Everyone's getting into the digital-media suite game lately, from Apple to Roxio. Next at bat is Pinnacle Instant CD/DVD. This jack-of-all-trades burning utility can burn and copy a wide variety of disc types, as can others in the field--such as Nero Burning ROM, our Editors' Choice. It also includes a full video-importing and -editing tool that's much more sophisticated than what Nero or competing suite Roxio Easy CD & DVD Creator 6.0 offers. Like Roxio, Instant CD/DVD feels like a collection of separate tools yoked together without enough integration, but it handled every task we could throw at it and performed well in all our tests. Overall, we still prefer Nero for its smoother interface and lower price, but if you're looking for one app that can edit video, then burn it, Instant CD/DVD offers a one-stop option. Instant CD/DVD's installation is a breeze, thanks to a unified installer that loads everything with one click. In fact, if Instant CD/DVD's interface were as unified as that installer, we'd like the entire app much more.
Instant CD/DVD's unified installer lets you install everything with one click.
Instant CD/DVD is actually a collection of tools, utilities, and full-fledged Pinnacle apps; it includes, for example, a full version of video editor Pinnacle Expression. Instant CD/DVD is basically just an attractive start menu that lets you choose your task, then opens the appropriate software for that task. (If you choose to edit or import video, for example, it opens Expression.) Unfortunately, the various programs in the suite don't share a common interface, so you can't easily get back to the start menu or switch to a different task. To do that, you'll actually need to launch the main program all over again (from your Windows Start menu or desktop).
From Instant CD/DVD's colorful start menu, you can quickly launch most of its tools.
Also, some tools aren't easy to find, even from the program's own start menu. Figuring out how to launch the label maker, for instance, takes a few minutes and may even involve perusing the manual. Such haphazard integration crops up in other new digital-media suites, as well, such as Roxio Easy CD & DVD. Only Apple iLife really gets it right, but it's not available for PC.
The Pinnacle Expression interface is completely different from those of the other tools within the suite.
Alas, Instant CD/DVD doesn't provide a unified look across its various utilities, either. The quality of the interfaces varies depending on which program you're using. For example, Instant CD/DVD contains a full version of Expression 2.2.43, a video-editing tool that has a fun, cartoony look. But others, such as the disc-copying app InstantDisc 7.0, have a spare, utilitarian Windows Explorer-like interface. It's jarring to switch between them, especially when tool menus change location throughout.
Instant CD/DVD can handle any kind of disc-related task in the book. It can copy CDs and DVDs, create storage discs and MP3 (data) discs, create MP3 and WMA files from audio CDs, and even import digital video and burn VCDs, SVCDs, and DVDs. (It supports almost every DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, and DVD-RAM drive.) While Nero requires the purchase of an encoder to burn MP3s and another tool to create several kinds of video discs, Instant CD/DVD does it all out of the box.
Instant CD/DVD can also burn a wider variety of discs than most users are ever likely to need. In addition to the standard formats already mentioned, it can make ISO 9660 data, CD-Extra, CD-Enhanced, CD-Plus, MixedMode, and Apple HFS discs, plus others. We created a variety of discs in our tests, using a stock HP CD burner and the HP DVD-Writer DVD100i, and Instant CD/DVD performed well and worked quickly.
InstantDisc, one of the tools that comes with Instant CD/DVD, lets you back up files to a blank disc with relative ease.
Instant CD/DVD also comes with an audio-editing tool, which lets you splice and merge different audio tracks into new creations, and a perfunctory label-making tool with a sparse allocation of templates and design tools. The box includes a few blank sheets of labels ready for printing and a plastic tool for centering the labels on your discs, as do most burning apps.
The burning package includes a full copy of Pinnacle Expression, a video-editing tool for beginners, which makes Instant CD/DVD more of a bargain. We think Expression is easy for beginners and makes attractive DVD menus. Several readers have complained of performance problems with the software, but our testing has always gone smoothly.
While we appreciate the fullness of the 200-plus page manual that comes with Instant CD/DVD, it's poorly written and hard to understand at points. Otherwise, Pinnacle supports Instant CD/DVD with online forums, e-mail support (we received answers within one business day), and phone support. The support phone number is buried in the Support Center program in the Expression folder, however--not easy to find. Phone support is free, though not toll-free, for 90 days and $14.95 per call thereafter. It's available Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Friday, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET. We were able to reach a knowledgeable representative after 15 minutes on hold.