Toast 11.0.2 Titanium review

Roxio’s Toast has long been the gold standard for going beyond the types of disc burning capabilities that Apple has built into the Mac OS. In recent years, Toast has expanded beyond that role into media conversion and extraction.

Toast Titanium 10, for example, added the abilities to extract clips from unprotected DVDs, save and convert web-based Flash video, archive AVCHD files from camcorders, convert audiobook CDs for iTunes or iPod/iPhone playback, transfer video to a TiVo DVR and capture and tag audio from external sources.

In Toast 11, the latest version of the CD/DVD burning and video conversion software, big changes include a new user interface, built-in tutorials, multiple burner support, subtitle suport and hardware-assisted video encoding.

As in the past, Toast also includes a bunch of additional apps: Disc Cover 3 RE, DiscCatalogMaker RE, Get Backup 2 RE, Mac2TiVo (for sending files to a TiVo DVR) and TiVo Transfer (for pulling content off your TiVo) and a new version of Spin Doctor (formerly CD Spin Doctor). The Streamer app is no longer included, however.

Here’s how the new version fares.

Installing and updating

The first change longterm users of the software will notice takes place very early on. Rather than a folder you drag to your Applications folder, there’s now an installer. While not a big deal in itself, it does signal an important change to the way Roxio handles the various apps in the Toast package.

With previous versions, any time there was an update to Toast and/or its bundled apps, you’d have to log into the Roxio site, download a disc image with the entire suite of apps (even if nothing changed in the majority of them), and then replace your Toast folder with the updated folder. I’ve always found this process to be annoying and needlessly complicated.

With Toast 11, that pain is a thing of the past. Toast and many of the included apps now take advantage of the Sparkle update checking and installing framework (and those that don’t have options to help you find updates as well). What that means is no more logins and downloading huge disc images to make sure your apps are up to date.

Although the update process is vastly improved, with the main Toast application, the update still spawns the Toast Setup Assistant and makes you choose which disc to install on and then walks through the install process as if you were starting from scratch. Roxio said it wanted to make sure this first use of Sparkle-powered updating was rock solid, and may tweak the behaviour in the feature. For the other apps, such as Spin Doctor, updating works as you’d expect.

New user interface

Although Toast has always had a lot of power, it wasn’t always easy to figure out how to make everything work. To start with, there’s now a Tutorials section that includes screencast videos (and links to step by step PDFs) walking you through several common tasks.

Even after that though, there are general improvements to how you find your way around the software. Activities are still grouped into the same five categories (Data, Audio, Video, Copy and Convert), but previously they were listed by icon only until you clicked on one. Now, you can clearly see the names of all the categories. And instead of being smashed into one corner of the UI, the categories are displayed as tabs that run across the width of the content window. Whether you’re new to Toast or have been using it for years, you’ll probably appreciate the refinements to some often perplexing interface choices of the past.

There’s also a new Assistant window that can show you common projects for each category, along with descriptions and big icons, or an Advanced view that lists all the available options.

And there are other small but useful changes. The big red button in the lower right corner has a black ring around it and is labelled with the word Burn, Copy or Convert (depending on the type of project you’ve created) instead of, well, just being a big red button. You can choose a burner and its settings, as well as the number of copies you want to burn, directly from the main window. And you can now view the Media Browser as a separate floating palette (as before) or integrated into the main UI. You might even notice that Toast icon now has a disc and an iPhone coming out the toaster rather than two discs, a nod to the waning importance of physical media for many users these days.

But speaking of physical media, I still burn data DVD backups (mostly of concerts in lossless audio formats as archives) and with Toast 10, it took until the last version, 10.0.8, before I could reliably burn those DVDs without every third one failing during the writing process. With Toast 11, I haven’t seen any such problems and have been burning data DVDs for weeks with only the rare failure along the way.

New video features

Toast 11 expands its video format support, adding presets for the iPhone 4, Android phones, Windows Media Video, DivX Plus HD and MKV, as well as Internet-specific presets for YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and F4V Flash video.

You can also have Toast publish directly to online services and even tweet the link to the video. I added a 720p video shot with my iPhone into Toast under the Convert heading, and uploaded it directly to my Vimeo account. While the process wasn’t as smooth as using iMovie, for example the Title field was blank even though I’d already given my video a name in Toast, it did take me directly to the video page on Vimeo when it was finished uploading (a nice touch). Using the High quality setting, the movie was almost identical in quality and file size to the same movie exported from iMovie. Still, Toast only lets you trim movies, not combine multiple clips and insert transitions the way iMovie does, making it less useful for many people.

At the same time, you can now create custom video profiles, tweaked from one of the built-in presets. This could be useful if you want to convert video that will look good on all your particular Apple devices, say. But (presumably to ensure compatibility) you can’t change the settings for the Internet video presets for YouTube, Facebook or Vimeo.

Speaking of export settings, you can change the target device or service, as well as quality, after clicking the big red button, which is labelled Convert in this context, but you can also get to them by clicking the name of the current setting at the bottom middle of the screen. But you wouldn’t know it by looking, because the label (Vimeo - High, for example) appears like any other text, and does nothing to betray its clickable nature.

A new feature called VideoBoost can take advantage of the GPU in some newer Nvidia graphics chips/cards to speed up H.264 video conversion. If your Mac supports it, a Use VideoBoost Acceleration option will show up in the Player Setup window. My iMac with Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS graphics isn’t supported, nor is my Mac Pro with ATI Radeon x1900 graphics. The speed benefits should be similar to using the Elgato Turbo.264 HD USB stick (and in case you were wondering, you can’t use both at the same time).

Also, you can now schedule video conversions for a later time. When converting video from unprotected DVDs, you can include any of the subtitles from the DVD burned into your exported video. You can play back HD content burned on standard DVDs (the HD/BD plug-in, required for HD authoring on standard or Blu-ray discs, is still a for-pay addon, or comes as part of Toast 11 Pro) and you now have the ability to add manual chapter marks as well as better control over the trimming of clips.

Audio improvements

One new audio feature is called Audio CD Spanning. Like iTunes, it lets you add as many tracks as you want for burning and breaks them into the number of CDs needed to do so. Unlike iTunes, however, you can determine which tracks go on which CDs, as well as apply Audio Units filters to your tracks.

A new version of Spin Doctor (which Roxio also refers to as SDX) adds some cool new features. You can now record audio from any individual app on your Mac or whatever you hear through your speakers/headphones, in addition to the ability to record line input of tapes or LPs. (Otherwise you’d need an application such as Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro.) Spin Doctor captures audio from apps at 20MB per minute (32-bit stereo at 44.1kHz) as CAF files, and you can export the audio in a variety or formats, or send the audio to Toast or iTunes. Spin Doctor can also connect to the Gracenote MusicID service to identify the music you’ve recorded.

I tested out Spin Doctor capturing music from my iTunes library and from Safari connected to my Napster account. In iTunes, I recorded an Al Green album. and the software did a great job of auto-defining the tracks, but the identification service only figured out two of the 10 tracks. With another album, Pink Floyd’s Meddle, it stopped recording with about 12 1/2 minutes left in the last song, “Echoes”. Auto-define separated the album into five tracks instead of six (the first two songs were identified together) and it was able to identify the four other tracks, including the incomplete “Echoes”, but one of the songs was identified incorrectly (wrong artist, title and album).

When capturing from Napster playback in Safari, I generally had better results. It recorded and auto-defined Paul Simon’s latest album, but it didn’t identify the tracks on the first try. When I clicked the Identify button a second time, it found all the metadata and added it correctly. (Note that my capturing from Napster was for testing purposes only, we don’t endorse capturing music from streaming services to keep).

I also encountered several text rendering and placement problems in the Info tab after recording some audio. And it’s not clear how to best work with the application if you choose not to use the track auto-define feature. Spin Doctor definitely has some cool new features over the previous version, but as far as stability and bugs, it still needs some work.

Other changes

For the first time, Toast now supports simultaneous burning to multiple drives. This lets you create two copies of the same disc, say, if you have both an internal and external CD/DVD burner. In the Destination popup window, instead of picking a particular drive to burn to, you choose the Select Multiple Recorders option. Click the Burn button and a Select Recorders window appears, which lets you choose from the list of connected burners, as well as the number of copies to make per drive as well as the write speed.

On my first attempt burning an audio CD to my Mac Pro’s internal burner and an external FireWire drive, the external gave me an immediate medium error window and failed to burn. The other copy, on the internal drive, burned fine. When I switched to burning just to the external drive, that disc burned perfectly as well. I then tried a different external burner (USB this time) and was able to burn to two drives at the same time without any problems.

Roxio has also improved the DVD clip extraction feature for use with unprotected DVDs, image files and Video_TS folders. Borrowed from Roxio’s Popcorn 4 software, the new interface lets you easily select multiple clips from various titles to export as individual movie files. I took 60-plus-year-old footage from a 16mm-to-DVD transfer showing my mother and aunt as children with their parents (my grandparents) and selected several sections to export to iPhone format as individual clips. The process was quick and easy, with good results.

Toast 11 Pro

In addition to the standard Toast 11 Titanium, Roxio also offers Toast 11 Pro, which includes all the same things as Titanium but adds the HD/BD plug-in, a full version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, FotoMagico 3 RE, SoundSoap 2 SE and the SoundSoap Audio Units plugin, and Sonicfire Pro 5. Elements 9 is £65 by itself, so if you don’t have a copy yet the bundle is a good deal.

OUR VERDICT

Despite some rough edges, Toast 11 is a very nice upgrade from Toast 10. The simplified interface makes the software easier to work with, and the Sparkle framework makes it more convenient to update. Upgrade prices are still a little steep, especially considering that you can get a new boxed copy online for not much more than the upgrade price, but if don’t mind spending the cash, you’ll be rewarded with a better app and more included functionality than before.

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