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DaVinci Resolve 10 Reaches Further

Last NAB Show, Blackmagic Design caused a stir when it touted Resolve 10 as an online editor. Once the software was released, it became apparent to users that Resolve is still primarily a color corrector, though one with some editing functionality.

The metadata from camera raw files, including RED EPIC files, can be accessed and altered in Resolve.

Resolve 10 has been out for a number of months (including a lengthy public beta period) and has gone through several updates. Resolve 10 is a free update for owners of previous versions. With the depth of its toolset, no short review can do this program justice, but let’s take a quick look at what it has to offer.

DaVinci Resolve 10 comes in several versions for Mac and Windows, including Resolve Lite (free), Resolve Software ($995) and Resolve ($29,995). The last option includes the custom Resolve control surface. There are also Linux configurations. All versions of Resolve 10 support only Blackmagic video devices for I/O and monitoring, though these devices are not required for software operation.

Blackmagic offers the DaVinci Resolve control surface as the premium option for Resolve operation. At $29,995 (including Resolve software), the premium option is not cheap. Supported third-party panels include Tangent Devices Wave, Tangent Devices Element, JL Cooper Eclipse CX and Avid Artist Color. Resolve may also be controlled by mouse, trackpad and tablet.

Resolve timeline clips may be viewed in a Lightbox mode.

The free version of Resolve is likely the biggest software bang-for-the-buck in the industry, but you’ll need the paid version for blur and noise reduction, 3D stereoscopic work, support for more than two GPUs and output at sizes larger than Ultra HD.

New in Resolve 10

Since Resolve 10 was a pretty thorough overhaul of the Resolve 9 interface, you’ll find minor changes have been made throughout the application. Many functions are now more streamlined and logical.

The addition of editing functionality is the biggest enhancement. Most of the typical functions are there, including various edit modes, tracks, effects, titles, speed changes, transitions and audio. Although I really can’t envision starting any edit from scratch in Resolve 10, it’s easier than ever to make editorial changes when the client has last-minute adjustments in mind. The point is that this can now be achieved in the grading session, without having to go back into an edit bay.

Resolve 10’s new editing features include basic titling, transitions and generators.

Another significant enhancement is the integration of an effects architecture using the OpenFX plug-in format. Various developers are tweaking their OpenFX filters for compatibility with Resolve 10—already I’ve been able to test Rubber Monkey Software’s FilmConvert film emulation plug-in. Filters are applied to clips or a complete track as a node, so there are no third-party transition effects. However, since Resolve can render the timeline as a single file or as individual source clips, the rendered clips will also have the applied effects baked into the rendered media. The application of an OpenFX filter to a node will slow down render speeds.

Resolve 10 also gained the ability to create DCPs straight from the timeline for cinema masters. (Note that this workflow only preps the project settings; it doesn’t cover the licensing fees that you need for an actual DCP export.)

Nodes

Every color corrector takes a different approach to building up a series of color correction adjustments. Resolve uses nodes, which have become fairly sophisticated. Although it’s not a true compositor’s node tree, it does start to approach that level. Node types include serial, parallel, splitters, combiners and layer mixers. These options let a colorist not only string together a series of adjustments (serial nodes), but also split and recombine a signal, and create parallel node paths that are combined for a final output. The layer mixer node includes composite modes similar to those used in Adobe Photoshop. While a lot of Resolve demos go very deep into node trees that affect every aspect of a shot, I tend to take a simpler approach, sticking to curves and lift/gamma/gain controls. Nevertheless, if you need that power, it’s there in Resolve 10.

Strengths

HSL qualifiers can be used to isolate ranges. In this image the hair has been isolated in a node and blurred.

DaVinci Resolve 10—even Resolve 10 Lite, the free version—is amazingly versatile. For example, many editors and DITs use it to prep media for an edit. It’s exceptionally simple to apply LUTs to log-profile camera files and spit out edit-ready, adjusted source files. Resolve is one of the fastest renderers I’ve encountered and it handles cross-format conversions quite well. For example, it can render Avid-compliant MXF media, which is a relatively uncommon capability. The scaling function is second to none. Adobe After Effects used to be my preferred tool for upscaling images, but I’ve found that Resolve is even better. Not only is the quality great, but you have control over the smoothness or crispness of the scaled image.

You can’t talk about Resolve without mentioning the tracker. If you apply a Power Window to a portion of a shot (a person’s face, for example), you need to track the movement. The tracker in Resolve is a very fast point cloud-style tracker. These tracks are almost always dead-on, so you never think twice about using the tracker.

One of the things I especially like about Resolve is the image quality and processing. It uses 32-bit floating math. Essentially this means that you can crank up video in one node—even past the point of clipping—and then pull it back down (recovering detail without a clip) in the next node.

Weaknesses

Resolve’s new Full Screen Viewer

I work with a dual-display system. I found that you can’t place the Resolve viewer on the secondary monitor like you can with Adobe SpeedGrade CC or Apple Color. You can place the video scopes and the new audio mixer there, but the viewer is locked to the primary screen. If you use the enhanced viewer mode, it hides the node tree. This tends to make operation awkward if you don’t have a control surface or an external broadcast monitor.

The depth of Resolve’s color correction toolkit is amazing, but it’s almost too much. For example, Resolve offers both wheels and sliders for primary control. The option makes the software adaptable to different working styles, but it also makes it easy to lose track of which tool you used to make an adjustment.

Further, some options just don’t make sense. For instance, the maximum saturation level isn’t all that large. If you want a shot really dripping with chroma, it takes several serial nodes to accomplish it.

Splitter/combiner node trees may be added as a preset selection. This automatically separates the RGB channels so each can be independently manipulated as a separate node.

I use dual 20” screens, a setup that was supported in Resolve 9 but not quite in Resolve 10. With Resolve 10, the interface opens with the right edge running off the screen. You have to click the green “plus” button (one of the top three buttons in every Mac OS X window) to resize the window to fit the display.

Round-Trips with Your Editor

DaVinci Resolve 10 has the broadest support for round-trips of any color correction tool, translating XML (Apple Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere Pro), FCPXML (Final Cut Pro X), EDL and AAF (Avid) list formats. This is a bidirectional round-trip, so you can import sequences from your NLE into Resolve 10 and also export NLE-compatible lists that properly relink to the rendered media.

Layer mixer nodes enable Photoshop-style blend or composite modes.

When Final Cut Pro X version 10.1 was released, compatibility was broken, but that’s recently been fixed with the latest updates from each company. It’s not quite perfect, however. I tried two very simple sequences of a few shots each. One sequence used 1920 x 1080 ProRes HQ files from a Blackmagic Cinema Camera. The other used native camera raw files from a RED EPIC (various sizes and frame rates). Both sequences were cut in FCP X and the FCPXML from each imported without issue into Resolve 10.

Resolve 10’s new editing features include a source/record, NLE-style editing interface.

Going the other way, back into FCP X, did present some issues. Both of the new FCPXMLs that were imported into FCP X reported error messages, although the clips and sequences imported correctly. The 1920 x 1080 files from the BMCC were fine. The EPIC files, which had been resized in the original FCP X timeline, were all interpreted by FCP X as 1280 x 720, even though Resolve 10 had correctly rendered the media as 1920 x 1080. These same timelines imported fine into Premiere Pro using standard XMLs.

Final Thoughts

DaVinci Resolve 10 is currently the most popular color correction tool, largely because of the free version. It is powerful, though at times I feel that Resolve correction is a little harsher than other grading applications. The interface could stand to be even more streamlined. Nevertheless, I’ve done grades that required extensive correction that would have been impossible to achieve in any other color correction application.

It’s an essential tool that functions with the versatility of a Swiss Army knife. As such, you owe it to yourself to spend some time learning it. The manual, written by noted colorist and author Alexis Van Hurkman, is easy to follow. Training resources include online tutorials at Ripple Training, Tao of Color and Mixing Light. 

Product:Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 10
Score:

Pros: Advanced tracker, new editing tools, extensive color correction controls, versatile node-based grading.
Cons: Not optimized for dual displays, requires Blackmagic Design I/O hardware for broadcast monitoring.
Bottom Line: One of the best values of any software and an essential tool for color correction, file conversion and upscaling. Designed for the needs of DITs, editors and colorists.
MSRP: Software-only version available in a free Lite version and a $995 paid version.

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