Review: Roxio Toast 10 Titanium Pro
Few programs fall into the "must consider purchasing" category for a given computer, but on the Mac, Roxio's Toast has for years been amongst them. Originally a straightforward CD burning tool at a time when doing such a thing was difficult, Toast has evolved into a multi-format optical disc creator, a go-between for TiVo and iPod users, and now, a streaming solution to allow videos of almost any sort to be spooled from your computer to an iPhone or iPod touch. The latest version of Toast, called Toast 10 Titanium ($100), handles all of these things; Toast 10 Titanium Pro ($150) does even more.
Because our focus is on iPod and iPhone functionality, and because we’ve previously covered Toast in the past (Toast 8), we’re not going to exhaustively discuss all of Toast 10’s features; it is still primarily a disc burning and copying utility, albeit with such increasing scope that users will be amazed by everything it can handle. For instance, today’s Toast includes some nice high-definition video authoring tools that finally enable Blu-Ray burner-less users to create high-definition DVDs that play on Blu-Ray players—a key issue for those of us with high-definition, AVCHD-format camcorders. Using AVCHD content, we successfully burned a high-def DVD and played it without issues in a PlayStation 3 on our first attempt, which was great.
The software also automatically creates archival disc versions of video files that have been created on AVCHD cameras, which due to folder structures and multiple files isn’t as easy as it sounds. For camcorder fans, this is seriously useful stuff; those who want to burn HD discs get the feature for free with Pro or have to cough up $20 for a plug-in with the standard version of Toast 10 Titanium. (At press time, the plug-in is being given away for free with the standard Titanium, but this will apparently change within days.) Roxio also notes, with caveats, that Toast can “copy data, CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray Disks”—the caveats of course are that the discs can’t be copy-protected or encrypted. In other words, home movie discs are okay, but anything in a theater or from Netflix is not.
But what about new features for iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV users? They’re a little less exciting, but there: in addition to still being able to digitize your LPs or cassette tapes into MP3s, and batch convert files from one format to another, Toast 10 can now convert audiobook CDs into individually chaptered, bookmarkable files, capture streaming music into tagged iTunes tracks, and, as noted, stream video from your computer to an iPod or iPhone via the web. It can also transform high-definition videos into Apple TV, iPod, or iPhone formats, and continues to offer the TiVo transfer functionality introduced in Toast 8 two years ago. Generally, these features work well, but with some possible hiccups that you might want to know about.
The TiVo world has changed over the past couple of years, as Series 3/HD devices have become more popular and Series 2 devices have waned. TiVo Transfer handles HD video transfers to the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV fairly easily—just select a file on your Wi-Fi connected TiVo and transfer it to your computer, then “Toast It” to get the file into iTunes—though there are still time, connection, and conversion issues to consider. Short standard-definition videos can be transferred in around an hour and then converted into an H.264 format, requiring an additional half hour or more depending on the speed of your computer. Connecting Elgato’s Turbo.264 can speed up the conversion process, but not the transfer process, which depends on a stable and uninterrupted Wi-Fi connection; some of our transfers went flawlessly, others unexpectedly were interrupted part-way through and left us with playable but incomplete video files. As a general rule, videos were nicely, though not completely tagged by Toast 10 before they were auto-imported into iTunes, including the proper video category, episode name, and comments.
Unfortunately, Roxio’s partnership with TiVo for this feature places the disc-burning company in an unusual situation: despite the program’s considerable conversion acumen, TiVo exports are capped at 480x320 resolution, which works out well for the iPhone’s screen—videos look and sound good in this format—but not so well for Apple TV users or those who watch videos on their Macs. So, if you were expecting to pull HD videos from your TV and convert them to Apple TV format, or just make the most of Apple’s 640x480 portable device resolutions, a device such as Elgato’s EyeTV Hybrid may make more sense. An HD TiVo one-hour recording of The Office saw its quality drop radically to meet the 480x320 limitation of the software, and adding insult to injury claimed to require an 8-hour transfer time. Significant TiVo-to-Mac transfer times are largely TiVo’s issue, from what we’ve seen, but a Toast bandwidth-measuring tool with clues on how to speed up transfers would dramatically improve variations in those times.
Toast 10’s streaming capability is interesting, and better implemented than something we saw from Equinux’s TubeStick Hybrid last year. In Roxio’s implementation, you can spool videos from your computer to any iPod touch or iPhone that can connect to the Internet, with minimal effort: your computer needs to be on, but you don’t need to have your own FTP server or another dedicated web site to share video. Instead, you turn on a Toast program called Streamer, pick videos to share, and give the collection a short name such as “stream1.” Streamer gives you a Roxio web link that can be entered into any browser to access your list of videos, and they stream—in streaming rather than full-fledged quality—right to your iPod touch or iPhone.
We experienced a hiccup in our initial testing: the program said that it set up the special Roxio web address, but we couldn’t reach it. A few days later, when the software had been out for a little longer, it worked, and continued to work thereafter. The stability and bandwidth of your computer’s network connection will also play a role in your ability to send videos out to streaming devices, but the method in which this works is pretty simple by comparison with what Equinux originally proposed people should do.
Otherwise, Toast 10 Titanium proved to be a stable, worthwhile piece of software, if bifurcated into a number of individual pieces that float in a folder. Some pieces, like TiVo Transfer, Streamer, and CD Spin Doctor, need to be loaded separately to handle obvious features and not-so-obvious ones; for instance, CD Spin Doctor handles music capture from streaming audio sources, figuring out tags and sending the results to iTunes, but doesn’t handle audiobook CD importing—that’s in the core Toast 10 program. The Pro version of Toast 10 includes additional programs such as Sonicfire Pro, SoundSoap, LightZone, and FotoMagico, which can clean up, enhance, or create audio and photo content for discs. If you’re only using Toast for your iPod or iPhone, you probably don’t need these extras, but take a glance at Roxio’s site to see if any of them suits your needs.
As with the prior version of Toast that we reviewed, we don’t feel comfortable issuing an overall rating to Toast 10 since a very substantial part of its functionality is outside the scope of what iPod and iPhone users need, but there’s no doubt that the program continues to get better and more powerful every year. This year’s enhancements will have the greatest appeal to users of high-definition devices, but if iPod/iPhone video streaming, TiVo transfer, or audiobook CD conversions are of interest, Toast 10 Titanium’s tweaks make it even more compelling for the dollar than before.