Editing 4k video on a laptop on the train using Davinci Resolve

This article is very detailed and only really applies to this specific situation. I am sure there are many people out there who this applies to, but no-one had written an article talking about how to solve all the problems that this involves. I had to find the answers across various sources and pull them together myself — hopefully this is of use to someone :)

How did I get here?

  • I moved to 4K video because I wanted high enough quality to use single frames as pictures, and to capture memories in as high quality as I could.
  • I moved to a laptop years ago because it means I can compute wherever I like, on the couch, at my desk, on the back porch on a nice day, and on the train — where I spend almost 10 hours a week commuting.
  • I moved to Davinci Resolve because its video editor is good enough for the editing I want to do, and the colour functions remind me of Photoshop or Lightroom, whereas the colour controls in FCPX and PP remind me of the picture control tab in Microsoft Word.

What is the problem to solve?
Basically, 4K footage is large and needs a powerful computer to edit.
This means it doesn’t fit on the hard disk inside my laptop, but even if it did it would be difficult for my computer to process fast enough to actually be able to edit, but even if my computer was fast enough it would drain the battery stupidly fast and get really hot.

Why is this something that needs asking? or answering?
Video editing and tech is in an unusual place right now. Lots of people outside the film industry are getting into video, especially high quality equipment and formats etc, but the industry is still adjusting to meet the needs of these people, people like me. No software gives me the features I want straight out of the box.

I did a bunch of research and found that not many people were in my situation, so I had to piece together the bigger picture for myself, often from forum threads with industry people in them.

So what’s the solution?
The solution is to make a smaller lower quality copy of the footage on your laptop hard drive, and edit with that, swapping back to the high quality footage when you’re at home and ready to do the colour work and export.

Doing this means that you need far less disk space, the editing is responsive and doesn’t drain the battery in 30 minutes.

Stage One: Project setup

  1. Open Resolve, create a new project.
  2. Import the footage from your external hard drives into your project. I’d suggest just taking all the footage you think you’ll need at this point. Put this footage into a folder called something like “Original footage” or “High quality” etc.

Stage Two: Creating low-quality clips

  1. Highlight all your source clips in the Media tab
  2. Go to File -> Media Management
  3. In the “Clips” section, go to the “Transcode” tab
  4. Select the options you want.
    The Media Destination should be on your laptops hard drive.
    My reading suggested that you want to use DNxHD or Cineform if you’re on Windows, or ProRes 422 Proxy if you’re on a Mac. 
    For 4K footage I’d suggest either using “1920 x 1080 HD”, or using “1280 x 720 HD 720P”. I find 720P to be adequate quality for editing. I suggest leaving the Audio settings on the default Linear PCM.
  5. Hit Start, and come back quite a lot of time later.

Stage Three: Importing the proxy clips into the project

  1. Create a new folder and call it something like “Proxy” or “Low quality” etc.
  2. Navigate through your laptops hard drive to find the new low-quality clips you just created, and add them into the Media folder you just created.

You’re now setup — you have two folders, one with the original clips in it (that are probably on an external drive) and the other one with the low quality clips in it (that are on your laptop).

You can now close Resolve, eject and unplug your external hard drives, and when you run Resolve again on the train (you remembered to take your USB licence key with you right?) Resolve will still be able to work with the proxy files you created.

Stage Four: Edit
You now edit, using the proxy low-quality clips on your laptop. Using these low quality clips will mean that Resolve should be nice and fast to edit with and won’t drain your battery quite so much.

Stage Five: Colour correction and effects
While you can do some colour correction and effects using your low-quality clips, you shouldn’t use them as reference clips because depending on what settings you used to make them, they might have lost colour information etc, so don’t do anything more than rough adjustments.

So, now you have to change from using the proxy clips back to the high-quality source clips. Here’s how:

  1. Connect to your hard drives with the source footage on them.
  2. If you’re worried, I’d suggest making a backup copy of the timeline at this point. You don’t need to, but it’s nice to be safe. To do this, find the timeline in the media window, right click -> Timelines -> Duplicate Timeline. You can rename it to say something meaningful if you like.
  3. Go into the Edit window and select all the clips (Command-A or Control-A can help), right click, and Deselect “Force Conform Enabled”.
    This will put a red <!> thingy on every clip on the timeline, but don’t worry, everything is fine.
  4. Now go back to the timeline in the Media window, right-click -> Timelines -> Reconform From Bin(s). This is the part where we change the clips on the timeline from the proxy back to the original. Expand the Master with the little arrow, Deselect Master, then select only the folder with your original clips in it.
  5. To check that it’s done it, select a clip in the Edit screen, right-click -> Find In Media Pool, and it should highlight the clip in your high-quality original folder.

You can use these steps to swap back and forwards between the source and proxy clips as often as you like.

Now finalise your colour correcting and effects, and export.

If you want to be really tidy, you can reenable “Force Conform Enabled” to get rid of the red <!> thing on every clip on your editing timeline.

Some further notes:

This technique replaces using Optimised Media. The problem with Optimised Media is that it doesn’t do anything with sound, so while it creates nice editing friendly video on your laptops hard drive, the audio stays on the external drive inside the original footage. This might be fine if you’re not using any audio from your source clips, but this probably isn’t the case. If they changed this, we could just use Optimised Media and be done with it.

You can still use the Render Cache which will help with transitions and things that are a bit CPU intensive. Resolve is smart and when you swap back to the original clips it knows it has to re-render these bits and does it automatically.

I really wish this would make it less awkward to edit home videos on the train!

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