Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 16
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Resolve 16, a tool for all creators?

The explosion of user generated video content for websites like YouTube has led to the launch of several competing non-linear-editors (NLEs) aimed at consumers, which vary in terms of price, feature set and upgradability. So, how do you choose which one to use?

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One great option is DaVinci Resolve 16 from Blackmagic Design. The software is available for free from Blackmagic, but it's not the only low-cost entry in the NLE arena, so what makes it different, and why is it so attractive to users getting into video editing for the first time?

First, a little bit of history. Originally created by da Vinci Systems in 1985, the software was designed mainly for color grading and color correction and ran on hardware costing more than $150,000. It has evolved both in terms of features and pricing model since Blackmagic Design acquired it in 2009. The most recent version, Resolve 16, introduces a more streamlined and less complicated workflow for many users, particularly those new to using NLEs, to edit video.

First time users

Opening up the software for the first time can be rather intimidating for those who haven't used an NLE before. The sheer number of windows and buttons can be rather daunting. The only NLE I can think of which doesn’t introduce this sort of shock is iMovie, however that program has limitations for users who might want to move their work into the professional arena.

When opening Resolve you're initially greeted with a window that allows you to open an existing project or create a new one. Once you have a project open in the main interface, you'll see a row of workspaces for various parts of your edit along the bottom of the window. Blackmagic calls them 'pages'. These are termed Media, Cut, Edit, Fusion, Color and Deliver, and are arranged left to right in order to assist with the workflow. You can jump between pages at any point.

The newly introduced Cut page allows a more simplified workflow.

Is it complicated?

The introduction of the new Cut page in Resolve 16 has simplified some of the traditional workflow that was visually complicated. The inclusion of a page with fewer options will attract a number of new users. It’s very easy to quickly add shots to the timeline and trim them without having to invoke the more complicated Edit page, which can be a little complicated.

The quick export option allows access to some render presets without the need for the Deliver page.

That's not to say that you have to use the Cut page since at any time you can jump between any of the pages. This might seem confusing at first, but it's done in a way that allows you to use the more complicated features when you're ready. When you start out, for example, you may find that you don’t need to use the Fusion page (for VFX work) or Fairlight page (for audio), but inevitably you will probably want to use some of the features these pages offer as your skills and requirements change. The other great thing about the Cut page is that a number of common functions can also be accessed there. For example, there’s no need to go into the Deliver page to render files as you can export your edit within the Cut page.

One thing you don't get is any sort of guided workflow. Some basic previous knowledge is assumed, but there are plenty of excellent online tutorial videos available on YouTube from channels like learncolorgrading and JayAreTV.

The Fairlight page enables fine tuning of your audio with features like EQ and dynamics filters.

As with any new version of software , the launch of Resolve 16 brings a lot of added features and improvements. For example, with previous versions it was easy to start editing only to realize later that the key settings – resolution and frame rate – had not been set correctly. In the past this could mean that you had to start again for optimal results. This is no longer a problem with Resolve 16 as a new timeline can be created with the correct settings without the need to create a new project.

How much?

I mentioned this selling point in a previous paragraph, but what exactly is the cost of Resolve 16?...$0. Yes, that’s correct, you can download and use Resolve 16 for free. No time limited trial, no logo burn in and no limitation to the length of your final output.

Yes, that’s correct, you can download and use Resolve 16 for free.

The free version of DaVinci Resolve does have some limitations, although a lot of these may not be important for those just starting out or even the more advanced user. Some key limitations are that the free version doesn’t offer HDR support or timelines with a resolution greater than UHD 4K. You're also limited to using a single GPU, and I've found that the rendering speeds with the studio version are appreciably quicker. This is because you can select native Cuda acceleration in the Deliver page if you have an Nvidia graphics card.

There are other limitations as well which are detailed here, although the linked table should only be used as a guideline since, at the time of writing, it hasn’t been updated to Resolve 16 yet.

The Deliver page enables multiple exports for different platforms.

Will it work with my hardware?

There are, of course, some minimum hardware requirements for Resolve but these are quite reasonable. (It would be great to get a definitive requirements list from Black Magic Design, but that doesn’t seem to be available.)

To give you an idea of what’s possible, I previously ran version 14 on a 2012 Macbook Pro and, although a little slow, it did work. My current setup uses an AMD Ryzen 1700x with 32GB of RAM, along with an Nvidia GTX 1070Ti, and it works well for me. That’s not to say things wouldn't be much quicker with better hardware but that’s a nice thing to have rather than a necessity.

One of the many upgrade options: the dedicated Resolve 16 keyboard, which includes a real jog shuttle wheel.

What's the catch?

So why does Blackmagic offer such a full featured video editor for nothing? Well, they're hoping that you like the free version of Resolve so much that you want to buy into their ecosystem. The upgrade path to Resolve Studio costs $299, but Blackmagic also sells a number of related hardware products that will assist you in your editing. These range from a dedicated editor keyboard at $995 to a control grading surface at $1025, and even a full production suite which retails at a staggering $30,805. This might seem like overkill for people just starting out, but you should know that Resolve is also used in professional post production facilities world-wide. There are options for all budgets.

The next question is which version should you get, the free version or Studio? There’s no penalty in trying the free version and then upgrading later if you need features in the Studio version. Why upgrade? For me it meant faster renders, and time is money. I also considered some of the additional VFX filters that are included for $299 and it made sense for me.

You can also upgrade the Studio version without cost to the next version. I went from 15 Studio to 16 Studio without paying any extra. Traditionally, this has been a selling point of Resolve.

Resolve 16 offers comprehensive color grading tools, including power windows

Help, I’m stuck

In addition to YouTube there’s a very active user community via the Blackmagic forums where developers and industry professionals with hundreds of years of combined experience can help you out. There are always more features that could be included, and as the number of users of Resolve has expanded so have the feature requests. Blackmagic is listening, hence the introduction of the Cut page and the ability to create timelines in the same project that have different frame rates and resolutions.

There’s also the recently published Beginner's Guide to Using Resolve 16, but at 444 pages it may take some time to get through.

Is it for you?

The short answer is, it depends. I'd say give it a go, after all it costs nothing to try it. If you find it difficult to use then try watching some of the videos linked above. I find myself watching some of them when new features are introduced or if I need to look at a function that I've never used.

There are many functions you may never use, but it's great to know they're available if you ever need them. If you're not limited by the software, you can develop your skill set as and when required.

What we like

  • Free version works for most users
  • Modest hardware requirements
  • Available for Windows, Mac and Linux
  • Excellent support resources, especially via YouTube
  • Reasonable upgrade cost if you require additional functions ($299)

What we don't like

  • Can appear intimidating to new users
  • Lacks some support documentation