Red Giant Universe, a review of the free and premium plug-in system

Red Giant Universe is a community with access to an ever-expanding library of free and paid tools for filmmakers, editors, VFX artists, and graphic motion designers. Red Giant Universe does not include any Trapcode, Color, Shooter or Keying suite tools. Some tools from the Effects Suite are being ported over to Universe for better speed and results, but the paid upgrade of Universe — Universe Premium Membership — includes only the Universe versions of those tools instead of the entire Effects Suite. Which makes you wonder if Universe is worth upgrading to a paid version at all.

Red Giant Universe

The concept of Red Giant’s Universe to me was somewhat reminiscent of FxFactory when I first read about it. But after having played with it for a couple of days now, it’s not exactly the same. FxFactory also has free plug-ins, but it’s a real in-app store and from its clever desktop interface you gain access to hundreds of plug-ins. Universe as I understood it, will upload all available plug-ins upon each update of its repository. This could mean you’ll end up with plug-ins you don’t want, but on the other hand you can vote for plug-ins to be further developed or not, which should lead to the most wanted plug-ins to make it in your plug-in repository.

Red Giant also promises to allow Premium members access to early betas, helping them choose what features to add or improve in a new tool. Sounds good, but I’m not convinced a lot of users will like the idea of tampering about with beta versions of plug-ins that could crash their NLE while working on a project.

Membership in Red Giant Universe is free and comes with transitions and effects you will never have to pay for. In addition to Free membership, there’s also Premium membership, which gives you access to even more Universe tools and other benefits (not known exactly which yet). My advice would be to immediately go with the Premium plan. You’ll get Knoll Light Factory EZ, which on its own is worth the fee.

Red Giant Universe

Not surprisingly, the premium tools that are available as part of a Premium membership (which you can pay for on a monthly or yearly basis, or through a lifetime subscription plan), are the ones that you will like the most. For example, next to Knoll Light Factory EZ you’ll also get Holomatrix when you pay.

Red Giant claims these tools are brand new, but that’s only true from a programmer’s point of view — and I don’t even mean that in a negative way. Universe tools are blazingly fast inside any NLE or compositing app, whereas the same tools outside Universe — at the very least when they were running inside Final Cut Pro X — were slow as molasses. This is due tot a complete overhaul on a code level, but the effects you can achieve with the plug-ins are still the same.

The completely new stuff, however, is already in the pipeline. When I checked yesterday, there are two plug-ins people can vote for, with a large majority voting for one that will deliver a novel Blur effect. So Universe really is user driven, whereas FxFactory is very much developer driven. It’s a different approach, with each having its own merits.

With Red Giant saying they will be releasing new plug-in ideas about every six weeks, I don’t think you can go wrong, especially not because the free plug-ins are very nice to have as well. And there are more of these than you’ll currently find in the FxFactory store. Still, even if you have Universe Premium, I for one would vote to have both Universe and FxFactory. That should keep you happy for quite a while.

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