With Easy CD & DVD Creator 6 ($100 street), Roxio expands its CD/DVD recording software into a digital media suite, with new modules for DVD authoring, managing digital audio collections, and editing and sharing digital photos.
The CD-burning module is better than ever, and though none of the new applications match up to the standalone category leaders, the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. During setup, you choose which components to install, and Roxio customizes the familiar Project Selector, now called Home, accordingly. At the top is Disc Copier, improved to incorporate raw-mode capture, useful for copying games and mixed audio/data CDs. We copied Quake III Arena (known for several copy-protection schemes), which burned perfectly.
Next is AudioCentral, which includes Player, with familiar audio playback controls and a visualization window, and Media Explorer, for library management. Either can populate artist and track data from the CDDB database and rip into MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WMA formats.
Ripping performance was excellent, with Creator converting a 71-minute CD to 128-Kbps WMA format in 3 minutes 34 seconds (compared with 4:26 for MediaPlayer) and converting the CD to 128-Kbps MP3 format in 3:10 (compared with 3:39 for MusicMatch Plus).
Roxios sound editor offers several useful effects, and a visual transition editor provides controls for fine-tuning intra-song effects. Manual playlist support and ID3 tagging capabilities are about average, though Creators label editor remains outstanding. Other than some interesting visualizations, the player is austere, with important features buried under several menu layers.
Creator lacks an auto-playlist generator, however, a feature now standard in all top-tier players, and support for variable-bit-rate WMA audio. Nor can Creator transfer music to a portable player, a big oversight. Finally, Player and Explorer share so many functions that Roxio should just combine them into one window, eliminating clutter.
Next on the project list is the new DVD Builder, a simple DVD authoring program. The program converted a DV tape to DVD, encoding and storing 48 minutes of video in real time while maintaining audio sync. Missing, however, is the ability to create chapter points to aid DVD navigation or limit capture duration.
For more advanced projects, DVD Builder has tools such as motion menus, motion buttons, and a capable slide-show function with synchronized audio. But DVD Builder forces you to create submenus manually for projects with more than six menu buttons, a function that other programs automate. And you cant easily link menu buttons to scene changes.
Design controls are also insufficient. To center a title on the menu page, for example, you must add spaces in the text box; you cant move it manually or center it with controls. And there is no control over encoding rate.
DVD Builder worked well on our tests, however, producing several DVDs with video and slide shows that proved compatible with all tested players. We also produced a 1-minute project to measure encoding and burn speed, which Creator finished in 4:49, compared with 3:14 for Ulead DVD Workshop. As with AudioCentral, DVD Builders dual-window interface could easily be combined into one.
In fact, a perfect template for the DVD Builder UI would be the packages new image editor, PhotoSuite. PhotoSuite is a full-screen application driven by function-related icons on the left, each opening a separate customized workspace. Its a great setup for grabbing, editing, organizing, and sharing your still images, either by CD or the Web. While the program offers fewer options than many image-editing programs like Ulead PhotoImpact or Adobe PhotoShop Elements, you get all the features needed to clean up digital pictures, like red-eye reduction, brightness and contrast adjustments, and crop and rotate tools.
Traditional recording functions remain strong with the CD-recording program Creator Classic. Roxio converted its capable DirectCD function into a separate application called Drag-to-Disk, which can now create discs readable by any Windows PC. Creator Classic burned a 700MB project in 4:49, compared with Nero Burning ROMs 4:37.
We tested Creator on a number of PCs. On two Windows 2000 units, other applications couldnt access the recordable drive after we installed Creator, though this occurred only once per machine and disappeared after rebooting. Roxio explained that this happens occasionally to all recording programs when multiple disk-burning applications are loaded. Perhaps, but Roxio could limit the risk by reducing the three background programs that load to a more manageable number, or at least let you decide whether to load them.
But given the ambitiousness of this upgrade, our complaints are relatively minor. You get a lot of features given the price.