Since the beginning of nonlinear editing, developers and accessory providers have added custom keyboards and controllers that emulated the film and videotape systems they replaced. Avid had the MUI, Lightworks used a flatbed-style controller, and Contour Design offers the ShuttlePRO. In 2019 Blackmagic Design launched DaVinci Resolve 16 along with a companion DaVinci Resolve Editor Keyboard. Its design is reminiscent of CMX or Sony keyboards used in high-end linear edit suites.
The larger keyboard was followed by a smaller edition dubbed the DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor. This controller is close to what you might have seen in a linear ENG edit bay with someone cutting news packages on two Sony BVU-800 3/4″ decks. The Editor Keyboard is designed to work Resolve’s cut and edit pages, but the Speed Editor is primarily for the cut page. However, the transport controls work with all the pages and mark and trim commands operate on the edit page, as well.
Speed Editor retails for $395 and includes a license key for DaVinci Resolve Studio. It operates over Bluetooth, but firmware updates and charging require a USB-C connection. It will pair with Resolve (version 17 or 18), but not other apps nor the Finder. Although you can perform much of the cut page editing operation from Speed Editor, it won’t entirely replace your keyboard and mouse or trackpad. The design is right-handed, but since you can place it to the left or in front of an external keyboard, it’s easier for a left-hander to utilize than the QWERTY-style Editor Keyboard.
The main selling point for me is the knob, aka the Search Dial. As with the Editor Keyboard dial, it has a similar tactile feel and the ballistics of using a Sony tape machine. Of course, you are dealing with files not tape, so it can easily stop on a dime. There’s shuttle, jog, and scroll control. Shuttle locks in the speed and is best for moving through lots of material. I found myself mainly using scroll and jog. If you use it on the Fairlight page, then jog emulates the analog tape experience of “reel rocking” to find an exact edit point. For me, the quality of the Search Dial experience surpasses any of the other Eucon or USB peripherals.
You can’t review Speed Editor without giving some coverage to the cut page itself. This is an alternative editing model introduced with DaVinci Resolve 16. At a casual glance, the design and operation is like a mash-up of Final Cut Pro and LumaFusion.
The cut page design is optimized for fast editing. I applaud that effort, which is largely successful. However, the waters are muddied with Sync Bin – an alternate multicam editing method. In my opinion, the edit page is a far better tool for multicam projects. Quite frankly, the software development that Blackmagic put into this, as well as the real estate taken up in the Speed Editor keypad for multicam, should have been applied in other ways, like mappable function keys.
Another design issue I have, is that the cut page nomenclature and editing tasks are inconsistent with the edit page. For example, there is no traditional Insert or Overwrite command and no Delete (lift) – only Ripple Delete (extract). Ripple Overwrite is actually a replace function and Source Overwrite is tied to the alternate way of editing multicam projects. All clips are assembled as interleaved video/audio clips; however, you can’t trim audio and video separately on those clips to create L-cuts and J-cuts.
I could continue, as there are other missing features that I believe are essential for any editor. But let me dive into Speed Editor and explain how you can use it and the cut page to your advantage.
Speed Editor works best when you use it for fast assembly in the cut page. Buttons are grouped according to function. (Read about the specific details in the DaVinci Resolve manual, Chapter 49). When starting from a fresh timeline, it’s best to first select the Source button and Append clips to the timeline. The raw footage is presented in the Source Tape mode. Clips are organized chronologically into a virtual timeline that you can shuttle, scroll, or play through. In other words, Resolve has automatically arranged the clips into a stringout making it easy to find the relevant shots. The Source Tape mode is much faster than hover scrubbing over individual clips. It is unique to Resolve and reproduces the fluid experience of cutting with two VTRs.
Once the initial assembly is done, click the Timeline key and go through your sequence to trim shots or roll edit points. There are single buttons to add dissolves, wipes, and smooth cuts (morph transitions). The timeline is track-based, so press the Place On Top key to add picture cutaways and additional audio. Any clip with video is edited to a higher track, while an audio-only clip is placed onto a lower audio track.
The Speed Editor commands are intelligent operations. For instance, if you select Trim Out to adjust a clip’s out point, the playhead will automatically select the edit point closest to the playhead – either before or after the playhead position. Then move the Search Dial to adjust the trim amount and the rest of the timeline reacts magnetically. Likewise, the Smart Insert command will insert a source clip at the nearest cut, rather than the playhead position. But, there are no “go to in (or out)” or “top” and “tail” edit commands.
If you need to punch into a shot, click the Close-Up button. This places a copy of that clip in sync at the playhead position onto a higher track and scales it larger. Many of the keypad buttons have secondary functions printed on the edge of the key. You can access these with a double-click or click-and-hold. The Close-Up key also enables a position change on the Y-axis. Hold the key and tilt the shot up or down by turning the Search Dial. Unfortunately, you cannot pan the shot on the X-axis nor change the scale value.
Who is the ideal user for the cut page and the Speed Editor? And, has nonlinear editing really gone beyond these types of peripherals? To the first question, I presume Blackmagic Design sees these tools as something that would appeal to beginning editors, ENG editors, and maybe YouTube content creators. When it comes to Speed Editor, you still need to use the mouse and keyboard for certain functions. If so, then is this device necessary? That’s harder to answer, because the Search Dial functions are so good and addictive. While I can do much of the same with a Magic Mouse, there are plenty of editors with repetitive stress issues in their hands and wrists for whom Speed Editor could become an essential tool.
Controllers designed to mimic flatbed or linear tape editing may be a false goal for developers. Modern NLE interfaces are simply more complex. I wish Blackmagic Design had enabled custom mapping for Speed Editor just like a regular keyboard. That’s a lost opportunity that hopefully can be fixed in a future update.
Modern editing is often done on laptops and that’s a sweet spot for Speed Editor. You’ve still got a built-in keyboard and trackpad when you need it, but a lot of the standard editing tasks can be done with a task-appropriate tool. If Resolve is your main NLE, then the small, lightweight Speed Editor is a good companion for powerhouse laptops like Apple’s M1 MacBook Pros.
©2022 Oliver Peters