RiffSync (US$9.99) in the Mac App Store has found very clever way to perfect RiffTrax, … but before I get to the Riffsync app, you might need a little background about RiffTrax.
If the names Gypsy, Tom Servo, Cambot and Crow T. Robot sound familiar, you know about Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). The premise was that Joel Robinson was trapped in space on the Satellite of Love by Dr. Clayton Forester and was forced to watch horribly bad movies, mostly science fiction stinkers. With the assistance of four robot pals, Joel (later replaced by the show’s head writer, Michael J. Nelson) and the robots provided running commentary as the movie played. A large cult grew around the show.
After the show was canceled, some of the MST3K gang created RiffTrax. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and a host of guest riffers sell audio tracks (usually about $3.99 each) to be synced with movies, bringing the MST3K experience to a huge catalog of current films. By running the film in the DVD Player application, VLC, iTunes or a physical DVD player, and simultaneously playing the MP3 RiffTrax in iTunes or QuickTime Player (if iTunes is playing the film), the guys recreated the art of skewering movies for the current generation of bad movie enthusiasts.
Though the results are hilarious, syncing the RiffTrax to the movie is a challenge. RiffTrax tries its best to help by giving you a chapter listing of how the RiffTrax relates to the film. They even give you a DisembAudio robot narrator that repeats a line in the film every so often to help sync. This can be tricky when you’re trying to figure out whether the movie or the RiffTrax is slower. If you want to pause the movie, you have to pause the film and the RiffTrax audio separately.
RiffSync solves this audio-sync problem and gives a few additional options to improve the movie experience. Read on for a full review of RiffSync.
When you start RiffSync, you drag the downloaded RiffTrax MP3 file into the RiffSync window. Next you are asked if the source is iTunes or a DVD, and then you hit the “Start Riffing!” button. If you chose iTunes and the correct movie is shown in a pop-up box, you can click to play the movie. If not, it asks you to start the movie manually, and then choose “Play Movie for Me” or “Learn this new movie.” Once done, the movie plays with the commentary perfectly synced.
If you choose DVD, in full-screen mode, there is a rollover dialog box giving you some controls. In iTunes, the rollover box doesn’t appear in full-screen mode, so you have to reduce the picture size to access it. You can use sliders to control “Riff Volume,” “Movie Volume,” pause both the movie and the RiffTrax together, and set the volume for “Movie Ducking” — which is one of best features of the RiffSync app. The ducking feature of RiffSync automatically lowers the volume of the film when something on the RiffTrax is being said and raises it again when the jokes stop. When viewing and listening, you can see the volume control slide raise or lower in DVD Player or iTunes as this happens.
The ability to pause and play the movie and RiffTrax together is another help since manually doing this is not for the faint of heart. You can also use RiffSync to mute the DisembAudio robot voice. If the sync drifts a bit, which does happen from time to time, just pause for a second to restore the sync. There is a another edit menu allowing you to nudge the sync a bit and edit the DisembAudio points.
The advantages of RiffSync are that you can automatically sync RiffTrax with films, pause both any time you like and clearly hear what you are supposed to hear. One disadvantage is that you don’t get to hear the 2- to 3-minute RiffTrax intros that can set the mood and are quite funny. RiffSync causes RiffTrax to skip over these intros.
The major question is, is it worth $10? I’d have to say probably not if you’re only a casual RiffTraxer. If you’re only going to watch a RiffTrax movie once in a while, you can muddle through the manual sync on your own and save the money. If you’re heavily into RiffTrax and buy a lot of them, then it’s certainly worth it. I love RiffTrax (which makes me feel like I’m back on the Satellite of Love), and RiffSync takes away the pain of trying to sync while watching this evolution of MST3K.