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I'm seriously impressed with my free lunch

9 April 2018

The Net is filled with free software.

Thanks to the Open Source movement and the tireless dedication of many keen coders, we have a massive range of free software at our fingertips these days and a lot of it is good, very good.

Whenever I have to do any word processing or spreadsheeting, I don't waste money on an Office356 subscription, I use LibreOffice and get everything I need for free.

Instead of handing over a sizable chunk of change and most of my privacy to Microsoft in order to get an operating system for my computers, I use Linux by downloading whatever flavour takes my fancy -- for free.

Then there are the almost uncountable number of simple utility programs that are invaluable for accomplishing small but essential tasks on a day to day basis. There's a free version of almost anything you can think of.

However, one area where "free" stuff has been either limited, unreliable or just plain crappy is that of video editing.

Or at least that used to be the case.

Over the years I've spent a small fortune on what was Sony's video editing software and have been forced to run it on Windows. That's been the only reason for keeping a Windows-enabled machine on my desktop and it's been a real annoyance.

Well as regular readers know, I recently bought a new video rendering PC, basically because I had no option. I was going to wait until there was a glut of "vulnerable" top-spec CPUs on the market after Intel fixed the bugs that affect current versions of their chips -- but circumstances changed so my hand was forced.

Fortunately I got a really good deal on an i7-8700-based machine with 256GB SSD, 2TB 7200RPM HD, 6GB GeForce 1060 video card and 16GB of RAM. In fact I was shocked at how cheap it was on a limited time special offer.

As regular readers will also know, Magix, the company which bought the old Sony video editing software, had completely screwed up the new version and also effectively scuttled the previous version so I set out to find a new tool for this purpose.

Lots of folk spoke highly of Davinci Resolve so I thought I'd give it a go.

Now changing ships for a task as potentially complex as video editing is not something anyone can do lightly. The learning curve for powerful software systems like this is decidedly non-trivial and represents a huge investment of time (therefore money). It was therefore, with some trepidation that I downloaded Davinci Resolve and began to feel my way around the awe-inspiring power that it delivers.

Well it's now been a month or so since I started and to my shock and surprise, I'm now vastly more proficient with DR than I ever was with the Magix software, even after many years of experience with the latter.

This DR system kicks arse!

Although it's true that in any complex software system, most people will use just 10% of the functions 90% of the time, DR is so well designed and consistent in its interface and operating paradigms that it's easy to delve into new features without fear of becoming lost or disoriented.

What's more, those features are often an order of magnitude more effective and refined than the Magix suite offered. Take video stabilization for instance...

The Magix product has a stabilizer that simply allows you to select the amount of stabilization and it seems to work simply through frame-by-frame comparison -- translating adjacent frames in the X and Y axis to try and ensure that camera movement is eliminated.

By comparison, the DR stabilizer allows multiple different tracking modes with amazing things like cloud-point tracking, perspective tracking and compensation not only for movement in the X and Y planes but also in rotation. While performing the stabilization, the correction offsets in all axes are displayed in graphical form, whilst the automatically chosen tracking points are represented as tiny + symbols on the footage (or you can define your own tracking points). This stuff is crazy-good!

Then there's the colour grading.

DR just blows me away with the scope and scale of its colour grading system. You can take the murkiest, crappiest footage and, through a careful manipulation of things such as gain, contrast, offset, gamma, curves and other controls, turn it into a visually stunning piece of video. Again, the difference between DR and the Magix suite is gob-smacking.

When sharpening footage in DR you have a plethora of fine-tuning controls available so as to get the absolute best effect -- in the Magix suite you have a slider that simply adjusts the degree of sharpening without any way of tailoring the various parameters to suit the type of footage, lighting or other factors that may affect the outcome.

Of course I could go on and on (perhaps I already have) but you're probably all thinking "so what, DR is better than Magix... big deal".

Well yes, it is a big deal. Because the Magix Vegas Movie Studio Platinum software (bugs and all) has a regular retail price of 228.98 Euro (that's almost NZ$390). I note however, probably due to the fact that the latest release (15) has been such a bug-fest, they've heavily discounted it to just 70 Euro (about NZ$120).

But Davinci Resolve is free.

That's right, you get an infinitely more capable, more reliable, more productive video editor for free!

Given Magix's infamously poor customer support, I don't think we'll even see a version 16 of their product.

One also can't help but wonder how long people will keep paying Adobe a healthy monthly stipend to use their cloud-based editing suite, especially given that for a one-time cost of US$300, you can buy the "studio" version of DR resolve that has fantastic support for distributed (team) editing, an aspect often used by large video production studios. That one-time payment includes all future versions and upgrades. Never pay another cent!

And do you want to know what's even better than all this?

Davinci Resolve is not tied to Windows' apron strings. It's also available on Linux and Apple platforms!

So why am I still using the Windows version of DR?

Well right now there's an openly acknowledged limitation that the audio side of the program will only work under Linux with an expensive (professional) sound card and that makes it more cost-effective to stick with Windows for the time being. However, when that issue is resolved (as I'm sure it will be), I'll be giving Windows the flick and moving my video editing operations to Linux.

So when they say "there are no free lunches", I think they hadn't looked at the issue of free software.

I wonder if readers would care to share the best bits of "free" software they regularly use and where they got them.

Just how much "store bought" software do you use these days and why?

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