In Depth: DaVinci Resolve Studio vs the Free Version
In this article:
- GPU/Hardware Accelerated Encoding
- 4K Resolution Limit
- H.264 and H.265 Accelerated Decoding
- Video Noise Reduction
- The DaVinci Neural Engine
- Collaborative Teamwork
- Frame.io Integration
- Other Features in Studio Only
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 maybe 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 it’s limitations.
In brief, Resolve Studio 16 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.
At the time of this article is published, the current version is 16.2.2. Blackmagic had a nice breakdown for the differences between the free and Studio versions for Resolve 15, but nothing for v16. That’s what we’re trying to do doing here.
The Price & The Lifetime License
Let’s start with the most obvious. The Lite version is free. DaVinci Resolve Studio currently sells for $299 for a lifetime license. Did we mention that it’s not a subscription?
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 and dongle 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.
To update your older version of DaVinci Resolve Studio:
- Go to the DaVinci Resolve page on Blackmagic Design’s website.
- Scroll down to almost the bottom of the page until you come to the download buttons. Choose to download Resolve Studio.
- Then, choose your operating system.
- The last step is to fill out their form with your serial number. Once you do this, you can download and run the software on your computer.
Ways to Purchase Resolve Studio
You have some options when you buy DaVinci Resolve 16:
- 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.
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.
I have a Davinci Resolve 11 USB dongle here that I’ve updated to version 16 Studio.
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, 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 do work in the regular version of Studio.
- Another thing about the App Store version is that some plug-ins won’t run it in. For example, Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks, Film and Cosmo II will all run in the Resolve Studio 14 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 Free Version are NOT the Same…
It’s worth noting that when you download DaVinci Resolve, the Studio version and free version are two completely different downloads. In other words, there is not an 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. UHD is 3840px by 2160px. 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.
H.264 and H.265 Accelerated 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 released with Resolve 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.
Face Detection is a facial recognition tool and is found only in Resolve 16 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.”
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?
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.
ResolveFX is now GPU accelerated. Studio only effects include Analog Damage, Chromatic Adaptation, Chromatic Aberration, Stylize, and Pencil Sketch in DaVinci.
Since Resolve v14, FairlightFX has been the professional-grade audio tools 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
- Update: Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 16.2 – New Fairlight Audio Features
- News: Blackmagic Design adds Fairlight Audio Tools to Resolve
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, FXHOME, NewBlueFX, 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
- FXHome Ignite Pro
- 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 $299 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 Yamazaki