Most Mac users will be satisfied with the disc-creation tools that come standard in the Mac OS. After all, OS X and the iLife suite have long made easy work of creating data, audio, and video discs. Luckily for Roxio, however, Apple leaves a lot of room for improvement. If your needs go beyond the basics, Toast 7 Titanium is the package for you. That's easy to say, since Toast has no serious competition. Luckily, it's still an excellent, full-featured product.
This latest version of Roxio Toast doesn't add new areas of functionality, but it does manage to improve every part of the existing app to keep up with current technology (such as DivX video) and new demands (working with larger files). Incredibly, it does so without complicating the Toast interface, which is a model of intuitive design.
Installing Roxio Toast 7 Titanium is a simple drag-and-drop operation from the CD. It should take only a few minutes. Check the initial startup preferences carefully if you don't want the program to automatically open when you insert a blank CD or DVD. Once you've registered the software, you'll want to update it, since Roxio has already posted a point upgrade that fixes some problems that we noticed with the help system (files were missing for a couple of helper apps).
The Toast 7 Titanium interface remains pretty much the same as always--and that's a good thing. It's far simpler than the burning programs created for Windows, such as Nero 7 Ultra Edition or Roxio's own Easy Media Creator, and the interface is so perfectly Mac-like that you'd think it was designed in Cupertino. It also manages to bring a wide variety of controls to the surface without sacrificing ease of use or intuitiveness.
Four tabs along the top of Toast 7's main window lead you to the four main disc-creation areas: data, audio, video, and disc copying. A drawer to the left of the main window offers contextual controls for each area. It also holds the new media browser, which lets you quickly find iLife audio, photo, and video content for burning.
Because Toast can't do everything, it comes with a suite of helper apps, including Motion Pictures HD (for creating slide shows), CD Spin Doctor (for recording and editing audio), and Discus RE (for creating cover art).
Makers of disc-burning suites have two options when designing an upgrade: they can branch off and develop whole new areas, as Nero 7 does with its Media Manager, or they can pack more into the existing functions and stay on top of the format-acronym game. Toast 7 Titanium follows this second path, adding essentials for today's disc-burning tasks while still retaining the same look and feel.
Roxio Toast 7 Titanium gets behind DivX in a big way, providing tools to view, create, convert, and burn DivX files. If you're new to it, just know that DivX offers high-quality video with small file sizes, and that iMovie (part of the iLife suite) doesn't know it exists. Toast now lets you convert your iMovie files into DivX within the Video tab (just use the new Export button at the bottom of the interface) or convert DivX movies into a more accessible format in the same way. Roxio Toast 7 Titanium adds a plug-in to QuickTime that lets it show DivX files; however, it worked poorly in our testing. DivX videos were jerky, halting every few seconds. After we converted them to MOV files, however, they played perfectly.
With hard drives and file sizes reaching new heights, we're happy to see Roxio add disc-spanning functionality to Toast 7 Titanium, allowing you to burn huge backups or files across multiple discs. Even better, the disc sets automatically have software loaded on them to retrieve the information, so the intended user doesn't need to have Toast installed. This will be a big help in case of a massive system crash or when sending huge files to another Mac-equipped office (the retrieval software works only on Macs).
Other highlights of Roxio Toast 7 Titanium's many new features include an integrated iLife media browser (which lets you quickly grab any of your photo, audio, or video files from the left-hand tab) and better personalization options when creating discs (you can now specify a background image, use custom icons, and set the disk to open automatically when loaded). Toast 7 also creates DVD music discs and supports Dolby Digital and uncompressed 96KHz, 24-bit PCM audio. Toast with Jam 6 also supported Dolby Digital, PCM audio, and DVD-music creation, but this release improves all those features. Users can now fiddle with the bit rate for Dolby Digital and PCM audio, determining the trade-off between file size and audio fidelity. For slide shows that won't bore your guests, try Motion Pictures HD, whose features go far beyond those of iMovie or iPhoto. For example, you can create screen layouts with up to four photos, and each photo can have its own pan-and-zoom effects--the result is quite beautiful.
Roxio Toast 7 Titanium has dozens of worthwhile new features, but we're surprised at how hard it is to find them. The manual, merely a guide to the basics, omits too much information and doesn't list new features. Worse, the electronic help system merely repeats the printed manual. Don't look to either of them for help finding the new Dashboard widget for quick audio recording (it's in CD Spin Doctor) or the backup tools (look under the automatically added Déjà Vu System Preference).
Roxio's online support options have marginally improved since we last looked, which is good, since Roxio doesn't offer free phone support. The online automated help system, called RoxAnn, performed better in our testing with Toast 7 Titanium than it has in the past, and it quickly helped us with some tricky features. The company's Web site also provides forums, tutorials, and live chat with a representative during business hours. You'll need to be extra patient when using the live chat, which isn't easy to find on the site and which-bizarrely-boots you off if the line is too long, instead of letting you hold and wait your turn. Technical-support calls still cost $35 per incident. We think that's ridiculous; Roxio should give new users 30 days of free phone support (though lack of free phone support is not uncommon for sub-$100 software suites).