity, and Translation. Perspective is the standard version that takes into account motion on any axis. Similarity does the same except it can avoid image artifacts the first may introduce. Translation only stabilizes based on the X and Y axis (two-dimensional) motion. As with everything in Resolve, you get plenty of adjustments for stabilization, such as zoom, cropping ratio, and strength. The tool worked quickly compared with Final Cut and Premiere, and if you tweak enough, you can get optimal stabilization.
Multicam editing is another strength of DaVinci Resolve. You can sync by timecode or sound, and use as many angles as you want, though a 4-by-4 grid is the max the interface can show, which is a standard number for pro video editing software.
DaVinci Resolve sports all the color wheels and spectrometers you’d expect in a professional video editor. You can copy grades, use LUTs, and control edits with keyframes and Fusion nodes. Resolve uses AI for color matching, supports camera raw modes, and offers temporal and spatial noise reduction.
One of the coolest new things in version 18 is automatic object selection. Just scribble on an object or person (there are separate modes for them) to create a Magic Mask (paid license feature) that you can then use for tracking color edits so they’ll just apply to the selected area as it moves.
In DaVinci Resolve’s Effects Library, the Titles section includes basic lower third, scroll, and static text options. You can make them any size, position, rotation, color, and font you can think of, as well as apply drop shadow, stroke, and background color. Below those basics are the Fusion Titles, which include many more choices, many with animations (even 3D animations).
Resolve’s Fairlight audio editor supports up to 2,000 audio tracks. Without even opening Fairlight, you can easily lower volume using the line in the audio waveforms (in the timeline) or use a simple mixer control to the right of the timeline. All of today’s advanced acoustic effects are at your disposal—chorus, de-esser, de-hummer, echo, compressor, noise reduction—many even from the standard Edit page as well as on the Fairlight page. You can download a library of royalty-free stock audio from Blackmagic’s website for use in DaVinci.
New features include an automatic dialog leveler, Fairlight automation vector keyframing, and a new timeline grid to help you sync audio and video.
For all its massive complexity, DaVinci Resolve is overall fast and stable. When using the free version, I did run into a message telling me “Your GPU memory is full,” something that has never happened while testing video editing software before. I found that the proxy resolution was set to full resolution by default. Halving the resolution corrected the problem, though processing the proxies wasn’t immediate, with the preview going still for a while. The program automatically detects and uses the GPU to accelerate processing—sort of.
For the rendering speed test, I create a five-minute movie consisting of four clips of mixed types (some 1080p, some SD, some 4K) with a standard set of transitions and rendered it to 1080p30 MPEG-4 at 15Mbps, H.264 High Profile. I ran the test three times and took the geometric mean (which minimizes the effect of outliers). I tested on a PC running 64-bit Windows 10 Pro with a 3.4GHz Core i7 6700 CPU, 16GB RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 with 4GB GDDR5 RAM.
With the Native software encoder, rendering time was abysmal, at around 4 minutes, but when I switched the Encoder setting to Nvidia or Auto, that dropped to a category-leading 39 seconds.
When I added an 8K clip to the mix, the render time was 60 seconds. That ties Filmora‘s time of 60 seconds, and is a little faster than PowerDirector‘s 72 seconds.
Blackmagic is to be congratulated on its help document for DaVinci Resolve—it’s a PDF of over 4,000 pages! I appreciate the detailed instructions and information, but that size alone indicates the complexity of the application. If that’s not enough, a web search can find a wealth of online video tutorials from enthusiastic users. Just listing all of Resolve’s features would be longer than most PCMag articles, so if you want to learn DaVinci Resolve inside and out, you need to dig.
DaVinci Resolve is a super-powerful professional video editing application that offers a wealth of adjustments and effects. New users should expect a lengthy acclimation period, however, as its interface and methods differ from the general run of video editing software. Its system requirements are also more demanding than most competitors. The free version is not time-limited and offers enough tools to be useful for many amateurs. If you want to dig deep into pro video editing, you can hardly do better than DaVinci Resolve.
For enthusiasts, meanwhile, our Editors’ Choice winners include Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. Both of these have more in common with entry-level software, starting with much less of a learning curve than DaVinci Resolve.
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