Roxio Toast 10 Titanium 10.0.5
The Mac has long been capable of burning CDs and DVDs--both data and media discs. Yet Apple has shied away from supporting certain disc formats--Video CDs, music DVDs, and, most recently, Blu-ray, for example. When you want to burn such discs, the time-tested advice you're most likely to hear is "turn to Toast."
As with the past several versions, Toast 10 Titanium does far more than just burn discs (for those interesting in upgrading from earlier versions, be sure to visit Roxio's Upgrade Center). Toast is also a tool for converting media; creating disc images; extracting video from media, devices, and the Web; and streaming content over the Internet. Toast 10 specifically adds the ability to extract clips from unprotected DVDs, save and convert Web-based Flash video, archive AVCHD files from an HD camcorder, convert audiobook CDs for iTunes or iPod playback, transfer video to a TiVo DVR, and capture and tag audio from external sources. For the most part these features work as advertised--now. But that wasn't true for the first few iterations of Toast 10 Titanium.
A long-standing criticism of Toast is that while it's crammed full of features, some of those features are difficult to ferret out. Roxio has made Toast more intuitive by organizing tasks into tabs--Data, Audio, Video, Copy, and Convert. Click the appropriate tab and you'll find options for performing jobs that make sense for that category of tasks. For example, click Data and you'll see options for creating Mac Only, Mac & PC, DVD-ROM (UDF), ISO 9660, and Photo Discs.
The Convert tab provides the means for performing such tasks as extracting and converting video from an unprotected DVD and converting audiobook CDs to an iPod-compatible form. Toast has been able to convert files for quite some time, but the means for doing it weren't obvious. This Convert tab makes the process much clearer. Using this tab you can drag files or folders full of media into Toast's main window, click the red button (that, in this case, means Convert rather than Burn), choose the format you want to convert the files to, click OK, and Toast converts all the media in the window (and, by default, places it directly into iTunes). The Audiobook convert option is one cool new feature. With it, we were able to convert a seven-CD audiobook into a single, bookmarkable m4b file that works just like a book purchased from the iTunes Store or Audible.
Nice though these improvements are, some features remain hidden from view. For example, Toast can extract Flash video from a Web site. Yet there's no obvious way to do this (and the manual offers no instruction). By visiting Roxio's forums I learned that this is accomplished by opening Toast's Media Browser window, choosing Web Video from the browser's pop-up menu, navigating to a Web page that has a compatible video, and waiting for the video to load in your browser. As it does, Toast captures it. It's a useful feature, but clumsily implemented.
With the disc burning capabilities built into the Mac OS, iTunes, iPhoto, and iDVD, it's fair to wonder just how necessary Toast is for burning discs today. If you require making only discs for another computer, backing up data to disc, and creating audio CDs, photo discs, and DVDs of the movies you make with your Mac, the answer is "not very." The Mac lets you create and burn such discs with ease. But when it comes to creating music DVDs playable in standalone DVD and Blu-ray players, enhanced audio CDs, Video CDs, Blu-ray compatible DVDs, and writeable Blu-ray discs, Toast is the way to go.
Creating such discs is largely a matter of dragging the media you want to burn from the Finder into Toast's main window or opening Toast's Media Browser window, selecting the kind of media you want to import from a pop-up menu, and dragging it into the window. Once a video file is in the window you can select it and pick the portions you want to include. For audio files you can add fades between the tracks as well as apply Audio Units effects such as reverb or filters to individual tracks and then burn those tracks to disc with those Audio Units effects in place.
Burning Blu-ray-compatible video discs requires that you purchase Roxio's $20 Toast 10 High-Def/Blu-ray Disc Plug-in (also included with the $150 Toast 10 Titanium Pro, which bundles in Sonicfire Pro, SoundSoap SE, FotoMagico, and LightZone as well). We had some difficulty successfully burning using some Blu-ray drives with versions of Toast prior to 10.0.5. For example, burning data to a standard DVD using Pioneer mechanisms attached to the Mac via a USB connection often resulted in failure. FireWire burns on the same drive, however, worked just fine. We ran the same tests with the 10.0.5 update, with the same batch of media, and the discs burned successfully. Whatever the cause, we're pleased that USB Blu-ray drives are now working reliably.
Toast Titanium ships with a variety of other applications. The most significant of which are CD Spin Doctor for capturing and tagging audio from an external source (including Internet audio), Streamer for making encoded videos available remotely via a Web browser (or your iPhone or iPod touch with the free Streamer app), TiVo Transfer for copying files from a compatible TiVo player to your Mac, and Mac2TiVo for making your videos available to a networked TiVo DVR.
CD Spin Doctor has a reputation for being flaky--crashing, failing to display waveforms properly, guessing poorly about where one track ends and another begins, and doing an uneven job of identifying tracks. With the 10.0.5 update it feels much more solid, though it's not perfect. It crashed once when I attempted to save a file. And its identification feature could be smarter. I fed Michael Jackson's Thriller album to it and it claimed a couple of the tracks were from a different album--even after I told it this was the Thriller album. When that happens and you export tracks to iTunes, the track order can be thrown off.
Streamer provides a way to stream video from your Mac over the Internet. You sign up for a free Streamer account, select unprotected video on your Mac, haul it into the Streamer application, and Streamer launches Toast to encodes your video for streaming. You then switch on the Streamer server within the application, and your Mac becomes a host for these videos. (You may need to configure your router to provide unencumbered access to Streamer's TCP port.) To watch a video, open a browser, enter the URL for your streamer account, enter the password for the account, select a video, and play it. The video begins to stream to your computer, iPhone, or iPod touch. On a computer's display the videos are pretty blocky--that blockiness is less noticeable on an iPhone or iPod touch (Streamer gives you the option of setting the video quality at low, medium, or high to match the robustness of your upload Internet bandwidth).
TiVo Transfer was once known as TiVo2Go and is a service that's been licensed exclusively to Roxio for transferring videos from a networked TiVo DVR to your Mac. In the past I've found TiVo Transfer to be slow going and the resulting files not very good (because TiVo restricted the resolution of transferred files). Video looks better now as the resolution is better, but there's a new hitch with the 10.0.5 update. When you attempt to play files transferred from a TiVo the resulting files produce garbage in Toast Video Player, the application that, under the 10.4 version of Toast, played these files flawlessly.
Mac2TiVo allows you to play movies on your Mac from a TiVo DVR. Like TiVo's Multiroom Viewing feature, transferring videos can take time, but the feature works as it's supposed to.
Issues (finally) fixed
Toast Titanium 10 shipped nearly a year ago, and in that year, Roxio has issued five updates. Yet, as I've hinted, until the last update there were serious problems with the program--converting AVCHD and AVCHD Lite files from Sony and Lumix camcorders, respectively, resulted in movies with audio and video tracks out of sync; burning on some Blu-ray drives failed; and CD Spin Doctor was unreliable in many ways. In the course of preparing this review we've worked closely with Roxio to sift through these issues and were happy to see that the 10.0.5 update fixes all of those problems.
Macworld's buying advice
Toast remains a useful and multi-talented application. It now capably tackles a variety of important chores--disc burning (including Blu-ray) beyond the capabilities of the Mac OS, AVCHD conversion, audio capture and tagging, and TiVo transfers. If you plan to take advantage of several of Toast 10's new features, then you might want to consider upgrading from Toast 9. The bugs of the past are now, thankfully, largely water under the bridge, but they took far too long to address. Let's hope that Roxio has learned from this experience and redoubles its efforts to ensure that Toast 11 is less troublesome when it's first released.