Toast 8 Titanium

I don’t envy the folks at Roxio. When you’ve got a product that’s as mature and well developed as their CD- and DVD-burning software, Toast Titanium, you run the risk of introducing feature bloat with major new releases—and making an easy-to-use program harder than it should be. But I have to give credit where it’s due: Toast 8 Titanium adds features and simplifies the interface in such a way that it’s much better than its predecessors.

Toast 8 Titanium continues to do what it’s always done very well; namely, burning CD and DVD media. But the new release adds a slew of new features that just about every segment of the Mac-using public will find useful—everything from integration with TiVo DVRs (digital video recorders) to support for Blu-ray optical discs.

TiVo DVRs are popular with television watchers because they let you record television shows to hard disk and watch them when you prefer, fast-forwarding through ads, searching for content that interests you, and making sure you never miss an episode of the programs you want to see. Two years ago, TiVo introduced a feature called TiVoToGo, which let you move program files from your TiVo box to a portable device or computer. It debuted as Windows-only software, but TiVo promised a Mac version, which failed to materialize—until now.

Now, TiVoToGo is here on the Mac, thanks to Roxio, which secured an exclusive distribution arrangement from TiVo. And you can export those TiVo files to PSP or video iPod formats, or burn them to DVD or DivX discs for later viewing.

Setting up the TiVo Transfer application is a lead-pipe cinch: you enter your TiVo DVR’s Media Access Key, and the application displays the TiVo’s contents. Setting up Auto Transfer helps automate the process of bringing content over to your Mac. You can wake up in the morning and find last night’s episode of Lost or Heroes already on your hard drive and ready to rip to disc—or convert for your iPod or PSP.

Unfortunately, the actual quality and speed of video output still leaves something to be desired. I found the quality of video converted and exported by Toast 8 Titanium to be lower than I could achieve on my own with applications like Handbrake —images were often darker and less distinct. Though I could massage it a bit using Toast’s extensive options, I still had a hard time getting results that satisfied me. But Toast 8 Titanium is still the best Mac application out there for exporting video to a wide range of different formats.

TiVoToGo doesn’t completely automate the process of converting video, though. For example, once my TiVo content is on my hard drive, I still need to tell Toast to rip the video to a format that my PSP understands. It would be handy if there were a way to automate this entire workflow.

Blu-ray, Sony’s high-definition optical disc format, is gaining traction as a consumer product, but it’s also appearing as a computer storage format, and it’s not hard to understand why. Each 5.25-inch dual-layer Blu-ray disc can store up to 50GB of data, compared to 4.7GB of data on a single-layer DVD-R disc. But as I write this, Apple hasn’t yet built in support for Blu-ray drives, which means you must install software on your Mac to get a Blu-ray drive to work.

Toast does indeed offer this support, and Roxio has extended it beyond the confines of the Toast application. Toast Dynamic Writing lets you see a Blu-ray disc in the Finder, so you can copy files from there as well. Unlike with conventional DVD-R writing, you’re not copying files to a cache or alias location. You’re writing files directly to the Blu-ray disc in real time, as if it were a 25GB or 50GB hard disk drive.

If you use Toast to burn audio CDs, you’ll find a lot of improvements in that area as well—including some you previously had to pay extra for by buying Roxio’s Jam, a separate audio-recording application. You can now create DJ-style cross-fades and transitions, process audio you import from analog sources such as vinyl records and cassettes (to remove hisses and pops, for example), normalize volume levels, and trim your tracks.

Toast 8 Titanium works better as a file archival and backup system in this new version, too. As before, you can span data across more than one CD or DVD. Toast installs a small Mac OS X- and Windows-compatible application called Roxio Restore alongside the archived data, so when you want to recover files you’ve backed up to CD or DVD, you don’t need Toast to make it happen—you just need the disc itself. Toast now keeps track of which files you’ve stored on which burned discs using the accompanying DiscCatalogMaker RE application, so you can locate content more easily once you’ve offloaded it and put the disc away. And Toast can even recover files from damaged discs—it can read data from CDs and DVDs that the Finder can’t decipher.

With all this new functionality you might expect Toast 8 Titanium to be more difficult to use, but you’d be wrong. Roxio has taken pains to simplify the interface. Scaling text effects inside the Toast window show you what kind of files you can manipulate using the different data, audio, video, and copying features of Toast. The developers have also reworked the interface, removing the clunky drawer motif of Toast 7 and cleanly exposing all of the major features. Instead of the drawers, you’ll now find a Media Browser, a floating window that gives you access to the music, photos, and video content you want to put on disc, showing you the contents of your iPhoto library, for example, or your Movies folder. If you have Elgato’s EyeTV (   ) DVR software installed, the Media Browser will also show you TV shows that EyeTV has archived.

All these new features do push the envelope a bit in the system requirements department. You’ll need a G4 or better running OS X 10.4.8 to get Toast 8 Titanium to work.

Macworld’s buying advice

I’ve only touched on some of the major stuff that’s changed in Toast 8 Titanium. This program has dozens of enhancements and improvements under the hood. With Blu-ray support, TiVoToGo, enhancements, interface streamlining, and feature improvements galore, Toast 8 Titanium is the best value Roxio has offered in years.

[ Peter Cohen is Macworld.com’s senior editor for news and also writes the Game Room blog. ]

Roxio has taken pains to make Toast 8 Titanium’s interface cleaner and more intuitive than before, getting rid of drawers and adding a Media Browser.

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