Toast has set the standard for CD authoring on the Mac since its first version, and it has kept up with the needs of users by adding more features over the years. I had some reservations as to whether Roxio can add enough value to an already near-perfect product, but we took a look at a latest version of Toast to see what’s new.
Roxio claims the focus of Toast 7 is to make difficult things easier, great things better and impossible things possible. It’s a tall order, but a great goal to aim for.
Starting with the difficult things being made easier, there was certainly room for improvement in usability. The power of Toast to master things like Mac and PC hybrid discs, create DVDs from DivX files and make discs with custom icons and backgrounds has always been there. However, many of these features needed workarounds, hacks, or just a deep involvement with the manual. In Toast 7, all these things are much easier to access and use.
One example is the ability of OS X to assign picture backgrounds on folders. It’s easy enough to do, but to have the picture background on a folder of a CD takes a lot of complicated to-ing and fro-ing. You need to work from a disc image and any changes that you make to the disc image are not always saved, so you need to keep opening and closing the image to see if the changes stick. A CD with a picture background looks very professional, but it needs a real techie to get to grips with how to do it. Toast 7 reduces all those shenanigans to a simple option when burning a CD, thus saving hours of heartache.
Custom icons, self-opening folders, and more, are just a checkbox in Toast 7. That’s a whole lot of difficult things made easier. There are also some features that were technically possible – just – that are now a little easier, though still in techie territory. I’m talking about DivX HD content burning. Explaining what that is is hard enough, but at least how it works is fairly straightforward. If you have a compatible DVD player you can play DivX movies (most of which are downloaded from the Internet – sometimes legally). Nothing too difficult about that. If you are really into High-Definition technology you may already download HD content (such as US TV shows). However, as the standard for HD DVD isn’t yet set, you can usually only watch this content streamed directly from a computer to an HD screen. With Toast 7, a compatible DVD player, and an HD screen you can now commit HD material to disc using DivX. Simple.
Although the majority of users will have lesser requirements, they still want to be able to do it easily, so Roxio has those bases covered too. Often we use CDs and DVDs for backup, but find our iTunes music library, or picture folders are too big to fit on a single disc. Toast 7 introduces Disc Spanning, a way to record large files across a number of CDs or DVDs. If your material is too big for one disc, Toast will suggest spanning it over however many discs it needs. The discs are individually readable, and each holds a mini program for piecing together any large files that were split in the process.
This makes it possible, even easy, to back up that most precious of data, my iTunes library. I’ve almost lost it before, so I am very conscious of the danger of having all my musical eggs in one basket. The peace of mind this offers is worth the price alone.
Toast also offers total iLife integration and makes it very straightforward to use your music, movie and picture libraries. One really cool feature is the ability to make a DVD that will play in your DVD player and offers an interface on your TV to play music. You can even hit a shuffle option. While it doesn’t do such a nice job as iDVD when it comes to putting together home-movie DVDs, the ease of creating music DVDs makes it an appealing choice.
Other highlights include the ability to copy DVD movies using a clever compression strategy – so movies that live on dual-density discs can be squeezed onto the smaller capacity 4.7GB DVD discs. This sounds good until you realise that Roxio doesn’t do anything that might breech copy protection laws, which limits this activity to home movies. Of course, there are applications out there that do break the copy protection and encryption found on commercial DVDs, but Roxio, and Macworld for that matter, does not want to promote that stuff. So if you want to crack DVDs you’ll have to use Google to find it. Try searching for ‘Mac DVD Backup’.
There is so much in Toast 7 that this review barely scratches the surface. Roxio has lived up to its claims to make things better, easier or just plain possible. Suffice to say that Toast 7 will save your data in every way imaginable, support every format you can think of, and do it all with a minimum of fuss or manual reading. Whether you need a simple backup, or a hybrid DVD, Toast 7 just works.