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DaVinci Resolve 14 Review: Pro Tools Add High-End Flair to Your Videos

If you're an aspiring auteur, the free version of DaVinci Resolve 14 has all the creative tools you need to enhance editing options ― but make sure your system is up to the task.

Our Verdict

If you're an aspiring auteur, the free version of DaVinci Resolve 14 has all the creative tools you need to enhance editing options ― but make sure your system is up to the task.

For

  • Advanced features like multicam editing and pro audio
  • Supports up to Ultra-HD video
  • Node system provides for editing experimentation
  • Precise control over color correction and grading

Against

  • Overwhelmingly complex for novices
  • No 360-degree editing
  • No 4K support for free version

The free version of DaVinci Resolve transports you outside the strictly consumer realm of video editors with a powerful set of pro tools, providing vast resources for editing, color correction and grading, and audio recording and mixing. Although it presents a steep learning curve for novices, it's a good bargain for those looking for a more sophisticated video editor.

Interface

Upon launching DaVinci Resolve, the first thing you’ll notice is that there's a lot going on. But like the equally high-energy CyberLink PowerDirector, all components look familiar and orderly, making the interface fairly intuitive upon closer inspection. Someone just getting into editing might find the setup a bit intimidating, but anyone familiar with video editing will find DaVinci's interface and layout recognizable.

The Edit tab is a hectic compendium of editing functions.

The Edit tab is a hectic compendium of editing functions.

DaVinci offers five main functional sections: Media, Edit, Cover, Fairlight, and Deliver, which are accessible as tabs at the bottom of the main window. You'll spend most of your time in the Edit tab. The Media tab functions like an asset manager, holding and letting you preview all your clips, images and music files, similar to Corel VideoStudio or VideoPad. The editor lets you access all of your hard drives, as Apple’s iMovie does, so you can grab assets from anywhere. The app is filled with contextual menus, buttons and pop-up menus that offer a huge, and somewhat overwhelming, variety of functions.

Without a glance at the DaVinci Resolve manual, I was able to do some basic edits of my clip by accessing controls with a right-click on the video window.

A handy timeline view control gives you options to adjust the size and layout of video and audio waveforms and track heights.

The Media tab holds all video, audio, and images.

The Media tab holds all video, audio, and images.

In the main Edit workspace, a large video viewer is centered in the upper middle of the window surrounded by a toolbox and transitions, inspector, a timeline on the bottom, and a sound mixer to the lower right, which you can hide. A workspace pull-down menu offers a variety of ways to adjust the interface to serve your project. Then, just drag-and-drop a video onto the timeline and you’re in business. Without a glance at the manual, I was able to do some basic edits of my clip by accessing controls with a right click on the video window.

The app's main toolbox provides video and audio transitions, titles, generators, filters and audio effects. Clicking on each selection reveals the built-in library.

Color utilities let you grade and observe color in from different perspectives.

Color utilities let you grade and observe color in from different perspectives.

Major features

DaVinci Resolve is a deep program with tons of features, so I'll just concentrate on the most useful and popular ones.

Multicam editing: DaVinci's multicam editing tools involve a three-part process. First, you create multicam clips from the individual camera angles and place them into a timeline. After that, enable the Multicam Viewer, and you're ready to cut and switch among angles.

The multicam viewer is an easy-to-use utility that lets you set up multiple shots.

The multicam viewer is an easy-to-use utility that lets you set up multiple shots.

Fairlight audio: This is a professional feature designed as an end-to-end workflow for audio post-production. It features sound editing, recording and ADR (dialogue replacement), sweetening and mixing, and sound effects. Even if you're not an audio pro, you can tweak sound levels directly in the edit interface, which works fine for most casual productions.

Fairlight Audio interface provides professional sound mixing capabilities for more skillful users.

Fairlight Audio interface provides professional sound mixing capabilities for more skillful users.

Color grading: DaVinci Resolve began life as a professional color-grading tool — a step beyond mere color correction that lets you set a particular visual tone or feel for a movie. Now, the color tool is integrated into a larger app and accessible via the Color tab. DaVinci uses Nodes, a container-like system to apply color corrections. Nodes are easily accessible so that you can experiment with, save and compare color schemes to decide which ones you want to use on your video. Nodes act like layers in that you can enable or disable them to observe different looks. The program also offers numerous built-in special effects and transitions and a new stabilizer.

Color wheels, nodes, and a host of controls let you fine-tune the look of your video. You can add, enable and disable any nodes you create.

Color wheels, nodes, and a host of controls let you fine-tune the look of your video. You can add, enable and disable any nodes you create.

Performance

DaVinci is really built for systems that have more horsepower than the integrated GPU on my laptop offered. So the following timed tests would likely improve greatly with a more powerful machine.


DaVinci Resolve
HitFilm Express 2017
VSDC
VideoPad
Shotcut
iMovie
30 fps
8:02
5:00
3:20
5:05
2:13
2:15
60 fps
15:16
4:45
4:52
7:32
3:14
4:14

I tested DaVinci Resolve (as well as the other video-editing suites) on an HP Spectre x360 laptop running Windows 10 Home. Its 64-bit Intel Core i5 processor with a 5200U CPU runs at 2.2 GHz on an HD Graphics 5500 system with 8GB of RAM.

I combined five clips into a 2.5-minute video shot at 60 frames per second (fps) and rendered the projects to MPEG 4 at 720p. I timed rendering at 60 fps and 30 fps. Encoding on Windows was exceedingly slow — 15:16 minutes for 60 fps with the optimum settings.At 30 fps, it took 8:02 to render a 2.5-minute clip. By comparison, Shotcut took about a quarter of the time (2:13) as well as iMovie (2:15), which I tested on a mid-2013 MacBook Air.

I encountered other performance issues as well. DaVinci tended to lag on opening, sometimes taking as long as 20 seconds to launch, though for the most part controls were responsive once the program got started. While the interface controls were snappy in the edit and audio modules, the program sometimes stalled during rendering.

Even if you're not an audio pro, you can tweak sound levels directly in the edit interface.

Unlike most video programs, DaVinci doesn't let you adjust the output frame rate after your project has been set up — you have to specify the frame rate before you get started. Most consumers will use whatever the native frame rate is, so that may not be a big deal, but the slow rendering speeds are a larger issue most likely caused by my consumer-level laptops just not being powerful enough.

Versions

DaVinci Resolve 14 comes in two versions: The free program, and the studio version for $299. The free program contains all  the features of the paid studio version, but, as with VideoPad and HitFilm, certain tools (such as team collaboration and noise reduction) will not work until you fork over the cash. Happily, most of the features hobbyists and enthusiasts use most often are available free.

DaVinci Resolve shows all tools, but some are reserved only for the paid version.

DaVinci Resolve shows all tools, but some are reserved only for the paid version.

DaVinci Resolve has its roots in professional color grading, but has built a full-featured editing tool around that specialty. The free version works with resolutions up to UHD and 60fps (the paid version has 4K) and lets you access powerful tools such as Fairlight, a sophisticated but easy-to-use audio mixer, alongside its mighty color-correction tool.

Sharing

DaVinci Resolve has a fully featured delivery tab with preset render settings for YouTube, Vimeo, Final Cut Pro and Premiere XML. It can output to a dozen or so popular formats and an abundance of codecs, resolutions, and frame rates. Separate tabs let you fine-tune output audio and file specifications. You can keep adding to the render queue and, like HitFilm, render in sequence. Also like HitFilm, the app does not connect directly with social media, but will render according to specific social media-friendly specifications.

Numerous export presets for YouTube, Vimeo, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere and others let you send everything to the Export queue.

Numerous export presets for YouTube, Vimeo, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere and others let you send everything to the Export queue.

Bottom Line

DaVinci Resolve is a powerful, free video editor, but its numerous and daunting pro-level controls will prove overwhelming to newcomers who are looking to edit a simple video of a picnic or party. HitFilm Express 2017 is the more accessible choice for most aspiring and novice moviemakers, despite its advanced film editing, audio mixing and color features. However, if you're ready to get more creative with your videos and have enough computer horsepower, DaVinci Resolve has a lot to offer for visionary amateurs who want to do more than just preserve memories of casual family gatherings.

Credit: Jackie Dove/Tom's Guide