In Depth: DaVinci Resolve Studio vs the Free Version (Updated)
DaVinci Resolve Studio vs Free Introduction
Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve has a paid Studio version and a free version, all available for Mac, Windows, or Linux. A common question we are asked is what you get with the Studio version and if it’s worth the investment. The free version is robust on its own and may be enough for many users. However, we are here to educate you on the Studio version, so we are not going to go over the free version in detail… just its limitations.
In brief, Resolve Studio comes with the Neural Engine, ResolveFX, and FairlightFX plugins, Stereoscopic 3D tools, HDR grading, blur and mist effects, multiuser collaboration, and more. The free version doesn’t come with these tools.
Make sure you check out everything that’s new in 18.5. See: Update: Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve & Fusion Studio 18.5
In this article, DaVinci Resolve Studio vs Free:
- GPU/Hardware Accelerated Encoding
- 4K Resolution Limit
- Expanded format support and HDR Delivery
- H.264 and H.265 Accelerated Decoding
- Video Noise Reduction
- The DaVinci Neural Engine
- Immersive 3D Audio
- Collaborative Teamwork
- Frame.io Integration
- Other Features in Studio Only
Updated 24 July 2023
The Price & The Lifetime License
Let’s start with the most obvious. The Lite version is free. DaVinci Resolve Studio currently sells for $295 for a lifetime license. Did we mention that it’s not a subscription?
The Lifetime License
Yes, DaVinci Resolve Studio comes with a Lifetime License. This means that you will never pay for any upgrades in the future. In other words, there is no monthly cloud licensing to worry about. There are no yearly fees to keep using the DaVinci Resolve Studio. Just make sure you’ve held on to your serial number to run it. Any older version of Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Studio can be updated to the current version for free. If you bought a license 5 years ago, you can still upgrade it! I had a license for Resolve Studio version 11 with a dongle, and because I still have the serial number, I could go to the Blackmagic website and download the current version.
How to update your older version of DaVinci Resolve Studio to the latest release
1. Go to the DaVinci Resolve page on Blackmagic Design’s website.
2. Scroll down to almost the bottom of the page until you come to the download buttons. Choose to download Resolve Studio, and choose your Operating System version.
3. The last step is to fill out their form with your serial number. You only need to do this if you have a new license and you’re registering it for the first time. If you are updating Resolve Studio, click Download Only in the lower right corner.
- You can run Resolve Studio on two computers with your license key.
- You will need the internet to get this to work.
- Not as easy to lose
- If you order from Blackmagic Design or any reseller besides Toolfarm, you will have to wait for the activation key to be shipped to you.
New licenses no longer receive dongles. I’ve always thought that people hated dongles but talking to a few users, it seems that people love the ease of moving the dongle from machine to machine as they need to, without fussing with deactivating and reactivating the software. If you have a dongle, you can run DaVinci Resolve Studio on one machine at a time. What’s cool is that you can use an old Mac USB dongle to run the current version of Resolve Studio on Windows. The dongle doesn’t require an internet connection to work, either.
Lost your Dongle?
Dongles have been phased out by Blackmagic Design, but apparently, you can get them on eBay and Amazon. Buyer beware, though. I’ve heard about fake dongles being sold online that don’t work, so I wouldn’t recommend getting one from someone you don’t know. The reason that BMD stopped creating dongles is because of the rash of fake dongles available.
According to Blackmagic Design, “The Resolve dongle is your license, and when that is lost, so is the access to the Studio version. You can contact your region’s support office and see what can be done for you as far as a possible replacement.”
Download Delivery from Toolfarm
Toolfarm is THE ONLY PLACE you can get download delivery. You can’t even get it straight from Blackmagic Design. To explain, a customer sent us this video about why this is a big deal.
What about the App Store version?
The version on Apple’s App Store is the same price as the one that you can buy at Toolfarm, but, believe it or not, it’s not the same. The App Store version has some limitations, other than only running on Mac. All over the forums, DaVinci Resolve users caution about buying from the App Store because of App Store restrictions. Here are some of the things you won’t get in the App Store version.
- First, it doesn’t support external cards running over Thunderbolt. 
- No H.264 accelerated encoding with hi-spec NVIDIA GPUs
- Some OFX plugins won’t work with this version that does work in the regular version of Studio.
- Another thing about the App Store version is that some plug-ins won’t run it. For example, Boris Continuum will all run in the Resolve Studio 15 and later, but it will not work with any version of DaVinci Resolve from the Mac App Store.
- No VR Toolset.
The Downloads for the Studio and the Free Version are NOT the Same…
It’s worth noting that when you download DaVinci Resolve, the Studio version and the free version are two completely different downloads. In other words, there is no option to download the free version and unlock the Studio features.
But, the Project Files ARE the Same.
The file structure IS the same between DaVinci Resolve Studio and the free version. In other words, you can borrow a Studio license dongle from a pal, render out the effects, or an 8K version that can be only done in the Studio version. Then, go back to the free version. Of course, the effects that you applied while using the Studio license won’t work with the free version so render them.
Resolve Studio Features that are NOT in the Free Version
Okay, let’s break it down. What are the differences in features?
GPU/Hardware Accelerated Encoding and Multiple GPUs
Most users find that the hardware acceleration is worth the upgrade price to Studio on its own! With Resolve Studio you can switch between the CPU and GPU, which is substantially faster.
In addition, the free version doesn’t support the use of multiple graphics cards, with the exception of the free version on a Mac Pro.
4K Resolution Limit & Frame Rates over 60fps
4K Ultra HD Resolution is the maximum resolution for export on the free version. You can still import, edit, grade, and more with larger resolutions in the free version. You just can’t export it. In addition, Studio can handle framerates over 60fps and includes advanced HDR delivery in Dolby Vision. Not only that, Studio can export HDR10+ formats and digital cinema packages (DCP) for theatrical distribution.
|Version||Maximum Resolution & Frame Rate|
|DaVinci Resolve 18.5 Free version||4K / 60fps|
|DaVinci Resolve Studio 18.5||32K / 120fps|
Expanded Format Support and HDR Delivery
The free version supports several 8-bit formats. With the Studio version of 18, you also get support for:
- AVCHD, AVC-Intra, and popular H.264 formats
- Advanced HDR delivery with Dolby Vision™, HDR10+ formats, DCP Encoding and Decoding
- Native SMPTE ST.2067 compliant Interoperable Master Format (IMF) Encoding and Decoding
- Encoding support for XDCAM, XAVC, P2 AVC Ultra, P2 AVC Intra, HEVC/H.265 Main, Main 10 profiles, and more.
Accelerated H.264 and H.265 Decoding
Most consumer-level cameras and phones use H.264 compression. Resolve Studio has decode options under Preferences. If you have an NVIDIA card, you’ll see that listed under the Decode Options. This decoding provides you with faster editing and smoother playback of H.264 and H.265 footage.
Note: Hardware acceleration is available in the free Mac version only, not the free Windows version. 
Video Noise Reduction and Motion Blur
In Resolve Studio, users have Noise Reduction under the Motion Effects panel. There are two types of denoise filtering: spatial and temporal. Spatial filtering analyzes the footage frame by frame, using the whole frame. Temporal filtering will use the frames before and after to average noise. Temporal filtering tends to give motion artifacts and should be used very lightly. Motion blur is also Studio only.
The DaVinci Neural Engine
The Neural Engine was introduced with Resolve Studio v16. It is completely cross-platform and it works with Artificial Intelligence, or AI, to add some powerful features. The main purpose of the Neural Engine is to minimize those time-consuming and repetitive tasks. Version 18 has loads of improvements in the Neural Engine features.
AI-based Resolve FX Relight for virtual lighting (New in Resolve Studio 18.5)
Kasia Jarco of Color Grading Insights gives you the lowdown on Relight, new in Resolve Studio 18.5.
Text-Based Editing/Audio Transcription (New in Resolve Studio 18.5)
Another new feature in 18.5 is explained by Casey Faris.
AI-based Audio Classification (New in Resolve Studio 18.5)
Jason Yadlovski talks about AI-Powered Audio Classification, which lets you automatically classify your audio and put it into smart bins. A HUGE time saver!
AI-based Voice Isolation Track FX
In Resolve Studio 18.1, Blackmagic added Voice Isolation, which uses AI to remove unwanted background sounds, like cars, birds, airplanes, background dialog, and anything else! Your dialog can be pristine with Voice isolation.
Face Detection is a facial recognition tool and is found only in Resolve Studio. You may think, wow, how Big Brother. But, the purpose of Face Detection is to help editors sort footage. It will look through your footage for faces, like Photos on Mac, and will put together footage into groups of the same face. Then, you put a name to the face.
Speed Warp is another feature that you’ll miss out on if you have the free version. “What Speed Warp does is have the Neural Engine look at the original clip, compare it to the optical flow re-timing, and identify the areas that risk looking rubbery,” Jason Druss, product specialist at Blackmagic Design said. “Once it senses those pixels, it can correct and eliminate the ones out of place, and only those pixels, to give you very smooth looking slow motion.”
Easily track and mask objects like people and animals in your footage, using the DaVinci Neural Engine, Studio version only. Check out the fantastic tutorial below to see how it works. With version 18.1, Blackmagic better integrated Magic Masking into the Fusion tab, allowing users to produce clean traveling mattes.
This feature is similar to the Content-Aware Fill in Adobe products, which I use all of the time in Photoshop. Premium Beat covers Object Removal in detail on their website: DaVinci Resolve’s New Object Removal Tool — Is It Any Good?
DaVinci Resolve Studio packs in a powerful punch with its lens correction feature. Tap into the game-changing power of advanced image analysis, correct spherical lens distortion, and aberrations, and achieve pro-level results that no ordinary editing tool could deliver!
The feature appears in the free version, however, there is a DaVinci Resolve Studio watermark over the video.
Superscale allows you to upscale your footage up to 4x the original size without losing quality. Jay Lippman explains how it works in the video below.
As of Resolve Studio 16, ResolveFX is now GPU accelerated. Studio-only effects include Analog Damage, Chromatic Adaptation, Chromatic Aberration, Stylize, and Pencil Sketch in DaVinci.
Immersive 3D Audio
DaVinci Resolve Studio 18 introduces an advanced world of sound engineering capabilities; from professional spatial formats up to 22.2, importing/exporting IAB and ADM files, along with native Dolby Atmos & MPEG-H import and rendering plus Auro 3D & SMPTE ST 2098 support! B-Chain audio monitoring combined with a powerful new 3D panner enables editors to visualize each sound object’s location in full three-dimensional space via the innovative 3D Spaceview™ feature – enabling you to create rich sonic scenes for even greater immersion.
Since Resolve v14, FairlightFX has been the professional-grade audio tool in DaVinci Resolve, after Blackmagic Design acquired Fairlight. The tools below are only available in the Studio version.
- Support for Object and Channel Based Immersive Formats
- B-Chain Support for Audio Monitoring
Learn more about FairlightFX
OpenFX, or OFX, is a standardized software interface between the host and plug-ins for visual effects, editing, compositing, and finishing. DaVinci Resolve includes several filters under OpenFX, but some of the filters are not included in the free version, including Lens Blur, Camera Blur, Lens Flare, and Film Grain. One particularly useful tool OFX tool is Face Refinement.
This plugin allows you to modify faces for beauty work.
Third-Party OpenFX Filters
OpenFX is now widely used for visual effects and video processing and is supported by numerous hosts such as Assimilate, Blackmagic Design, Digital Anarchy, NewBlue, RE:Vision Effects, and more.
Many third-party OpenFX plugins use features that are only available in the Studio version. In other words, they can’t be used in the free version. If you have them installed and use them in the free version, you may see a watermark.
Third-Party OFX Plugins for DaVinci Resolve:
- Boris Sapphire (subscription and perpetual licenses available)
- Boris Continuum (subscription and perpetual licenses available)
- Digital Anarchy Flicker Free
- NewBlue Transitions 5 Ultimate
- RE:Vision Effects ReelSmart Motion Blur Pro
- RE:Vision Effects Twixtor Pro
- Red Giant Universe
- and many more. See the full list of Resolve Studio-compatible OFX plugins.
If you’re working with a team in different parts of the world, Remote Grading allows users to sync two DaVinci Resolve systems in real-time. In the video below, Tom Parish is in Texas while Warren Eagles is in Brisbane, Australia. They show you how it works. If you’re wanting to do any remote grading, they go over the hidden “gotchas”. This video is a few years old so the prices they mention are completely out of date, but most of the content is still relevant.
In the Preferences, under the System Tab, go to Internet Accounts. There you can sign in to your accounts on YouTube, Vimeo, and Frame.io.
Other things you won’t get with the free version
- No deinterlacing
- 3:2 Pulldown
- There is no HDR Dolby Vision
- Lens Correction
- 3D Stereoscopic Tools, including stereoscopic grading
I haven’t hit everything here but if you need these features, the $295 price tag for a lifetime license is entirely worth it.
Special Thanks + Training
I also want to give a shout-out to Patrick Imhofer and the DaVinci Resolve training on Lynda.com. The training was very helpful to me when writing this article. If you want to get up and running fast with DaVinci Resolve, I recommend checking out the training: Learning DaVinci Resolve 16.
For further learning, also look at the DaVinci Resolve Certified Training Program from Blackmagic Design.
- Learning DaVinci Resolve 16, by Patrick Imhofer. Lynda.com. December 2019.
- New Features Guide: DaVinci Resolve 16, Blackmagic Design.
- DaVinci Resolve Minimum System Requirements | A Reality Check, Richard Lackey.
- Blackmagic Design Puts AI Into DaVinci Resolve 16, Jay Ankeny, The Broadcast Bridge, 19 August 2019.
- Feature Comparison: DaVinci Resolve 15, Blackmagic Design.
Posted by Michele