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Review: Riverside.fm for Remote Producers

From a perfect high-quality audio recording of a podcast guest to a remote shoot with a 4K camera hooked into a computer via Riverside, editors can have access to perfect video files in seconds and avoid most of the downsides of other popular video call services.

Limitations

Lest you think I’m in the pocket of Riverside, let’s discuss the downsides! I should note that while this portion of the article may seem longer than the upsides, most of these are nit-picky, and the service is so solid that it just doesn’t take that long to explain how useful it is. Overall, the user interface is a bit clunky, but it is far from a deal-breaker. Some of these limitations are partially resolved with workarounds or with an Enterprise plan, but for the average Riverside user, here are some things to be aware of.

My biggest frustration is that seeing a full 16:9 video frame is near-impossible without the Enterprise plan. Riverside will always record the full frame, but it rounds the corners and crops the live video preview to fit the window size. I find that stretching or squeezing the window to get it as close to 16:9 as possible is a passable option for producers that want to ensure good framing. This issue is eliminated with the Enterprise plan, or in a standard plan. If you right-click on Video, hit Show Controls, and then click on the fullscreen icon, Riverside will show you a full 16:9 frame.

The live preview video quality is limited to 480p, and it defaults to 240p. This is mostly fine, but it can make it challenging to see certain details in the shot, and it may not be the best way to see if the shot is in perfect focus.

The biggest issue with the lower quality is an education problem. Guests unfamiliar with the platform think that they are seeing and sending low-quality video, and they need to be told that everything will be fine. I imagine the challenge with full HD video is a price/bandwidth issue and an upload speed problem. That said, I would trade slower upload speed for a truer video preview.

The standard paid versions only record in 24fps, and that extends to 30fps with Enterprise. I’m an anti-24 advocate, so the lack of 30fps makes me sad.

My next pain point is rarely an issue, but can be a headache when it arises. Riverside works only on recently updated Google Chrome browsers on desktop, as well as a newly launched iOS app. Some other browsers and platforms will be able to send the low-res video stream, so you’re not completely out of luck. But that beautiful local recording is not an option on other browsers.

To date, I have never experienced any video loss using Riverside. It is a strong and robust platform. That said, I don’t have a way to reliably create backup video recordings. Using Zoom or Skype, I can record locally using the software, and record those sources using NDI, my TriCaster, or any other screen-capturing software. Because the live preview quality on Riverside is subpar, and without the Enterprise version you can’t see full-frame video, that type of backup is not a useful option.

There are a few different types of links you can send out to different kinds of participants. The host and guest video gets recorded, and the producer’s video does not. There is also an “audience” link that will let them watch along without their video being shown. I can’t find an easy way to switch a producer to a guest (or vice versa), and with so many links being thrown around to different people, it’s easy to send the wrong one and then have to provide a new link.

Finally, the live streaming of your live video chats is low on features. Riverside doesn’t provide a way to change shots--you’re just stuck with whatever split it chooses to put out. It seemingly uses only the low-res live preview video and not the full-quality video. If this kind of progressive video uploading were paired with a strong live streaming production tool like Streamyard or Restream Studio, it would see mass adoption among users of these types of services.

This is what the live stream looks like, with a horizontal laptop webcam and a vertical cell phone webcam.

Riverside isn’t the only tool that does this kind of progressive uploading. Competitors like Zencaster (originally an audio-only podcast recording tool) have most of the same features.

Upside

As someone whose expertise and interests are almost exclusively in the world of live streaming, Riverside has been an exciting tool for me in the “requires post production” world. I can appreciate that not every production needs to be live, and that often a better-quality final product can be achieved in post. Of all the production services to pop up during the pandemic, Riverside tops the list (perhaps in a tie with Streamyard).

Back in the day, the best way to get good local video like this would be to train remote guests to record video on QuickTime, hope that their audio and video were connected, and that they remembered to hit Record--hopefully on a computer that would let Zoom and QuickTime record at the same time so the conversation could still happen in real time. They would then have to upload it using a clunky process. Now, it’s as simple as a link!

I encourage you to use Riverside’s free trial to test it out! For podcasts and video productions of all sizes, it’s an invaluable tool. From a perfect high-quality audio recording of a podcast guest to a remote shoot with a 4K camera hooked into a computer via Riverside, editors can have access to perfect video files in seconds and avoid most of the downsides of other popular video call services.