Considering that the product has no marketplace competition, Toast's developers do a great job of keeping it cutting-edge. This latest version, Toast 8 Titanium (you've just gotta love that silly name) delivers functionality that will surpass the hardware capabilities to which most Mac owners have become accustomed. For example, Toast lets you convert and save TiVoToGo files and burn Blu-ray or LightScribe discs. It also lets users save large files or folders over several discs for either Macs or Windows PCs; create audio discs with crossfades, effects, and transitions; and even recover damaged files. And all this for a reasonable $79.99.
Toast's friendly interface has been modified in this release to make it easier to access the various options, and while it's mostly successful, it also makes the product feel sterile. We'd like to see the interface warmed up a bit, so it feels more like the trusted program we've been using for years.
Gone are the tabs along the top of the screen that let you select which type of disc you'd like to create. Those options have been moved to the left column, where you now first click a disc type, then choose the exact project you'd like to work on. In turn, the left column's previous resident, the Media Browser, has been moved to its own free-floating window, so that you can see disc options at the same time you browse your media. That's a poor change. Having the Media Browser in the left column already made it easy to access, and the new free-floating window always has to be on top, which means you can't click the main window to bring it forward.
If the improvements to version 7 felt a little light to some, version 8 impresses with significant additions. Toast now lets you burn TiVoToGo recordings to a DVD or convert them for use on a PSP or an iPod with video. It also lets you create Blu-ray discs if you have a Blu-ray burner attached, or LightScribe discs if you have a LightScribe drive. Unfortunately, our test system wasn't equipped to handle these abilities.
Toast 8 also has plenty of additions that work with standard drives and discs. Its data-spanning feature, which lets you save large files or folders across several CDs or DVDs, now produces discs that work with both Windows and Macintosh computers. The gauge in the program's lower-right corner makes it easy to see how much data you've loaded into the center window. And if you archive a lot of info on discs, you'll love the cataloging feature. Using a new helper app called DiscCatalogMaker RE--which you access from the Extras pulldown menu--you can catalog the contents of any disc so that you can look up where files are stored even when the disc isn't in your system. Discs created with Toast are automatically cataloged.
Toast now includes audio tools previously found in the separate app Jam, and DJs will like the improved functionality, including the ability to create audio discs with custom crossfades and transitions. Adding effects can be a pain, though, since you can't add an effect to all of your tracks in one step, and there's no way to preview effects from the Sound Effects window. You're also limited to three effects per track. But we like the assistant interface that's been added to the CD Spin Doctor application, which makes it easier to convert LPs and tapes to digital.
If you've ever suffered a damaged disc, the new disc-recovery tool might be worth the price all by itself. Toast can now search a damaged disc and recover all undamaged sectors, helping you copy as much information off a scratched CD or DVD as possible. Choose the Disc Copy selection and check the option to use disc recovery.
Toast's help and support options are decent, but could use some work. Finding help on specific topics can be tricky. For example, the printed manual doesn't include LightScribe information, and the online resources and Toast's electronic help barely mentions it. You'll find full details by opening Disc Cover RE's help file, but not everyone will realize where to look. The support site offers online documents and forums, as well as a link to contact the support staff (registration required).
Considering its fair price and varied functionality, Toast's flaws are minor and it's still an excellent suite. Version 8 keeps the product up to date and delivers important new tools to the advanced Mac user.