Will I be able to run DaVinci Resolve on a tablet-like computer? Will I be able to color correct away from my office? Historically, I have run DaVinci Resolve on two different machines: an Apple computer, and an HP Z800. The Z800, which belongs to my station, has had its RAM upgraded along with its GPU. But what happens for those who do not want to drop their hard earned cash on a computer just for DaVinci Resolve? I’m talking about people who have no need to color correct 4K footage. What if their computer runs Intel? Until relatively recently, if you had an Intel machine DaVinci Resolve you were out of luck.
Obviously, this was a problem for Intel so they reached out to Blackmagic to correct it. They even went so far as to produce a video of their journey to put DaVinci Resolve on Intel Machines. Check it out below. I think this kind of collaboration is great for companies who cater to creatives.
How well will this work? I had the opportunity to find the answers myself with the VAIO Z Flip sporting a 6th generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor with Intel® Iris™ Graphics and 16GB of RAM. The Z Flip, sent to me by Blackmagic to test, is an impressive machine, but is it a good computer to color grade my recently shot footage? These are the questions I ask myself as I drink my morning coffee. Yes, I am a geek. I am a confirmed Apple fan but understand Apple, or even HP, are not the end all be all for the creative industry. I mean the footage in the Intel video definitely looks appealing with the actors color correcting their home footage on a couch in a living room. Here is what I found.
The VAIO’s Stylus
The stylus which comes with the VAIO is one of the better ways to interact with the incredibly sharp screen. I loved color grading with the Stylus on the VAIO Z Flip when the Z Flip was folded over into the tablet mode, like in the screen grab above. Once I learned what all the buttons did on the Stylus I found I started using the Stylus for all my color correcting and grading. I found this to be an interesting workflow because working with the Stylus felt more intuitive than a mouse or trackpad. It was almost tactile. I mean you literally use the stylus to touch the screen to change your color wheel. I could definitely get more used to a Stylus. The key is to learn how it works without falling back to the trackpad or mouse. If you do not take the time to learn it then the Stylus becomes frustrating.
A Great Sharp Screen
The VAIO Z Flip comes with a 13.3″ sized screen Capacitive Touchscreen and the factory setting of 2560 x 1440 pixels. It is sharp and this is both a blessing and a bit of problem when working in Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. When viewing a video the native resolution of 2560 x 1440 sized screen is great. When trying to read the font in Resolve the screen resolution of 2560 x 1440 forces the font to be small. Almost too small to read. This led me to hunch over the Vaio Z Flip and squint my eyes to be able to read the setting in Resolve. I may be myopic but it is correctable and I felt like a good set of reading glasses might be needed. I’m not at the reading glasses stage of my life so I decided to another way.
In search of a good solution, I decided to play with the Flip Z’s screen resolution. I understood, I was taking away one of the best features on the Z Flip to find the best-sized User Interface in Resolve. First, I tried setting the screen to 1280 x 720 and the result was a larger, more readable, font in Resolve, but I lost key tools within the UI. Essentially, the UI became vertically squashed. You can see the results in the photo below. To me, I figure what is the point if you can’t even see the monitor.
The best setting was changing the screen resolution to 2048 x 1152. Here a user can better read the User Interface in Resolve without the program becoming too vertically squashed. All the tools for editing and color grading were on-screen. I would have preferred a bigger screen, but for the option to color grade away from a suite I can make a compromise on screen size and font size. Ultimately, this comes down to preference. I preferred to have a larger font to make my life easier. Other users may prefer to have a small font to take advantage of the sharp screen on the Z Flip.
1920 x 1080 Only?
It was made clear to me before Blackmagic sent the VAIO Z Flip that the laptop / tablet would only color correct HD footage. 4K color correction and grading would not fit within the specs of the laptop. Well, whenever someone says don’t do this, or this cannot work that way, I have to see if they’re correct. It may be the little renegade within me who wants to find out myself, but I want to see and experience it personally so I can make my own conclusions. What I discovered was Blackmagic was mostly right, but only mostly right. I did color correct 4.6K 3:1 raw footage from a Blackmagic URSA Mini. Color correcting 4.6K 3:1 raw was a little clunky, but it was do-able. When I mean clunky, I mean you could change the basic settings and eventually come to the look you want as long as it did not involve processor intensive elements like noise reduction. However, I could not export 4K or even a low-rez version. When I attempted to export the footage to ProRes HQ 1080 I would get the dreaded purple / green banded screen. This was not totally unexpected. For a comparison, my 2011 MacBook Pro cannot export 4K, but it can export HD versions from 4.6K raw. I think the better spec VAIO Z Flip should be able to match a five-year-old MacBook Pro. I think as Intel improves we’ll see these type of machines be able to export 4K raw to 4K ProRes soon enough.
Since I had already color corrected footage on the VAIO Z Flip I did not want to repeat my work. So, what I did was export the color grade as an LUT and moved my work from the VAIO Z Flip to a dedicated coloring machine. In this case, I moved to the HP Z800. There I applied the LUT and exported the project. After re-importing, the raw footage, the rest of the process was fast and quick. This got me thinking about proxies and remote color grading.
Color Grade Anywhere
Why not take the VAIO Z Flip where you, or anyone else, will be when viewing your video. I mean, this is exactly what Intel shows us in their video with the family on the couch. To be able to color grade in the exact spot where the video will be viewed takes some of the guesswork out of the process. This reminded me of a video I saw on an airport shuttle. Here the monitor was in constant bright sunlight, but the video playing looked like it was colored for a dark viewing environment. It was near impossible to watch. Why not take the Vaio Z Flip on the airport shuttle and double check your color grade for that environment? Yes, there are settings within Resolve to make sure you are matching your video files to the expected format, but it is nice to see something in action.
Yet, is this doable for most people? I doubt many creatives have the option to take the time to color grade in the exact environment their video will play. What I think is more likely to happen is taking the Z Flip into someone’s living room to check the color in a pretty standard viewing environment. This could be handy for those color grading in a home office, but cannot afford to make their office into a perfect place for color grading.
Who I think may benefit the most from a machine like the VAIO Z Flip are students. The size of the VAIO Z Flip is perfect for throwing in a bag and walking from class to class. The machine has a physical keyboard for writing papers easier and can also become a tablet for color correcting / editing work. While many creatives can be Apple-centric many others, in different fields, can be pretty darn anti-Apple. The VAIO Z Flip gives students, and others, an option. They can still have a laptop or tablet capable of working with DaVinci Resolve and not be beholden to an Apple product. I’ll be honest, my workflow is entirely Apple for my freelance work, but entirely Windows where I work full-time. My Apple life is mobile. My Windows life is purely desktop. I prefer mobile, but understand speed and GPU come with weight and size. It is a delicate balance.
Do students need 4K? When I was a film student I was shooting either film or HD with a lens adapter. The Canon 5D had yet to shoot video and the Red One had not been released yet. We had few options, but it made zero impact on me or my fellow students. We were more focused on telling better stories through our editorial decisions. I guess a case can be made against film students shooting 4K, but if I had the option to shoot 4K then I would have in a heartbeat when I was in film school even if it caused me a ton of headaches along the way.
Learning DaVinci Resolve
Where only working with High Definition video is a bonus on the VAIO Z Flip is when someone is trying to learn Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. HD, 2K, or 4K, it does not matter what footage you are color correcting as long as you are learning. I say, from experience, if you are learning DaVinci Resolve then work with HD footage. The program will run quickly and you learn as fast as you can. You do not want any hesitation in the UI as you attempt a look. This will only lead to frustration and a less than ideal experience with DaVinci Resolve.
Keeping the learning fast gets an added boost from the VAIO Z Flips SSD internal drive. The boot time for DaVinci Resolve was incredible and color grading footage was a breeze when it was HD footage. My workflow was simple: clean off old footage from the SSD and import my latest work only. I tended to keep only one project on the Z Flip at a time. Maybe this works for some, but I’m not so sure many will want to continue to play hot potato with their SSD space just to get some work done. For a student working on his one short film per semester, this could be an option.
In the end, Intel has opened the door to future possibilities with tablet color grading. I think as the tech gets faster we can see more and more of this type of mobile color grading. If you’re in an HD only world then the VAIO Z Flip is a great machine for you.