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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DaVinci Resolve Lite First Look Review : Update 2.5

I've been using Color on and off for a couple of years. It's a solid tool that draws from other grading apps but yet is still a 1.0 app. It has its short comings like random failures to render clips in its que, even when it seems to process them. 

Colorista II in the NLE timeline has been a great help, but OGL just isn't up to powering a realtime video app, at least not on a mac. ATI GPU's do seem to do better than nVidia's with this plugin in the hardware I've had in my hands.
A month ago FCP X comes out, and color is killed off. FCP X's claims of having integrated color fall a bit flat. So what should you do ? How about a free grading app with 25 years of development behind it ? DaVinci Resolve.
UPDATE 2 : Jack Tunnicliffe of Java Post has shared some insights which I've added to the end of this review.
So here is the crash course review :
It works, and works well. Its got some NLE tools, I/O tools, and conform tools. Many trace their roots back to the old school days of offline / online editing on tape, EDL's from edit controllers or early NLE's like Avid and Media100. Resolve does have its quirks though, like you have to import your media into it, BEFORE you import your XML.. ideally. I found if you did that, import of FCP XML worked better.  I will say that Resolve did import Steve's FCP Project From Hell - a benchmark timeline that will make or break any FCP XML importer. It has in fact been used to test a few XML importers that are out there right now :). The TL is long, 90 minutes long, its complicated with 7 layers, and it has over 1200 camera source clips plus a few dozen QT VFX shots and filters on EVERY shot. If you can import this XML, you can import anything. Resolve, after one crash, took the project in and worked fine.
The UI is certainly different than color. Its curves are smaller, especially when color is in dual monitor display. This was a bit surprising to say the least. However, they also lacked Color's bad habit - that an adjustment in one part of the curve changes other sections past other points in the  curve. They also don't let  you drag the ends around the way other curves work. I'm not sure I'm thrilled with them, but thats how it is for now.
All the basic tools work, and work well. The track balls are easy to adjust with a tablet and I think are easier to work than color. It took very little effort to get some fast easy corrections and looks with the basic color wheels and Lift / Gamma / Gain adjustments. 
The power windows / masks  for seconderies worked better than color and had more options. Direct on screen controls where more comprehensive and smooth. The keyframes, or in DaVinci terminology "marked and dissolved" smoothly. I did find one wierd thing with softening that created a ring rather than a solid center that feathered out. Increasing the feather got rid of it, but it acted weird. NOTE : This appears to be related to my Quadro FX 4000 card as my MBP with nVidia 9600 worked ok. BlackMagic is looking into this.
For the most part, I sat down and just used Resolve without reading the manual. Some of that I'll attribute to just years of experience, but I think it also says the app is pretty  intuitive once you get past some of its oddly named features. If you have worked with smoke or flame, then you'll understand the UI and its media browsers ( aka library ) pretty easily. 
The Not So Good
Stiff hardware requirements.  Decklink claims in the included docs that the discontinued nVidia GT285 will provide the best level of performance for a single card on mac. Next best is the very pricey Quadro FX 4800, and last but not least the new Quadro FX 4000. Honestly I know the QFX4000 is a screaming performer that I've seen knock the 4800 flat. However, it seems that somewhere drivers or the app itself is just not optimized for this hardware. I've had some conflicting info since I originally wrote this, but the consensus has been from some users that the GT285 does outperform the QFX4000 by a small but noticeable margin. I think eventually with time the QFX4000 will hold its own here and the differences in performance may not be that big - Please note Jack's comments towards the end of this.
The story doesn't stop here though. The recommendation is that you should have 2 or more graphics cards. A modest card like the GT 120 to power the actual displays, and the more expensive GPU / graphics card to just be used with Resolve to render on. The mac ( PAID ) version will support 3 GPU's, Lite one GPU. With a PCIe expansion chassis you can run 2 QFX 4000's in that chassis for what should be insane performance. You can also run 1 Red Rocket card with the free mac version, 2 with the paid version. Thats a serious amount of hardware that really dwarf's the full version of Resolve's price, $995. However we are talking about the free version here. 
The only other serious downside I found was lack of 3rd party video I/O card support. Its not surprising that only Decklink cards work, but at NAB some one from BM had specifically told me they would be supporting other video I/O cards from other vendors. If you want video I/O with Resolve, add in a mid range Decklink card. I seriously hope that BM gets lots of noise that they need to support other vendor's I/O cards because not everyone is willing to chuck out their current video hardware just to run Resolve. If you are building a grading room this is probably acceptable, but if your room also edits, does graphics and mixes sound its less than an ideal solution. This is aggravated because Resolve doesn't support full screen preview to another computer monitor except for video scopes.
As I mentioned, Resolve lite imports FCP XML. Any NLE that exports FCP XML should be able to work with Resole, but in my tests XML from Premiere Pro CS5.5 didn't work. Hopefully this will get fixed shortly allowing FCP 7 users switching to Premiere Pro to be able to replace Color with Resolve.
Once you have clips inside of Resolve, you have a few options if the app fails to see clips correctly. You can change a clip's PAR if you need to via pop up menu. However there is a big problem here in that the list of PARS is not terribly specific. For example, you have "NTSC 16:9". So what does that mean now that we have new PARS and old ones ? is it 1.2 or 1.212121 ? There is also no DVCpro HD PAR setting. There are no custom PARS to deal with oddball weird clips you may get, or cheat when you need to. There is a cheat if you get stuck, manually fix a clip by scaling its X and Y separately in the PTVZ.
FPS's are indicated as 24, 25 and 30 amongst others. So is that really 24.000 or 23.976 ? The engineers at BM need to update Resolve for 2011 where these sorts of rounded numbers are in fact exact numbers. A user needs to know and be able to set these values exactly. I suspect Resolve is doing a little automagic work under the hood, but having proper exact values should be here.
Color's Geometry vs Resolve's PTVZ ( Pan Tilt ? Zoom )
Resolve has a separate screen called Format ( referenced as PTVZ  in other parts of the UI ) which is Color's geometry room. Color's geometry room is quick fast and clear. Resolve's equivalent could use some work. All the controls are there, but there is no onscreen control like Color's, or even Resolve's masking tools. Resolve has a Pan control which is in fact X movement, but has a control called Tilt. That sounds like some sort of Y axis rotation, right ? No thats actually Y position. These controls should be given more standard names.
There are separate controls to scale the H and W of and image, and labeled as such. Using these controls you could get around a missing or weird PAR as needed.  
There are some limitations in the free / Lite version -
Only 2 nodes in the comp window. Since one node is probably a base ( primary ) color corrector, you can only add one more on. Since much of what I do often only uses just one secondary plus primary in Color, this is probably livable. You can get some basic real work done here. Unlike color which has Primary, Secondaries and Master, everything that happens in this area in Resolve is a node. It doesn't have a fixed number of correctors, or a fixed render order. You can put a power mask onto the first CC node, then use the second node as a master if thats what works. This makes certain types of corrections easier, and if you need more then 7 secondaries ( Color llimitation ) you can keep adding until you get the job done.
No 3D support. Who cares, how many people are doing 3D anyway. If you are doing 3D, you can afford the paid version and appropriate hardware to make it work.
Limited to pure SD and HD res projects. 
No Noise Reduction on CUDA GPU
Limited to 1 GPU
No online / multistation collaboration
There are some other limitations, but these are probably the most note worthy. I The free version takes full advantage of the hardware you have. CLICK HERE for the complete details on the differences.
On A Laptop
I have a slightly older MBP Core 2 Duo with 8gig of ram and a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT 512 MB GPU. Resolve ran fine with 720p24. It was impressive to have this running. Overall it was quite workable. One problem is that while the controls like Lift / Gamma / Gain work with the track pad, they increment backwards from the slide direction, and are super sensitive. BM needs to fix this ASAP - change the scroll direction and reduce the sensitivity by 4X to make it more controlable.
The  interface really wants a 1920X1080 or 1200 res screen. Using it on a laptop with a smaller screen will cause the layout to get cut off. There is supposed to be a hack out there to make it run on smaller res screens. The other option if your laptop screen doesn't have enough pixels is to use a second monitor with suitable res.
My Conclusions
That said, the lite version is actually pretty full powered supporting even control surfaces. Its not limited in ways that make it useless for a lot of basic work. You can really do usefull work with it. Resolve Lite is a no brainer because who can argue with the price. Its got enough functionally in it that it might be all some people need. Adding a cheaper BM card for video I/O would be pretty easy for most folks, but I"ll say BM needs to open up this app to other hardware.  The lite version is all about trying to get you to upgrade to the paid version at some point. Its crack dealer marketing 101, too bad it looks like I have a new addiction !
Now some thoughts on Resolve from Jack Tunnicliffe of Java Post ( THANK YOU Jack ! )
I've been running Resolve since it came out last fall. I brought one of the old factory boys in to train me because I was immediately into a major series and I didn't want to go back to Color. I needed to learn Resolve fast.  I've now done several series, documentaries, commercials and am currently working on a feature shot Red anamorphic. Unfortunately I don't have time to write a review on Resolve as my back is to the wall with projects but I'll give you a few highlights.
Some editors down the hall loaded up Lite and I saw that it was a bit choked with only 2 nodes but really if you try it and like it, it's only $995 for the full version, right? I think they're selling it way too cheap because this is a killer app for doing color grading. You won't ever see me launch FCP Color again.
The Black Magic tech support is amazing and in the fall we even received over night builds to fix bugs so we didn't lose time on our schedule. Resolve is the most stable application I own even though it is one of the most complicated pieces of software. I don't recall a freeze or a crash in months. I really never worry about saving believe it or not. How many apps do you work in you can say that about.
Okay the GTX 285 is the best card for acceleration. I actually think this is a huge asset. I get real time playback of Red R3D files and 48K stereo audio while I'm grading with this card. It's a discontinued card so you can pick them up on eBay for around $350 or so. We bought two of them. We bought a Quadro 4000 card when they were released and discovered that they were actually slower with Davinci than the old GTX 285 and we paid a heck of a lot more for the 4000. I actually don't see any need to add a Red Rocket or go to a chassis with additional cards. HD is all real time and R3D's are real time. I'm used to limping along in all these other apps frame by frame, especially Apple Color which has never played real time and never supported audio.
I can render a half hour show where every shot has multiple grades, vignettes, etc in about 2x real time or about 12fps for R3D full rez premium. In other words I am sourcing full 4k and getting these render speeds with one $350 card. For HD the render times are about real time or better. Render speeds are very, very impressive.
Here are a few highlights that impress me about Resolve:
Best power windows (vignettes) in the business. These can be very soft, never any banding or artifacts.
Unbelievable 3D tracker. Shots track so fast that if you blink you'll miss it. This was born in their Revival product for repairing footage and they ported it into Resolve.
Add as many corrections to a layer. You could stack up 25 secondaries if you wanted and it still plays real time. Secondaries can be vignettes, colour corrections, keys, whatever. Different nodes allow for different work so you can loop around a node and feed back to source, for instance. An example would be removing all color from a shot and then bringing color back with a node at the end to and item, sourcing back to the original.
You can do color corrections on the entire track, not just on a shot, so if you want to warm an entire show or add a vignette to make it more film-like this can be added to a track that corrects all shots. This would be something like an adjustment layer in AE. The track can be keyframed.
There are two types of keyframing in DaVinci. One is to set marks which would be equivalent to a hold keyframe in AE where there is no change until you hit that frame. The other is a dynamic which is an ease in and ease out kind of keyframe. These can be applied to individual nodes and you can separate between color and between PTZR, a Davinci term for Pan, tilt, zoom and rotation.
I love the new color curves. That was the one thing I missed from my Color days. I loved using hue and saturation curves but now Davinci has incorporated this and they are much better than Color.
You can grab stills and compare color between shots in a flash. If you like a particular grade you can save it to the power grade room and add it to other shots, or you can use that grade in other projects.
Red R3D data can be edited on the fly. You can set it up for the project but you can go to individual clips and edit the raw data to set a different exposure, etc. This can all be done right on the thumbnail on the timeline in the color room while you work. Right click on a shot and edit.
You can save many, many versions of a shot. This is highly useful. I had a client recently who wanted to look at a scene in several different ways. I kept save grades for shots starting at default then grade 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. I don't know if there's a limit but you can just keep going.
Scopes are fantastic as you might imagine in an application like this. No little toys, these are really accurate scopes.
I loaded up 7 hours of dailies for a feature film in one project. All the footage was anamorphic so Davinci is doing the scaling on the fly. I wondered what would happen, well nothing happened. It just merrily played away with 7 hours of Red footage on one timeline. Try doing more than 20 minutes with FCP Color.
If you want to get serious about Davinci Resolve you need the big control panels. They are expensive but everything is on the surface with very little in menus beneath the surface. I splurged for these after a few months of navigating up and down through menus on a Wave controller. The Wave is an amazing device for the price, though and if you don't grade every day it would work for you.
Again I don't work for Black Magic. It was a decision I made to up our power for color correction and in looking back almost a year I can truly say it was a good decision. We have installed a second system and may be adding a third. Again their tech support is fantastic and they will help you through any problems.
I guess that was my review I didn't have time to write.
Jack Tunnicliffe
Java Post Production


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