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July 2014
Issue: April 1, 2011

Review: Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve software

By: Jim Geduldick

PRODUCT: Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve software

WEBSITE: www.blackmagic-design.com

PRICE: $995

- Support for PCI Express expansion chassis, allowing for GPU acceleration via multiple graphics cards.

- Native file format support, including DPX, EXR, CIN, QuickTime, DNxHD, Arri RAW, Phantom Cine and Red R3D

Color grading has always been thought of as an extremely expensive cost to the line item of producers, directors and DPs, and with good reason. The days of being pampered in color suites with lattes, food and big comfy couches are still around, but the tools for the most part have changed and prices have come down to an unbelievable advantage to all in the film and broadcast industry. 

This is where Blackmagic had people awestruck last year at the announcement of a $995 software-only version of DaVinci Resolve for the Mac. Prior to this announcement, it could have cost in the hundreds of thousands for a full-blown Resolve Linux system. The cost of the software-only Resolve makes putting together a powerful system possible without busting the bank. 

THE DETAILS

For most of my tests I was running a 2010 Mac Pro 8-core, a Blackmagic Decklink Extreme 3D, a Tangent Wave panel, an Nvidia Quadro 4000 and an Nvidia GT 120. Resolve likes to offload handling of the GUI to the GT 120, leaving more of the heavy lifting effects to the Quadro 4000. Rounding out the equation for RAID was a G-Tech G-Speed Es Pro to handle Red, Arri and large sequences of DPX and EXR files. This may sound like a lot of gear, but you’re looking at a system for around $10K US, minus storage, that would have cost you over $200K a short time ago.

Resolve, as well as some other grading tools, usually deal with media management in a database or media pool structure. Here is something that may throw the typical FCP user off a little bit, but when you get a few projects under your belt you will come to appreciate the media management set-up. One thing I like about Resolve is within the different “pages” or “tabs” you have a lot of features that can be used to your advantage, whether you are using it purely for grading or as a conform tool. You can feed Resolve a standard EDL from your NLE or an AAF file and start out in your Color page using the powerful color correction tools. Resolve is a node-based tool — if you are new to node-based applications, you can use the analogy of a tree or river. All your media branches off from a main source (the media) and the nodes (your tools, such as keyers, trackers or color controls). The node structure of Resolve works in either serial or parallel nodes. Each structure has its advantages in certain grading workflows.

THE TOOL SET

Colorists will really like the automatic scene detection tools. Let’s say you’re given a full ProRes movie and an EDL, for example. You can use Resolve’s auto scene detection to split the movie up into reels to make it easier for the conform and grade.

I really beat up on Resolve’s tracker, which held up better than some other point-based tracker packages. The object tracker was smooth and fast, allowing me to track masks and selections without having to manually go back and fix keyframes.

The Resolve software has the tools that set it apart in both price and features, including stereoscopic support. You will need a supported Blackmagic video card, and at the time of this testing only the Decklink Extreme 3D was capable of giving me stereoscopic output. You can also use the Decklink card while in the Deck screen to ingest and output to traditional tape formats.

You have Pitch and Yaw controls that allow for offset corrections, where geometric anomalies may show up when working with images acquired from beam splitter rigs.

Because Resolve has a lot to offer, a word to the wise is to read the manual and the configuration guide, which gets updated often. This will ensure you are working with the up-to-date configurations for both hardware and software.

When it comes to choice of grading panels, you can use DaVinci’s own surface, which will set you back $29,995, but we aren’t talking anything less then sleek and fully optimized for Resolve. You can also use the Tangent Wave, which I have been using with Resolve — for the money it is a great panel. Blackmagic has said it will be supporting other panels as well as other third-party I/O devices, but as of this writing, support is not yet enabled.

When it comes to GPU technology, Nvidia has been my go-to option for my graphics cards, and this also happens to be the case with GPU acceleration within Resolve. You can use a PCIe expansion chassis, like the Cubix, allowing for multiple GPU cards in one chassis to allow for more realtime playback when stacking multiple correction nodes. Running the GT 120 and the Quadro 4000 make a great system for realtime playback for both ProRes and other formats with Resolve. Because the newer Quadro cards have the Fermi technology, they are close to 5x faster than previous cards.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Whether you are upgrading a color suite or looking to learn more about grading and trying out new solutions, Resolve has not only the price tag but the toolset and technology to make it a worthwhile investment. You can set up multiple seats for a fraction of the cost of what one seat of Resolve on Linux used to cost. The seasoned colorist will be right at home with the vast toolset, and for the new user, Resolve will enable you to explore and try out new ways to grade your pictures.