Friday, August 3, 2007

Toast 8 Titanium Macintosh

New Features and Impressions
Toast 8 Titanium includes support for Blu-Ray Disc burners, vastly enhanced audio CD burning with features from Jam, media conversion from Popcorn, slick photo discs, integration with TiVo and EyeTV-based DVR systems, and disc cataloguing software so you can find files on your CD/DVD archives. Other improvements include better DVD menus and a good status display during burning. Toast 8 also has better support for Windows users; disk spanning now includes a Windows restore utility, and Toast 8's picture CD/DVD's will automatically invoke the Windows picture viewer upon insertion.

The user interface is streamlined as well, now more resembling Mac OS X 10.4's "unified" look than the traditional "Aqua" look.

Toast 8 has a few rough edges, particularly in the Windows integration and lack of support for Mac OS X 10.3 or 10.2 users, but so far we're impressed overall.

Disc Spanning now does Windows
Toast 7 introduced "disc spanning". If you had more data to burn than a single CD or DVD could hold, Toast would split it across multiple discs. The implementation was good; each CD included a utility program called "Roxio Restore", which would extract everything. And better still, the files were not stored in some proprietary archive, but as normal files. Only the file that happened to fall at the limit of the CD/DVD's capacity was split into parts, and even without Roxio Restore, a skilled user could reconstruct the file from its parts. In practice, restoring was generally easier using Roxio Restore, simply for its speed of displaying files from the disc's catalog, versus waiting for the Finder's slow optical drive operations.

Roxio Restore shows a catalog of the entire spanned set's contents. You can select a file (or files) from the list, click the "Restore" icon in the toolbar, choose a restore location, and insert discs when prompted. Or better yet, just drag-and-drop files from the Restore window to your desktop or destination folder.

In Toast 8, Roxio added a Windows version of the utility that is also added to spanned discs. When you insert any member of a spanned set into a Windows PC's CD-ROM drive, it uses Windows' AutoPlay feature to start up Roxio Restore. It looks like a Mac application, complete with iTunes-style brushed metal interface. Unfortunately, the Windows version doesn't support drag-and-drop. Restoring even a single file also restores its entire folder hierarchy; this could be a feature or a misfeature, depending on personal preference.

Compressed or encrypted discs are still a Mac-only feature. They depend upon Mac OS X's built-in disk imaging functionality for both compression and encryption; neither supports disc spanning.

Toast 8 still offers all the same features it used to, including support for esoteric disc formats and top-notch creation of hybrid discs. This latest version adds great new functionality, particularly disc cataloging, data recovery, TiVo support and improvements for Windows users. Additional small improvements pervade the application, ranging from subtly re-arranged dialog boxes to selectable "Autorun" support for Windows PCs.

We love Toast's new user interface. It's better laid out, makes better use of screen space, and is faster and easier to use. Toast 8 also provides more status information, which is easier to read, while burning discs.

The included utilities are generally useful. DiskCatalogMaker is fast and does exactly what it is designed for, and no more – an excellent utility. Disc Cover RE includes plenty of fun and useful templates for CD/DVD cases and discs, although it could do with a way to import track lists from Toast's Audio CDs. (It also supports LightScribe burners, but we didn't test this.) CD Spin Doctor includes great guidance for setting up your Mac to record audio, and it supports up to 96kbs/24bit audio. The Deja vu backup program is now a Universal Binary, but is otherwise unchanged since its introduction with Toast 7. Motion Pictures HD hasn't been updated and isn't native on Intel Macs.

Roxio now offers true upgrade pricing for owners of Toast 7, Jam 6 or Popcorn 2 at their website, rather than mail-in rebates. Owners of older versions of Toast (or competitors) are eligible for a $20 mail-in rebate, but it remains to be seen if the problems with past Roxio rebates will afflict buyers again.

We feel that Toast 8 is a good choice for TiVo owners. Freeware utilities can provide similar functionality, but not the same degree of integration and one-click burning. However, Roxio must address TiVo problems reported in MacInTouch Reader Reports and elsewhere, if they're going to partner with TiVo and use this as a selling point.

Toast 8 Titanium is one of the only Mac disc-burning utilities that isn't just a front-end to Mac OS X's built-in frameworks, which other products use as a springboard to enter the Mac market at low cost. Roxio's Toast team has risen to this competitive challenge, again delivering a high-value product with new features and plenty of welcome improvements at a reasonable price.