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Feel the Burn: Toast Does More, Better

April 19, 2001|JIM HEID | jim@jimheid.com

Apple's free CD-burning software is swell, but you get what you pay for. If CD burning becomes a big part of your computing life, you'll quickly outgrow the features in iTunes (which burns music CDs) and Disk Burner (which creates data CDs).

When that happens, turn to Toast. Roxio's Toast (http://www.roxio.com) has been on the CD-burning scene since the early 1990s, when a CD burner cost several thousand dollars. The latest version, Toast 5 Titanium, shipped last month and sells for $89. There's no space-age metal in Toast 5 Titanium, but there is an unmatched set of features for burning CDs.

One thing that separates Toast from Apple's freeware is its support of multiple CD formats. iTunes burns only audio-format CDs, whereas Disk Burner makes data CDs in the standard Mac disk format. Toast handles these formats and many more.

For example, you can burn music tracks in MP3 format for playback in one of the growing number of consumer CD and DVD players that support MP3. Burning tunes in MP3 format enables you to take advantage of MP3's compression. An audio CD can hold about an hour of music, but an MP3-format CD can hold about 10 times that.

Toast also burns conventional audio CDs faster than iTunes, which first converts each MP3 track into an AIFF, or audio interchange file format, file--a process that consumes time and disk space. Toast, by comparison, converts MP3 tracks on the fly.

For making data CDs, such as backups of documents, there's no beating Apple's Disk Burner for simplicity: Just drag a collection of files to a CD's icon as though copying them to another disk. But once you burn a CD using Disk Burner, you can't add more files to it later. In CD-burning jargon, Disk Burner is limited to creating "single-session" CDs.

Toast supports "multi-session" burning: You can add data to a CD over time and thus take full advantage of its 650-megabyte capacity. When you insert the CD, each session appears on the desktop as a separate disk icon.

And now we get into the fun stuff. Toast 5 adds the ability to burn CDs in the Video CD format. A Video CD can hold about 70 minutes of video whose quality is about equal to that of VHS videotape. That's less time and less quality than what a DVD provides, but you don't need a four-figure DVD burner or a SuperDrive-equipped Power Mac G4 to make a Video CD--any CD burner can create one.

Many consumer DVD players can also play Video CDs, so Toast 5 gives you a low-cost way to put your iMovies on disc. (You also can play Video CDs on your Mac by using Mireth Technology's $10 MacVCD utility, available at http://www.mireth.com.) Toast 5 even includes a plug-in for Apple's iMovie that enables you to prepare a Video CD directly within iMovie.

Some of Toast 5's other talents might contribute to the growing epidemic of insomnia among recording- and software-industry executives. Toast 5's Copy mode can make bit-for-bit copies of audio and non-copy-protected software CDs. And although I didn't test the claim, Roxio says Toast 5 can even duplicate copy-protected Sony PlayStation CDs.

Toast 5 Titanium also packs a grab-bag of burning accessories, including the full version of iView Multimedia's iView utility, which lets you catalog audio, movie and still-image files. If you have a digital camera, you can catalog your images with iView and use the Send to Toast command to burn CDs containing the images.

Toast also includes CD Spin Doctor, a utility that digitizes audio from an analog source, such as a cassette recorder or stereo system, connected to the Mac's microphone jack. You can use CD Spin Doctor to digitize and clean up phonograph records before burning them to CDs. If your Mac doesn't have a microphone jack, you'll need a third-party adapter such as Griffin Technology's $35 iMic (http://www.griffintechnology.com).

Best of all, all these features are wrapped within an attractive interface that's significantly easier to use than earlier Toast versions. From its features to its interface to its thorough manual, Toast 5 is an upper-crust tool for CD burning.

*

Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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