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Review: Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 14

Paul Schmutzler looks at Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve editing and color grading solution from the perspective of a longtime Premiere Pro editor.
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In this article and video we’ll take a look at Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve 14, which is currently available in beta. This article will be the first in a series on what it’s like to work with different NLEs when you've been using the same one for a long time. In my case, I’m coming from the perspective of a longtime Premiere Pro user. That’s pretty much all I use. I wanted to see if, by confining my work to a single editor, I was missing some great features that could improve my workflow.

I started the sample project you’ll see in the video and screenshots in this article by doing a very basic edit in Premiere Pro--some straight cuts, a couple of effects, a little grading, and some audio work. Then I exported an MP4 file for YouTube. The idea, then was to take a project I could easily execute in every application the same way and see how easy it was to do one over the other.

Let's dive into Resolve and explore the five pages that comprise their UI.

Page 1: Ingest and Project Organization

You can think of the first page as your pre-edit or ingest stage. On the secondary screen shown in Figure 1 (below), you can browse your files, browse your hard drive, wherever you're looking for your clips. Then you can pull them into here, which is your bin. I've got all these clips. I've got video clips. I've got audio clips and some still in here that I've used for this project.

Figure 1. Browse files and add them to your bin on this secondary screen from DaVinci. Click the image to see it at full size.

I’ve got my project files already set up. You can see in Figure 1 that DaVinci gives you the metadata you would expect to see: frame rate, size, number of audio channels, and so on.

On the screen shown in Figure 1, I have my bin. But it gives me a preview of the clip at the top. There are two views at the top and you can choose between them, whether it’s just a thumbnail view or the detail view, where you can see the metadata, but also get a great preview of the clip from start to finish. If you scrub your cursor over the clip it’ll show you a preview of those few frames that it's highlighting at the very top of the screen.

Down at the bottom left of the pre-edit (Page 1) screen, you’ll see some audio meters. The bottom right will come into play when we play back the timelines. On the right hand part of the screen there's a toolbox, which includes video and audio transitions and effects.

Page 2: Primary Edit Screen

The main edit screen (Figure 2, below) has what you would expect: a preview monitor for your source and a timeline viewer in the middle. The timeline consists of what you would expect: a video track and an audio track, with the ability to add or delete tracks as needed depending on how many levels your project requires. I kept mine to one of each just to keep it simple.

Figure 2. DaVinci’s primary edit screen. Click the image to see it at full size.

Transitions show up similarly to Premiere Pro in that they're overlaid on top of a clip. But the cool thing is when I select a clip or transition, it immediately brings it up in the inspector shown in Figure 3 (below). That's great because, typically in Premiere Pro, you have to double-click to get a clip to show up in the Source Monitor here. Then you have to click over to the eEfects panel to make changes to it. DaVinci’s approach is nice in that, even though I'm losing some screen real estate where I might want to see these images larger, I can single-click on something and immediately start adjusting its attributes. Then I can see the results immediately in the timeline viewer.

Figure 3. Adjusting a clip in the inspector. Click the image to see it at full size.

Another great thing is audio is easy to fade in and out, the most basic thing we do with audio. I can grab a little thing that looks like a marker and drag it to the side to affect how far out the audio clip fades (Figure 4, below). It's really easy to make that change without having to apply an effect or make a keyframe or something.

Figure 4. Fading audio. Click the image to see it at full size.

The other nice thing is the keyframes can easily be dropped down here (Figure 5, below) so that you can make changes on the fly very easily.

Figure 5. Make keyframes here. Click the image to see it at full size.

The actual process of making edits is pretty straightforward and intuitive: I and O for in and out points. There are keyboard shortcuts that are unique to resolve for inserting and overwriting clips (Figure 6, below).

Figure 6. Options in the edit pull-down, with Resolve’s unique keyboard shortcuts. Click the image to see it at full size.

As I play back video on my secondary screen, you'll see that there are some black lines highlighting different clips (Figure 7, below). Basically, this shows me, as the video plays, what is actually being used on that clip. It shows me the name of the clip and it shows the audio that's playing—in this case, my one and only audio track. That's the only one that's being highlighted and never moves. After you finish your edit, you can either go straight to the grading page or you can skip to the audio page.

Figure 7. Clips highlighted in playback. Click the image to see it at full size.

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In this latest installment of our series on alternative NLEs from the perspective of a Premiere Pro editor, we'll look at EditShare's Lightworks, an NLE as noteworthy for its unique hardware as for the software itself.