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Editor's Choice

Roxio Toast 5 Titanium

Stephen F. Nathans

Roxio Toast 5 Titanium
synopsis: For a product as seasoned and well-traveled as Toast, recording music CDs and other ordinary data discs is old hat, and certainly nothing to crow about. It's a given, and if my rigorous testing is any indication, Toast 5 still has all its audio chops, and packs some mean bootable and autoplay punches as well. Along with Apple itself, Toast is all about conquering new frontiers these days, and today's frontier of choice is digital video. With a demonstrable new emphasis on iMovie and QuickTime support, VideoCD creation, and output to DVD-R, DVD-RAM, and DLT, Toast is well-equipped to greet the new digital video age in the home, office, and professional studio. And it's got a great new look, too, with a multipane window that delivers all the recording action in this remarkably versatile tool right to the user, as never before.

price: $99

Roxio, Inc. 451 S. Milpitas Boulevard
Milpitas, CA 95035
408/635-7694
Fax 408/957-4544
http://www.roxio.com

August 2001 | Toast has been my recording software of choice for about a half-decade now, and even going back to the Astarte days, its form and function have changed very little. Third- and fourth-generation upgrades added things like 80-minute media support, an approximation of the Spin Doctor audio software Adaptec/Roxio includes with Deluxe editions of its Easy CD Creator software for the PC, USB support (yawn), and–in Toast 4.1–much-welcomed, on-the-fly MP3-to-AIFF conversion capability. I think Toast became a capable extractor of digital audio (via a supplementary application) around the time of its purchase by Adaptec.

But it's always had that small, rectangular window with the pull-down menu for CD type, and clickable buttons that take you to other windows, including "Write CD," "Check Speed," "Search" (for searching the bus if your recorder doesn't pop up automatically), and of course the "Data" or "Audio" button that takes you to a new window for dragging the files and/or folders that will comprise your new disc. Or, alternatively, if you chose Mac Volume, you'd get a choice of volumes for recording to disc.

The new Toast does all that stuff. But it also does a lot more. Toast 5 Titanium, as Roxio has dubbed the retail version of its new Mac recording software, is–like Apple itself–all about video these days. From QuickTime and iMovie support to VideoCD export to DVD output, Toast 5 teems with moving picture perks.

But that's not the first thing you notice. The first thing that hits you in Toast 5 Titanium is that Toast has shed the skin it clung to way back when, and grown a new one that's decidedly now. And that's not just stylistic hipness talking. The new interface almost feels as if it's giving you a head start, starting you one window ahead of the old version. Like a gripping page-turner that vaults you right into the moment of the narrative, enveloping you in the sights and sounds and smells of the scene at hand (except not nearly as exciting), the window you see when you start up Toast Titanium is the very window in which all the action will happen, from disc type selection to dragging to dropping to audio extraction. It even contains the magic "Record" button (it's big and round and red–you can't miss it). That one window is where it all happens. It's a nice inversion of the window-jumping leitmotif of old, much more in synch with the new video-happy Toast. Just keep your eyes on that single blue-silver screen, and the show will come to you.

What hasn't changed dramatically is the menu bar up top, whose familiar "File Edit Recorder Disc Utilities Internet Help" sequence hasn't changed much from the Toast 4 days. You'll meet a couple new friends in the file pull-down, including "Write to DLT Tape..." and "Write to DVD-RAM." Odds are we'll find DVD-RAM an especially likeable pal when we have a whole afternoon to kill writing a dataset we could have burned to some CD-Rs in a half-hour. But it's a sensible choice for Roxio this time around, since Apple shipped a good many iMac DV's with DVD-RAM last year.

About the only thing that's somewhat off-putting in this new main window is that the four buttons–Data, Audio, Copy, and Other–don't all work the same. If I want to make a data disc, I click Data, and I'm all ready to drag in the files. Same with Audio. One click of Copy takes me directly to a choice of source CD drives, which probably doesn't even mean much of a choice for most Mac users. But let's say you want to get at the myriad options available through Door #4, Other. Click on it, and you'll get a window offering the last one you used (the default is VideoCD). But let's say you want Mac Volume (for making bootable CDs, selecting Autostart files, etc.), MP3 disc, CD Extra, DVD, etc. You've got to hold down the mouse button on Other to get to all this stuff. While this isn't entirely counterintuitive–and I can't imagine how else they might have done it in the new window–I did have to stumble on the right page of the User's Guide (non-linear documentation reader that I am) before I could tap into all the excitement awaiting me in the "Other" zone.

One of the coolest things adorning the new Toast main window is Toast Help, which is accessed simply by clicking the question mark to the right of the disc-type choice panel. Here, you'll find insights on everything from simple and specialized CD creation to making incremental backups, cross-platform discs, VideoCDs, and DVDs. The DVD Help screens also include instruction on what the DVD format is, when it's advisable to use DVD instead of one of the various CD formats, and how to record a DVD disc–what VIDEO_TS folders are, where to put 'em, etc.–that will play back in a DVD player. Apparently, this Help feature is available on the more limited, bundled version of Toast 5, which Roxio is calling "Toast Lite." We know this because when you read up on advanced features like DVD recording, Toast Lite users are offered a handy clickthrough to a screen explaining how to up- grade to Toast Titanium. Like the main window, Toast Help also has that MP3 player skin-like sleekness and blue-silver glow.

more help on the way

A friend of mine is a senior tech writer for a Boston-area software company, and once he was in my office when I was stumbling through the first stages of a CD autoloader review. I was having trouble getting the system to recognize the media I'd loaded, or that it was loaded at all, or something like that, and as I tinkered in vain with the system, I noticed my tech writer friend was laughing at me. "What's so funny?" I asked. He replied, "I'm just wondering how long it'll be before you look at the documentation."

The fact is, most people do only look at the documentation as a last resort, and in many cases, they might as well, since it's just about the least likely resource at their disposal to help sort things out (common sense often ranking much higher). But if you've been discouraged by the cursory or confusing catfish-wrapping parchments distributed with other software, don't make Roxio pay for their sins. Much like its cousin on the Easy CD Creator side, the Toast 5 Titanium User's Guide is thick as thieves and twice as thorough. I lost the Toast 4 Guide one or two office moves ago, so I can't guarantee we're looking at entirely new material, but I'm confident the increased emphasis on network volume recording, Video and interactive CDs, MP3 Disc Format, a handy chapter on "Making DVDs", and a well-placed subsection on "Making VideoCDs from iMovies" are all-new entries that will be well-received by today's new-millennium Mac user.

every picture tells a story

Now, we all know the Mac is the most stable CD recording platform on the planet, and the reason you don't hear much about BURN-Proof on the Mac side is that buffer underruns have never been a big issue. Of course, there's nothing magical about that. The multitask-resistant Mac simply doesn't let you do enough to get in the way of the recording process. What's more, those of us who learned the hard way that our dismal, factory-installed CD-ROM drives (where do they find those things?) won't support more than mildly respectable audio extraction or disc-to-disc copying over 6X have simply learned not to talk about these things. But Toast has always been all you could ask for as a general-purpose recording tool, laying track with the best of them. (For the record, Toast Titanium does offer "Background Burning" and BURN-Proof compatibility with BURN-Proof-capable drives, but if you've got a 12X or 16X drive new enough to have BURN-Proof, I'd say stick with old habits and wait four minutes for Toast to do its good work front and center.)

But like my old line cook coworker (and after-hours axeman) used to tell me, "Any guitar player who ain't got Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly in his back pocket oughtta hang it up right now." For a product as seasoned and well-traveled as Toast, recording music CDs and other ordinary data discs is old hat, and certainly nothing to crow about. It's a given, and if my rigorous testing is any indication, Toast 5 still has all its audio chops, and packs some mean bootable disc and autoplay punches as well. Audio extraction is better than passable, and general recording chores are accomplished quickly and reliably. And this review's host system and recorder of choice aren't even the choicest ones on the block–a 1999-vintage 333mHz G3 PowerBook with 192MB RAM, a turgid 24X Max on-board CD-ROM drive, and a rock-steady 10X Sony Spressa.

But that's not what we're here to talk about. Along with Apple itself, Toast is all about conquering new frontiers these days, and today's favored frontier (according to the prognostications of desktop computing's best demographic scientists) is digital video. For today's home-video crowd, optical media is all the rage, at least in theory. Since doing digital video in almost any form has only recently evolved beyond the "theory" stage for most of its new target audience, that means actually recording it on optical media ought to take its place just a little further along the learning curve. And just as video is raising the bar for what we expect from CD/DVD recording products, it's simultaneously lowering the bar for what qualifies as CD and DVD-worthy content. After all, nobody really used Spin Doctor and its ilk to record their own shower-singing, bongo solos, or improvisations on the Casio demo loop. And there's certainly a strong professional angle in the new digital video-to-disc design. But the desktop video revolution in home computing–Apple's true target–is going to be all about bringing it all back home, the more amateur the better. Apple will be right there putting the i in iMovie, and Toast will be right there on the periphery (with the peripherals), burning it all into memory.

And it's not even that complicated. Pull down the Other menu in the main window, highlight VideoCD, and commence to drag and drop. Whether your files are QuickTime or iMovie, Toast Titanium–as the User's Guide says–"will do the rest." All you really need to plan in advance is how you'll pass the time while Toast "does the rest." At 10 minutes of conversion-to-MPEG-time-per-minute of iMovie or QuickTime video (think of it as SlowTime), you're in for a long haul if you plan to load up the full 70 minutes of family reunion footage that you can fit onto a 650MB CD-R recorded as VideoCD. In the name of science, I restrained myself and converted only a single, downloaded 34-second QuickTime clip of Jerry Lee Lewis singing "Goosebumps," but since the disc I made will play back in my CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, or DVD player (assuming it's blessed with VideoCD compatibility), I'm sure the memories will last a lifetime.

never a dull moment

But the real video success story here is Toast's compatibility with DVD-R, DVD-RAM, and DLT media. In recent years, there was a product called ToastDVD floating around, but like the near-phantom ToastDirect (a DirectCD-like packet-writing tool for the Mac), it was never integrated into a mainstream Toast release. Until now. Today's Toast Titanium is equal parts CD and DVD recording tool, and the timing couldn't be better, since Apple has made a full-on commitment to CD and DVD recording in the latest line of G4s and iMac DVs–which are all about integrating R/RW drives of CD or DVD ilk. Of course, Toast Titanium won't ship with any of those products, but reduced-price upgrades will surely be available for the CD-R/RW-equipped Macs. What's more, the availability of Toast 5.01 Titanium (a free upgrade on the Roxio Web site) will give users of the SuperDrive-equipped G4 something their PC-using counterparts in the DVD-R Compaq camp can only dream about at this point: a $99, all-purpose recording tool to free them from the shackles of entry-level DVD creation [See Stephen Ellerin's review of the Compaq Presario 7000, July 2001, pp.64-67]. Using Toast Titanium with the SuperDrive G4, Mac users will have complete flexibility in DVD creation, in that they can use Toast to record DVD images to DVD-R, no matter what authoring program was used to create them. It's just a matter of having VIDEO_TS files ready, and knowing where to put them.

DLT support is also a welcome feature, as DLT remains the primary medium of DVD premastering. For one thing, it remains the only way to deliver a contiguous DVD-9 image to the replicator, so that alone makes it essential in a professional DVD recording and image-output tool.

a spanner in the works

No review of Toast 5 Titanium would be complete without a mention of the heady complement of ancillary items that accompany the main program on the action-packed Toast disc. Highlights include Magic Mouse Discus 2.28, a nifty CD labeling and jewel case creation program; the familiar Spin Doctor (for analog-to-digital audio conversion and vinyl de-clicking) and Audio Extractor; and VideoCD Export extras.

My favorite in this year's batch is iView Multimedia, from the "Roxio Photo" set, which is a nice program for arranging scanned photos into catalogs and slide shows. I must admit I was mighty proud of myself for assembling the motley assortment of photos of family and friends and home-made CD cover art into a spell-binding slide show, setting the whole production to Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" (thank you, Napster) and recording the slide show to disc (along with the MP3) as an AutoPlay file, along with a copy of iView, just in case.

And I captured this whole solipsistic, still-image reverie on my old friend CD-R–who knew what it could do? Next stop, full-motion me. So, if you'll excuse me, I do believe it's high time that I started putting the i in iMovie.


Companies Mentioned in This Article

Apple Computer, Inc.
1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; 408/996-1010; http://www.applecomputer.com

Compaq Computer Corporation
20555 SH 249, Houston, TX 77070-2698; 719/548-3544; Fax 719/548-3292; http://www.compaq.com



Stephen F. Nathans (stephenn@onlineinc.com) is editor of EMedia Magazine.

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