OS X comes with CD and DVD burning capabilities built-in, so you might have managed so far without needing to install a separate app. When I reinstalled Snow Leopard a few months back, I decided to keep my system as lean as possible, since my old Core Duo MacBook has been showing its age. I only installed applications as a real need for them arose.
As it happens, one of the very first apps I added was for burning discs, since I found the native OS X burning seemed to be slower, and certainly gave me less control of how discs are burned.
I had previously had an earlier version of Toast installed, but I decided not to return to that outdated software, and instead went with a free burner app that had good reviews on MacUpdate. Recently, Roxio released the newest version of Toast, and I’m very glad to have updated.
Though there are lightweight apps that can do some of the things Toast does, and there are many cheaper, and even free, programs available, I believe Toast remains best-in-class. And if you go for the Pro version, it’s actually very good value – but more on that later.
The first thing to say, of course, is that Toast 11 is capable of very much more than simple disc burning. That pretty icon gives it all away: notice that one slot on the toaster holds a silver shiny disc, and the other contains an iPhone 4. On the physical packaging, the slots also contain an iPad and a video camera.
Toast sets out to be an all around media suite, and to bridge your capture and viewing or listening devices. Increasingly, it seems to me, the burning capabilities are important, but almost an add-on to everything else Toast can do.
But let’s start with disc burning anyway… When you open Toast, you’re greeted by a Projects Assistant:
That simple list probably covers most users’ needs for CD and DVD authoring. Switching to ‘View Advanced Projects’ via the pulldown menu at the top right adds options to burn an ISO 9660 format disc and to burn UDF format DVD ROMs. From here on I’m going to stick with the Common Projects list, since it likely contains the types of task most people are going to want to do.
The five different tabs give easy access to most of the functions available, from burning MP3 CDs or music DVDs (with neat menu based navigation for use on your DVD player), DVD discs, including Blu-ray video (with Toast 11 Pro), copying unprotected discs, burning image files, and converting between various different file formats (including batch converting audio and video files, and converting audiobook CDs to chaptered audio files).
You can choose to switch off the assistant altogether by unticking that ‘Show this window when Toast opens’ box at the bottom left – that’s what I would usually do, but in this case, I actually find it quite useful, so I’m continuing with the Assistant.
Working With Files
Once you’ve selected your Project type, you come to the main Toast window:
From here you can opt to change your previous Project choice by switching to another of the tabs, or to tweak the settings for your Project by using the pull-down menu at top left.
You can add files either by dragging and dropping them into the main interface window, by clicking on the Add Files button and navigating to your source, or you can use the Media browser in the right hand panel to find files locally or across your network.
As you add files, the progress bar on the bottom line will fill up, showing how much space you have remaining on your target disc. This works the same way across the Data, Audio, Video, and Copy tabs:
Converting and Working With Video
Things are slightly different under the Convert section:
Here you get to specify your preferred output size, and the graph shows how close your file is getting to that limit. I have my system set up to convert to best quality Apple TV format, which is easily adjusted by clicking on the bottom bar and choosing your preferred settings from the panel that slides down:
Other choices include direct conversion for viewing on iPad or iPhone. If you have an Elgato Turbo.264 plugged in, Toast will automatically use that to speed up your video conversion. And if you have a newer Mac with a Nvidia graphics card, the app will use VideoBoost to convert more quickly.
There is tremendous power and flexibility hidden away in the Edit menus in this section. You can do basic video editing from within the app, and some quite detailed audio processing too.
These features are also available from the Video tab, which is focused on outputting video either to disc or to archives or folders. You can also share video to Facebook, Youtube, or Vimeo, so once you’ve transferred clips from your camera, you can quickly upload them – and even tweet the address of the uploaded videos from within Toast.
This is also where you get to select menu styles and personalisation of your finalised disc. Toast has a bunch of built in styles for you to choose from:
A nice feature that’s included under the Video section is the ability to record online video. Simply open a site in your browser and then switch to the Video section of the media browser in Toast and select Web Video, and your video will be picked up by Toast and downloaded for conversion or burning to disc. You can also watch a Quick Look-style preview as it downloads…
This worked perfectly with Chrome and Safari, and even with a video embedded in a RSS feed viewed in Reeder. There are many different options available for downloading web video, but this is a particularly simple and elegant option.
Toast comes in two flavours: Toast 11 Titanium and Toast 11 Pro. In terms of core functions, there’s no difference between these two versions, but you get a whole lot more for your money for the Pro version. The extras come in the form of bundled apps.
So, along with the disc burning and media conversion we’ve already mentioned, you get the following: FotoMagico 3 to create slideshows of your photos and videos (our review here), SoundSoap for removing noise from audio and video files, SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 5 for making your own soundtracks, and a plugin that adds Blu-ray Disc burning to Toast. And last, but by no means least, Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. This last in some ways seems almost an arbitrary addition: you can burn images to disc, so why not add good photo editing software? Why not indeed. Opinions differ on Elements, but it’s a powerful and capable editor.
Now, for a disc burning app, $130 is a lot to pay. But when you consider that Photoshop Elements on its own sells for $80, and you take account of the value of all the different bundled apps, that price tag doesn’t seem too high at all. Of course, that’s assuming that you will make use of all the extra apps. I’m unlikely to use anything but Toast and Elements, but even so I consider it good value.
Though Toast and all its extras take up a whole lot of space, and between them have more options and more hitting power than most users will ever need, the range of things Toast Pro can do – and do well – could allow you to get rid of several other apps and centralise a number of different tasks. For instance, with Toast installed, do you really need a separate video encoding app? For most users, probably not.
As it happens, I quite rarely burn discs anymore, so though this review started with burning CDs and DVDs, I think it’ll be the video and media aspects of Toast that I use most of all. The MacBook Air – with no SuperDrive – is a bet on users making less use of discs now and in the future. And the Apple TV is a good demonstration of how we might in the future share the media we previously relied on discs for.
What do you think? Do you use discs much anymore? And do you have extra software installed or rely on OS X’s built-in abilities?