DaVinci Resolve history time: Resolve has known an incredible pricing roller coaster since it first came out in the ’80. Software has changed the game for editors in ways that are hard to imagine today. To fully understand how much has changed, you’d probably wanna take a tour that also explains why “DaVinci” is still being used as a prefix for Resolve. Here’s a brief history lesson from industry veteran Marc Wielage.
The Origins of DaVinci Resolve
DaVinci (actually lower-case D) first came out as a standard-def-only system in the 1980s and 1990s. The first HD system was the daVinci 2K, named for its maximum resolution. When the 2K came out in the late 1990s, we ran it on SGI O2 workstations running a customized version of Linux. (I think it technically came out in 1996, but we didn’t get one at Complete Post until 1997-1998). At that time, daVinci 2K had a half-full 19″ rack of components (mostly GPU cards and power supplies, as I recall). Those processed the video out of either a telecine (real-time film scanner) or a videotape input (later a data input like a DVS Clipster).
daVinci was a huge system. Literally
The daVinci system (before it was DaVinci Resolve) was capable of being networked to multiple rooms. We had one machine room designated as a central server that handled all the projects. And we worked on them in the other color rooms. (Similar to the PostgreSQL Resolve server we have today). The server also stored all the Gallery stills and project files. You basically bought a “turnkey” system from daVinci Systems. They’d get you the O2 workstation, pre-formatted and set up with daVinci 2K software. Plus, provide the big rackmount box of processing cards. Plus, the big control surface. (Extremely similar to the Resolve Advanced Panels we have today). Plus, all the connecting cables.
And daVinci was not cheap
I believe the entry-level cost of a basic daVinci 2K system was around $250,000. But it went up steadily when you added options. Things like additional “tiers” of Power Windows (literally extra processing boards), a Defocus Window, data/tape-to-tape capability, ColorTrace ($50,000 by itself), and so on.
Secondaries were fixed “kilovectors” that could be adjusted in a similar way to the secondaries we have now. Keys were very clumsy and had a very unintuitive user interface. I suspect 90% of most daVinci 2K users never even knew how to do simple keys on it.
With all the options, you could easily get to $500,000+ on a daVinci 2K system. Maybe a slight discount if you bought a bunch of them at once. [Please remember: those are 1980’s dollars. Just thinking about the adjusted price today would turn my hair gray in 20 seconds ]
We had 12 of them at Complete Post by the early 2000s.
Scaling daVinci beyond 2K
Throughout the 2000s, there was dissent among the daVinci Systems staff (based in Florida) on how to deal with higher-resolution projects in the near future. This was proved true when the Dalsa Origin digital camera and later the Red One digital cinema camera came out with 4K resolution around 2007.
Part of daVinci Systems wanted to basically scale up the daVinci 2K hardware and make it 4K. And do this while being tied to both proprietary hardware and software. But the other side argued differently. “We need to make our system ‘resolution-independent’ so that we can handle anything in the future.” And to do the latter, it would have to be completely software-based and use off-shelf hardware.
Rebuilding daVinci Resolve as an all-software solution
They started working hard on daVinci Resolve – the all-software/off-shelf hardware version of daVinci 2K. And they began selling systems, I think, around 2004. Resolve began to get popular by 2007, and was used on some major Hollywood digital intermediate film releases around that time.
They made a lot of progress, and things looked bright. daVinci Systems kept the 2K going for current clients. I think there was even a kind of upgrade path available so that facilities could trade in their old 2K’s and get credit towards a new-fangled daVinci Resolve system. And that slowly started becoming a trend in the 2000s.
The Blackmagic acquisition
But much to everybody’s surprise, corporate owner Acterna Inc. went bankrupt in 2008. It sadly sank without a trace. daVinci as a company was still profitable, but if the parent corporation was gone, they didn’t have much of a future. All the assets of daVinci Systems went up for sale at a bankruptcy auction in late summer 2008. They were purchased by Grant Petty (The cofounder of Blackmagic Design) for about $10 million dollars. Looking back, it was a bargain.
Back in October of 2009, Grant Petty was interviewed by the Creative Cow editing website and said the following (bearing in mind that Resolve was $250,000 at the time):
COW: Well, since you mentioned price, where’s my $995 DaVinci? [laughter]
GRANT: What’s funny is, we’re looking at the company, and we’re thinking, “Everybody’s going to think we’re going to do a really cheap version.” And our consultant was even saying to us, “But this is such a different thing for you guys.” Yeah, kind of — but it’s not really different if you look at who we are. We’re post production people who just want to make the things we need to do our job.
We’ve looked at this thing and think, ‘could you reduce it in price?’ You can see developments coming in the future that might help to do that. But ultimately this thing is all about performance. It’s a pretty screamingly powerful system. You can start with one computer with a couple of GPU cards in it. But to really get good performance you sometimes need 2 or 3 computers, and it’ll do real time 4K stereo every day. It’s a ridiculous amount of processing.
You probably will see price reduction on the high end systems. I think at the moment the highest end systems are $850,000, I don’t think we’ll ever sell a product for $850,000. That’s just my feeling. I just don’t think the cost of the hardware that works with the new software DaVinci just released justifies that kind of price. You need eight GPUs or something like that. And you need three fast Linux PCs, and a bunch of Infiniband stuff. I don’t think that adds up to 800,000, I think you come in more likely at $500,000 or something like that, $600,000 maybe. But then you’ve got some pretty high speed disks to do stereoscopic 4K. We’re checking that out now.
But you know what we’re like. We’ll always be thinking of possibilities for reducing prices. With things like Apple Color on the low end, I think that ultimately there will be some reductions, but performance first, then cost second.Creative Cow
DaVinci Resolve: pricing landscape and history
I think around that time, Apple Color was around $995 (formerly known as Silicon Touch). I also think it was being included for free with Final Cut Pro 7. Apple had previously bought the rights to Shake VFX compositing. They initially sold it for $5,000, then cut the price to $3,000, and soon after cut the price to $499 in 2006. But they then discontinued the software a few years after that.
I mention this only to show that the industry was kind of reeling at the high cost of software. Reeling, and yet taken aback by companies like Apple that would acquire other software companies and basically cut the price to $995 to drum up sales. The Creative Cow interviewer was kind of referring to that trend, and in October of 2009, it was hilarious to think of Resolve someday selling for $995. I think it’s fair to say that all of us were blown away when, six months later, we went to NAB and saw the big signs at the Blackmagic Design booth…
At the time, this was fairly stunning, particularly for post houses who had spent $250,000+ on Resolve the year before. But I think that’s the message of computer technology: back in 2000, an SGI O2 workstation was probably $30,000; today, you could get an Apple M2 Mac Studio Ultra with 192GB of RAM for $6000, and it’d be hundreds of times faster.
For me, this was an amazing read. In just forty years, the industry went from incredibly expensive hardware to extremely available software and put editing powers in the hands of everyone who wants it. While the above story ends at $995, A full Davinci Resolve studio license only costs $295 today, and there is a free version if all you need is HD.