Better Burning

So, you've purchased a CD-ReWritable drive? The things you can do with your drive depend on the software that runs it. Often, the software bundled with the drive provides only basic functions such as burning data to a CD-R or performing packet writing. And that bundled software may be a somewhat older or stripped-down version. Drive vendors may also bundle their own, branded programs; Hewlett-Packard, for instance, supplies its basic HP MyCD software with its drives.

Whether you're a neophyte who values simplicity or a power user who wants more features and more control, changing your software can help you to get the most out of your new or existing CD-RW drive.

Is such an upgrade worthwhile? The answer is a conditional yes.

If you simply want to write computer data onto a CD-R or CD-RW disc, the package bundled with your drive may be sufficient. On the other hand, if you want to do more than that (such as make audio CDs from digital audio files) or if you find the bundled software difficult to use, the programs discussed in this story can supply the features you need and make the process of burning discs easier.

With upgraded software, a CD-RW drive can do so much more than straightforward data backup. For example: Easy CD Creator 4.0 Standard (bundled with many drives) can't edit audio tracks or create Video CDs, but the 5 Platinum version can do all that and more.

But a CD is a CD is a CD. right? Not exactly. You can use a variety of CD formats and pick from a plethora of options for how to burn them. A multi-session CD, for example, lets you add data to a disc after the first burn. Other formats include Mixed-Mode CD (which stores audio first and data second, letting you play the disc on a CD player and read the data on a CD-ROM drive); the afore-mentioned Video CD format, which enables you to store up to one hour of MPEG-1 compressed video on a standard CD; Macintosh-compatible HFS CD; and hybrid CDs (which can be read on both PCs and Macs). Many of the basic packages that come with CD-RW drives omit some or all of these specialised formats.

Burning tales

For this overview, we looked at the speed of writing data to a CD-R disc using each of the programs, but we found the programs' speed differences to be minimal. So we judged the programs on features and ease of use. We did not test the speed of writing to a CD-RW disc.

Although all the programs we reviewed perform most of the same tasks, each has a different range of features. The five packages we consider are Stomp's $US50 Click'N Burn 2.0, Roxio's $150 Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum (Roxio is an Adaptec spin-off company), Oak Technology's $US65 SimpliCD, Ahead's $129 Nero Burning ROM 5.5, and NTI's $100 CD-Maker Professional Edition.

Most of today's CD-RW drives conform to the industry-standard Multimedia Command set. MMC determines how the software controls the drive, so any CD-RW mastering program should work with almost any drive. However, the software will take advantage of a drive's full capabilities only if it supports that drive; with such support, the software can understand how to use specific features, such as buffer underrun compensation technology. It's a good idea to visit a software vendor's Web site and see if your drive is supported before you buy a package.

The streamlined interface of NTI's CD-Maker Professional Edition helps that program do a better job of burning from an image, but it doesn't do a good job of creating audio CDs, as you can't shift tracks around once you add them to the burn queue. Power users who want complete control over the burning process may prefer Ahead's Nero Burning ROM 5.5. Roxio's Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum offers the largest number of features, but it is one of the more expensive packages we reviewed. Oak Technology's SimpliCD 1.0 is a great overall package, as is Stomp's Click'N Burn 2.0, a powerful program with an easy-to-follow interface, although some of its features (such as burning a CD from a hard-disk image) are clumsy to use.

Ahead Nero Burning ROM 5.5

Nero Burning ROM 5.5 offers a vast number of options, all of which are covered by the well-written help file. For example, the program enables you to write to hybrid CDs and to Macintosh-compatible HFS CDs, and it has an integrated MPEG-1 encoder for creating Video CDs. Other features include Nero Imagedrive, which creates a virtual CD-ROM drive that lets you view the contents of an image file without having to burn the image to disc.

The wizard that takes you through the burning process points you in the right direction but still leaves you mostly on your own in a sea of bewildering options. Between the complex interface and the project wizard, you frequently end up clicking through numerous screens to do tasks that other programs let you do in one or two screens.

In October 2001, Ahead released an XP-compatible version (5.5.5.1) of Nero Burning ROM. Between the release of 5.5 last April and 5.5.5.1, Ahead incorporated a large number of bug fixes - plus added a range of new features like new recorders and support for more formats (including DVD+RW, DVD-R/RW, DD-CD). For a full list of the changes, visit www.nero.com/en/driver.asp.

Product: Ahead Nero Burning "ROM 5.5

Price: $129

Developer: Ahead Software

Distributor: Communique (02) 9622 5624

URL: www.nero.comNTI CD-Maker Professional EditionEvery task in CD-Maker Professional Edition uses the same simple, two-step interface, which keeps things easy. Drop-down menus for the source and destination drives make this software the least complicated means of copying a CD. The program also allows you to save an image of a CD to your hard disk and then burn that image to another CD.

Using CD-Maker, you can't simply click on audio track names or file names and edit them directly while they're queued for recording; instead, you have to right-click on each track, select Properties, and then edit the name in that window.

The program requires you to turn off Windows' auto-insert feature, which tries to run a program from a disc when you insert it (other packages either don't require that auto-insert be turned off, or automatically disable the feature). In addition, the software enables its write-verify option by default, which lengthens the time to burn a CD but tells you whether the procedure succeeded or not. To disable this default, you must hunt around under a menu. When you record from audio inputs (such as a tape player connected to the line-in socket of the sound card), the audio is recorded to the hard drive as a .wav file or directly to the CD-R.

CD-Maker's user-friendly interface, however, is a major plus for beginners and for people who don't want to click through multiple screens to get the job done.

Product: NTI CD-Maker Professional EditionPrice: $100Developer: NewTech InfosystemsURL: www.ntius.comOak Technology SimpliCD 1.0 SimpliCD takes a different approach to creating data CDs. While the other programs make you select the data to put onto the CD from within their interfaces, SimpliCD puts a "SimpliCD ROM" folder on your desktop that you can access through Windows Explorer. When you find a file you want to copy to a CD, you either drag and drop the file into this folder or right-click on the file and select the Send To command. When you're ready to burn the disc, open the folder, click the Burn button on the toolbar at the top of the screen, and follow the simple instructions.

Although SimpliCD has enough features to satisfy most users, it doesn't give you the level of control over every aspect of the burning process offered by Nero Burning ROM. The only downside to the interface is its colourful Digital Media Recorder, which is fixed in size and doesn't make viewing full audio track and title names easy.

The useful context-sensitive help walks you through spots you don't understand. You can access tasks - such as making a Video CD or slide show, ripping digital audio from a CD, or creating an audio CD - from the Windows system tray. When you make audio CDs with songs from multiple CD sources in guided compilation mode, the application stores the songs temporarily on your hard disk so you don't have to swap discs.

SimpliCD's unique approach makes burning discs a more intuitive process. The program is easy enough for neophytes to learn, yet it will appeal to experienced users as well.

Product: Oak Technology SimpliCD 1.0

Price: $US65

Developer: Oak Technology

URL: www.oaktech.comThe digital media recorder component of SimpliCD has a rigid interface that some users may find confusing.

Roxio Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum

Version 5 Platinum features a sleek, revamped interface with an easy-to-navigate project selector for choosing which type of disc to burn. You'll also find plenty of audio-specific features: an MP3 encoder to convert CD audio to MP3; a normaliser that can help moderate the loudness of the tracks in a batch; a sound editor; and Spin Doctor, which the company claims will clean up the clicks, pops, and hisses you sometimes encounter when recording from vinyl or tape. The MP3 CD Project feature automatically generates a playlist, in .M3U format, for CD players that can play MP3 files. The software supports Video CD creation, but you must use a separate, included application to perform the video encoding.

The full installation of Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum takes a whopping 220MB of hard disk space. Plus, for the program to remember your settings between sessions, you may need to download an upgrade patch. You also have to use different interfaces for different tasks; that can be confusing when you switch between tasks. To make audio CD mixes, you must swap your source CDs throughout the burning process - Easy CD Creator can't copy the audio tracks temporarily to your hard disk.

If you're seeking artist and track data for audio CDs, you need to download a patch as well, because Roxio switched from supporting Gracenote's online CD database to supporting Freedb's. Be sure to check Roxio's Web site for another patch before using the software with Windows 2000: a bug in the shipping version caused problems on some systems that users could fix only by reinstalling Windows 2000.

Home users who plan to record CDs with tracks extracted from alternative sources (such as vinyl) will get the best value out of Easy CD Creator.

Product: Roxio Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum Price: $150Developer: RoxioDistributor: Siltek (02) 9870 1000URL: www.roxio.comStomp Click'N Burn Pro 2.0 Click'N Burn 2.0's interface is a good compromise between simplicity and power. The starter wizard lets you easily pick the type of disc you want, with options for audio CD, data CD, and CD copying. A sound editor is included.

On the downside, the option for converting a disc into an image file is hidden in right-click menus. The software doesn't include an MPEG-1 encoder for Video CDs.

The menu and right-click options are context sensitive, so you get only the choices appropriate to the particular screen you're viewing. The $US50 Click'N Burn Pro 2.0 supports writing to as many as four drives simultaneously - a boon for people who need to produce lots of CDs for distribution.

Click'N Burn Pro 2.0 is a good fit not just for consumers but also for business users who have multiple CD-RW drives.

Since August 2001, Stomp has licensed and distributed Veritas MyCD Pro as RecordNow Max. RecordNow Max costs $US50 as a download and $US60 to buy the CD.

Product: Stomp Click'N Burn Pro 2.0

Price: $US50

Developer: Stomp, Inc

URL: www.stompinc.com

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