Review and Giveaway: Toast 9 Titanium
The newest version of Toast is here! Read all the way through the review for a chance to win a free retail box copy of Toast Titanium 9! I have been using Roxio’s Toast CD/DVD burning software ever since my conversion to the Mac platform when I was searching for a replacement for the PC-only Nero software. So, when an invitation came in to World of Apple from Roxio to review the newest version, Toast Titanium 9, I jumped at the chance and was given a copy of the program gratis from the developer.
When doing a first impression of a product, I look for attention in the small details that define the Macintosh edge, even in items that might not directly concern everyone, as I believe that a developer who shows care in one area is more likely to show care in others. For example, the “About Toast” selection is a mini-production itself. Also, the reviewer’s kit that was sent by Roxio is the most comprehensive that I have seen to date. They care that accurate information is being published and that any potential reviewers are well-equipped to give an educated opinion to their readers. While this will never be seen by the typical end-user, it is indicative of the developer’s thoroughness. Roxio’s Toast has been providing media burning software for the Mac platform since 1994 in the Jobsian exile dark days.
Now after praising Roxio for their attention to detail, it appears that many users have had complaints that this version was quite not ready for prime-time in the Roxio Support Forums, yet I read very glowing reviews at some sites. I always check the thoughts of others after I form my own initial impressions to see if my thoughts are lining up with the experiences of other users. I was running into one particular audio problem (which will be detailed below), so I signed up at the Roxio Forum never noting in my post that I was writing a review. I point this out so that what I will say next will not be seen as Roxio simply wanting to receive good press. Soon after my post, I received an email from Roxio at my personal email address (i.e. not an @worldofapple.com address) sending me a new version of that particular component to test. My communications with Roxio both by email and by telephone thus far leave me confident that though I will be pointing out several problems I have experienced, Roxio is committed to fixing them. To my delight, when speaking to the developer’s representative on the phone (after the initial email, I disclosed that I was a reviewer), I mentioned one screen which had an interface that was very un-Mac-like, and he responded very positively that I had a very good point, and he would mention it to an engineer.
This is a richly multi-featured product that would be impossible to review in each of its details in depth in my review, so I will focus on some of the newest features as well as the ones that will be of interest to the broadest base of users. In that regard I will detail certain features that worked very well for me and ones that had difficulties. Unfortunately there are a few new features that I cannot directly test as they are specialty functions for which I do not have the requisite equipment such as a Blu-Ray capable disc player or TiVo. I do, however, own an EyeTV Hybrid which is designed to integrate seamlessly with Toast and is especially useful with the new “Streamer” feature.
The question may be raised why such a product is necessary as burning capabilities are part of the native functionality within OSX. While this is true, Toast provides more features than the basic native functions which may be adequate for some casual media users but are not for the more sophisticated users. Further, the new features which bring in television integration make Toast very attractive for multi-media enthusiasts.
Toast version 9 Titanium requires OS X 10.4.x (Tiger) or 10.5.x (Leopard) as well as a PowerPC G4, PowerPC G5, or Intel Mac with QuickTime 7.1.3 or higher. The retail price point is $99.99 for first-time buyers and $79.99 for an upgrade (after a $20.00 rebate). The HD/DVD and Blu-Ray authoring functions require an additional add-on at a cost of $20.00.
The program opens into a main workflow/content window and media browser which are simple and elegant with “drag and drop” functionality. The media browser, similar to the one found in GarageBand, opens in a separate floating pane which can be closed and re-opened easily with right-click contextual menus available for individual media files. The workplace is divided into category, project type/options, disc options, content, and recording areas. The type of projects supported are entitled “data,” “audio,” “video,” “copy,” and “convert.”
Basic disc creation involves selecting a category/project, setting disc options, dragging over content, and clicking record. Easy as apple pie. As I hope is obvious in my reviews, user-friendliness is one of my utmost concerns. I grow weary of wonderful programs that unnecessarily require a huge chunk of my limited time to learn or ones that have virtually nonexistent support materials. A hard copy user manual is provided with the retail box version of Toast and is provided as a .pdf document in the Help menu. While there is a video overview of the features, I would really like to see some video tutorials on the Roxio site. However, at each point of the workflow, most tools have an “i” icon which provide tool-tips with mouse-over. There is also Growl notification support which I have grown to rely upon. For former users of Toast, yes, right-clicking on a supported file and selecting “Toast It” will open Toast with the file in the content area under the appropriate project type. I note that when this was initially not functioning properly in the first release, a user reported it in the forums, and Roxio fixed it promptly.
In testing Toast on two Macs (one MacBook and one Mac Pro tower), I ran into inconsistent stability issues. At times, when the help menu was accessed on the Mac Pro, Toast would freeze and require a force quit. After restarting the Mac Pro, the issue would clear up. This was never replicated on the MacBook and has since ceased happening. Since I started writing this review over the period of several months, it is difficult to determine whether this was something with Toast or a conflict with another process. At this point, with the Mac Pro, I am inclined to blame the issue on some issue other than Toast since it has not recurred, and I have an over-fondness for downloading various and sundry programs that bat their eyelashes at me. However, I experienced (and still do) a fairly frequent grey screen of death (kernel panic) on the MacBook when working with EyeTV files, and Roxio has acknowledged awareness of issues with EyeTV on the support forums. There have been several times though when my MacBook grey-screened when working with more typical media. Unlike my Mac Pro, I am not inclined to blame anything else installed on the machine as it is new, and I have kept it quite vanilla unlike my Mac Pro which is my download playground.
DVD authoring is very simple and straightforward, and the informational mouse-overs will guide even inexperienced users in selecting the proper tool. For example, you have VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS folders – does Toast want both folders or just the video folder? Toast tells you. Do you have an .mp4 file and are unsure what selection to use for burning? Toast tells you. The same holds true when creating data and music files, including music DVDs. Cross-fades and creative mixes can also easily be created. I found the DVD menu options easy to navigate, but there were not enough stock templates in my opinion, though any image may be dragged in as a background for further customization.
The following video discs can be created: Video CDs; Super Video CDs; DVD-Video Discs; DVD-Video Discs from VIDEO_TS folders; DivX Discs; HD DVD Video Discs (including HDDVD_TS Folders); and Blu-Ray Video Discs (including BDMV Folders). The Blu-Ray and HD-DVD features require the purchase of an additional plug-in, and the Toast materials state that original HD material can be burned onto a traditional DVD disc which can then be played on a HD-DVD or Blu-ray player. This simply requires selecting the proper project type when burning the disc (i.e. Blu-ray Video or HD DVD Video). Again, as this is a fairly new media area, and I do not have the requisite hardware or media, those features were not tested. Supported video formats include DV, AVI, MOV, HDV, MPEG-4, iMovie HD Projects, MPEG-2, DivX, EyeTV, and TiVoToGo. I also tested it with an iMovie 08 “event,” and Toast was able to work with those files as well.
For lengthy video files, Toast supports “fit to DVD compression” and allows the deselection of sub-portions of files in order to reduce the file size such as “extras” or certain shows of a multi-episode DVD. There is instantaneous preview available so that the video quality settings can be assessed prior to burning, and helpfully, there is a built-in edit function (the same as in EyeTV – please see the EyeTV section of this review for a helpful hint on the editing portion) to remove unwanted portions of video such as commercials and allows the button image to be set when appropriate. This editing is non-destructive in nature so that your original media remains unmodified. I would love to see a commercial auto-detect feature such as is available in some PC software I used to use heavily such as Video ReDo. If another task is needed to be done while a project is burning, Toast allows projects to be paused and restarted to temporarily free up system resources. I tested this feature which worked precisely as it should.
When creating a DVD from a VIDEO_TS file which contains multiple episodes and extras, I note that menus are only available if the entire contents are burned – if any of the content, such as the extras are excluded, menus are not available. VIDEO_TS files can be lined up for batch recording and compilations which also worked precisely as they should. The VIDEO_TS recording offers a “custom” setting which provides the greatest options for languages and subtitles and allows menus as long as the entire disk contents with extras are selected. While I note complaints in the Roxio User Forums about failed recordings which resulted in wasted discs, I found write failures to occur less than 5% in my testing, and some of those could be easily be due to defects in the original material as some were “ripped” from DRM-cracked commercial DVDs using Mac the Ripper and Hand Brake, which I and World of Apple absolutely do not condone, but I tested this material as I was being realistic as to what the average user will be doing with their owned DVD collections that they wish to back-up unto discs in order to preserve the originals. I also used various brands of media. I did not have any burning issues with material that was initially non-protected, with the exception of the EyeTV problems that will be mentioned below and the occasional grey-screening I experienced on my MacBook mentioned above.
There are several ways to assess video quality prior to committing to burn to disc. First, for most projects there is a quick preview window, or alternatively disc images can also be created to assess video quality prior to burning to DVD. The video from the disc image may be previewed through the Mac’s built-in DVD player and then, if acceptable, may be burned to DVD from within Toast.
Data and Photo Content
Data DVDs and CDs can be spanned across multiple discs, and Toast does allow some customization on where it will choose to split the files. This too was tested without any problems noted. One niggling problem I have noticed is that there are situations in which Toast does not prompt the user for a disc name such as when making multiple discs (but different projects) from within the same program function area (i.e. never leaving the DVD creation area for example). Additionally when producing data discs, Toast assumes that the user wants to title the disc with the name of the first folder dragged into the content pane. In short, even though there is a user preference setting to always ask for “missing” disc names, it doesn’t prompt for names in situations where the disk name is simply “assumed” by Toast, and I don’t think that the program should assume that a copied folder name will be the disc name, or that the disc name of a previous project in the same pane will be the same – especially when the content is different, but it does. It is not difficult to change an assumed name, just click and change like any Mac file (or utilize the “more” panel in the workspace), but it is something that is very easy to forget – especially when you hit forty, like me. In speaking with the Roxio representative, he appreciated the possible difficulty and stated that it might be considered in future revisions.
Data discs can be created in Mac-only formats or Mac/PC formats, both of which I tested with perfect success. The encryption feature was also without fault and rated the strength of the password selected and gave the option to remember the password in the keychain. Using compression, 693mb of data was brought down to around 600mb. However, spanning is not an option if either encryption or compression is selected. Leaving a session “open” so that further data can be added at a later time creates two actual volumes that the Finder treats as two separate discs which is typical OSX behaviour as I understand.
Photo discs are created with automatic slide show functionality as well as a helpful “add to iPhoto” Applescript option when mounted. The slide show program is actually quite nice, and I spent some pleasant time viewing collections of Biblical art images.
Audio discs can be created using any non-protected files in at least the following formats: AIFF, MP3, WAV, AAC, AC3, OGG, FLAC, and even MOV. Audio unit effects, trimming, pauses and various cross-fading options can be applied individually to each track. Each track can also be previewed from within the content area workspace. Music CDs and DVDs can be created with multiple playing options including shuffle, continuous play, and smart playlists which can be combined with data, video, and photo content. Album artwork and music DVD buttons are customizable. As with the video templates, I found the stock selection to be limited – but again, custom backgrounds can be dragged over.
Quick Look Support
While in the media browser in any of the authoring panes, highlighting a file and pressing the space bar or eye-shaped icon brings up full Quick Look functionality so that nearly any media can be previewed from within Toast directly. Roxio notes that the following files are accessing with the integrated Quick Look:
- Most music, pictures, and video files
- Text, PDF, and Word documents
- Keynote and PowerPoint presentations
- Excel spreadsheets
- Mail attachments
I personally tried some unlisted applications such as Pages and Numbers which also opened fine via Quick Look.
Custom Icons and Backgrounds
I had quite a bit of fun with this feature. Instead of settling for the boring disc icon to show up in the Finder, a custom icon can be easily dragged into the “more” options as well as custom background colours or images for when the disc items are accessed (the custom backgrounds only appear when viewed on a Mac).
Toast 9 supports LightScribe and LabelFlash; however, I do not have any such enabled drives and could not test these features. I have used LightScribe technology in the past on PCs and though the “burned” disc labelling isn’t anywhere near professional level, it is a pretty neat technology – and as I have seen it integrate very well with PC programs, I am confident that it works very well with Toast. I have no experience with LabelFlash and can thus offer no comment in that regard. There is also an added function to create disc inserts and covers to be printed. I played around with various designs and found it to be competitive with similar programs; however, I did not print out any of the designs as I am currently not on speaking terms with my HP printer (on a side rant, I will never buy an HP product for a Mac again). Google searches for missing artwork can be initiated from directly within the program.
This function in the workspace allows discs and disc images to be copied/burned as well as supporting the merging of disc image files – for instance when one disc will contain a Mac version of an item as well as a Windows version for distribution.
A new “convert” category has been added which also allows automatic import into iTunes after conversion of audio and video files into different formats. I have found this handy, and it has worked without problems. Of course, Toast will not copy or import discs or files with DRM encryption.
Plug & Burn
This feature allows the importation of video from a DV camcorder through a firewire connection. I used a Sony HandyCam TRV480. To go on a bit of a tangent, while this camera certainly is not a high video quality camcorder, it offers backward compatibility with older 8mm tapes which, if you have a great many, is much cheaper than paying a service to convert them for you. Once the camera is turned on and put into play mode, a camera icon appears in the content area with basic video controls. At this point, the footage may be forwarded or reversed to choose the starting point for the video disc to be created. However, unlike the editing options for a DVD video, the ending point cannot be chosen in this manner – only a certain set number of minutes past the selected starting point which might not be at a convenient or appropriate point. I do see this as a deficiency that seems to be easy for Roxio to change, so I am unsure why they chose this route.
It is at this point that I found the interface potentially confusing. After choosing import, there are multiple options which include a “start from beginning of tape” that over-rides the earlier designated starting point – something that can easily be done unawares as I did. Perhaps a tool-tip at that point would be useful to remind the user that this will reset the starting point to the beginning of the tape, or maybe I am just being a bit dense. I can see that this may be of use to people who want to simply import entire videos to disc (or certain timed segments) without much concern for bad shots, ackward silences, and the other demons which plaque home video. In fact, after playing with it a bit, I think that is precisely what I am going to do. However, I think that most users who want watchable home movie footage (i.e. interesting and not tortuously boring) would opt to import into a video editing program such as iMovie ’08, iMovie HD, or Final Cut Express to do at least some minor editing before recording, and at least some of the usual video editing programs offer a burning option, and Final Cut Express includes a sophisticated DVD menu creation feature. So in short, this feature worked though the interface is at some points confusing, and there is very little control on the precise footage imported unless the file is imported in full. I am planning on using this feature to do a down and dirty all out conversion of my Sony HandyCam 8mm and Hi8 tapes into a digital format for possible later manipulation if desired. Quite frankly, most of the family footage will simply remain as originally shot in perpetuity.
I did work with the Roxio representative regarding these concerns, and a good workaround is to import the full video onto the computer outside of Toast and treating that file as any other that can be edited with more precision.
The feature I was most looking forward to worked perfectly for me – Streamer. With Streamer, the user imports video files into a designated Streamer folder, registers at the Roxio Streamer site, and is given a unique URL from which their videos can be viewed from the Internet anywhere. One snag I experienced, and this is unrelated to Roxio, but instead to AT&T’s terrible DSL customer service (especially when you tell them you are on a Mac), but the designated URL may not work within your own home network, and in that case you simply need to directly access the host computer’s IP and identify the port number assigned to Streamer. The on-screen instructions are very clear as to what settings must be enabled on the network router for Streamer to work properly. Also, despite the very firm assertion by the AT&T technician, you can have Streamer running on multiple computers by simply assigning it to a different port number. So on my system, the default port of 10080 was assigned to my MacPro and 10081 was assigned to my MacBook. Streamer videos can be viewed from any Mac, PC (as if), iPod touch (when connected to WiFi), and iPhone.
CD Spin Doctor
This feature allows the user to hijack sounds from their computer such as Internet streaming radio. I tested this extensively with Pandora. However, this is where I started running into glitches which prompted the Roxio technician to contact me. The audio recorded, but unfortunately there were intermittent bursts of distortion in the recording that will have to be corrected before this feature will be at all useable. An additional issue persisted only with the MacBook – that being that the CD Spin Capture support which is required in order to hijack audio simply refused to “stick.” It went through the installation process normally, but refused to appear where it should. I trashed and reinstalled this program as part of a trouble-shooting process, but the capture support still failed to take. Lastly, on my Mac Pro, there were intermittent issues with switching between headphones and line-out, but I have a suspicion that this might be a Mac Pro-only issue since its audio settings do not behave like the rest of the Mac line. Additionally, I have SoundSource installed on both machines which I informed Roxio in the possible case that there were possible conflicts there.
On a more practical note, I do not understand why Spin Capture support is a separate process that the user must install after CD Spin Doctor is installed rather than having it install automatically.
With any segment of hijacked audio, CD Spin Doctor can auto-detect the separate tracks, and the integrated Grace Note technology can automatically identify the song which then can all be imported into iTunes. I have used various auto-identification music programs in the past, and this one so far is the most accurate, and I was pleased with the results.
This program also features resources to convert analog tapes and actual albums into digital form directly from a turntable or cassette player as well as hiss and noise removal. I no longer have any of this type of media and was not able to test these features. CD Spin Doctor supports importing and editing MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless and AIFF formats.
I do not have Tivo, so I have no comment on that portion. However, I do have EyeTV which does send the recorded files directly into Toast with the click of a button or by navigation through the media browser. I regularly experienced problems burning the EyeTV files into DVDs (the disc could not record because of a Mac OS Error Result code = – 39). On the Roxio User Forums, it was suggested to convert the EyeTV files into a disc image and then burn the image unto a DVD as a temporary work-around until the problem is addressed which has been acknowledged by Roxio as an issue needing to be addressed. That workaround apparently worked for some users, but I received the same error mentioned above when I attempted it. Oddly, there were EyeTV files that burned successfully every time, some that never burned successfully, and some that burned when they felt like it. This is another area in which I have been in active contact with Roxio’s representative who has provided beta versions for me to try in order to fix this known issue. Obviously, Toast does support the necessary Turbo.264 video encoder. As mentioned above, these files can be edited directly from within Toast or EyeTV. That being said, having worked with multiple pro-sumer level video programs, the editing interface is not intuitive or maybe I am just too spoiled by the wonderful tool-tips in other parts of this product. I would strongly suggest watching this video from ScreenCasts Online on EyeTV as he covers a lot of basics, including editing, which I found very helpful (though please note that this is a UK screencast, and there are some differences in the EyeTV hardware and software between the UK and the US versions). Also, from what I understand, a World of Apple review of EyeTV is planned for the future.
ToastAnywhere Recorder Sharing
I was able to test this across my home network sharing my DVD recorder on each of my machines with each other, and it worked flawlessly. This will be very appealing to those with a MacBook Air of whose number I wish I was. I note that this feature boasts the ability to share recorders over the Internet as well, but at this point in time, that function is not working and is acknowledged as a known problem by Roxio.
Get Back-Up RE
I perused and tested some of the basic functionality of this back-up utility. It would be useful for planned back-ups of particular files such as an iTunes library, but for my own purposes, will not be a feature that I will use as I have a three-tier full back-up strategy (Time Machine, Mozy, and Carbon Copy Cloner). Yes, I am paranoid about losing data.
Disc Catalog Maker
As this was a feature for which I had limited interest, I gave it a very brief glance over. It automatically catalogs data discs made so that disc backups could be easily identified and cataloged. As I am not a fan of backing up to disc, this would be of limited usefulness to me. However, I see how it could be very useful to those who find it productive to use discs as part of their back-up plans.
This review, while lengthy, still only touched upon wide swathes of the program’s nuances and should not be taken as an exhaustive analysis, though I did strive for thoroughness in the areas in which I focused. I almost feel compelled to post an image of the dog-eared and marked-up Reviewer’s Guide and User Manual that I have been pouring over in order to put the program through its paces.
- Pros: The developer has a basic video presentation on the product. There are more features than ever before, including streaming video which I found to be a real treat and seamless. The interface is inuitive with plenty of helpful information boxes along the way. The excellent authoring functionality that Toast is known for remains and is expanded for greater customization. I now use it exclusively and have it set as default for burning on both of my machines, no longer using the built-in burning functionality of Leopard. Additionally, I have found Roxio to be very responsive to its users and their suggestions and definitely committed to the Mac platform and community.
- Cons: The support site does not have thorough step by step tutorials which are becoming something that is expected among consumers and would be especially helpful for switchers who are already a bit lost with a new OS. The HD/DVD Blu Ray functionality is a plug-in at an extra cost rather than being included with a program of this price point. There are still consistency problems with some of the new features such as CD Spin Doctor, sharing recorders over the internet, and EyeTV file DVD authoring which have caused many users to consider this more of a beta release rather than a final release.
- Verdict: I have a mixed verdict. If you have Toast 8, it may be worthwhile to wait for bug fixes unless some of the new features are things that are very compelling to you. For more assistance in this decision, read Roxio’s feature comparison of the two versions. Personally, Streamer, Quick Look, on-the-fly preview/editing, and CD Spin Doctor (once fixed) would be compelling to me. If you don’t need or want any of the new features, you will want to stick with Toast 8 until all of the bugs are worked out. So Toast 9 Titanium gets a split review – 4 1/2 stars on the typical authoring features that most users will use with the added functions for editing, preview, Quick Look, and Streamer. Three stars for the EyeTV support and integration due to its inconsistency, and 1 star for CD Spin Doctor until the audio quality issues are resolved.
Roxio is working on resolving the problems noted within this review, and I will post an updated review when these items are addressed.
GIVEAWAY: Post in the comments and you will be entered into a random drawing to win a retail box copy of Toast 9 Titanium PLUS the added HD DVD and Blu-Ray plug-in. You will only be entered once, so multiple comments will not provide more chances. The winner will be announced on August 4. The software is the retail box version, so the winner will need to provide their address to me, and I will forward it to the Roxio representative. If you are uncomfortable giving your address if you win, but still wish to comment, just note in the comments that you do not wish to enter the giveaway drawing.