When the disc authoring companies continue to focus on new ways to burn discs, you realise that the good old optical drive isn’t dead after all. Like Roxio, Nero is no longer just about the humble CD or DVD – it’s now all about computer management and multimedia control.

In previous versions, the whole media centre angle was vastly overplayed and as a result the much-touted SmartStart interface had become far too glorified for what was otherwise just a useful way into the Nero suite of applications. However, a smart redesign, bringing Nero’s look closer to Roxio’s than ever before, is well executed in Nero 8 and each Nero program is the better for it. But of course, that’s not the whole Nero story.

Nero 7’s big downfall was the lack of description in its SmartStart options. This has been rectified in Nero 8 and Nero first-timers will delight in how few clicks are needed to find the tool you’re after. New to the suite, naturally, is HD support and unlike Roxio’s Easy Media Creator 10, Nero 8 can create and play back AVCHD discs. There’s also data burning in both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats, so investing in Nero 8 will mean you’re well and truly future-proofed for the whole gamut of disc authoring.

One thing we love about Nero 8 is the ability to choose what you want to install from the initial setup. There’s no doubt that Nero can be a bloated application if choosing a full installation, with far too many tools than you really need filling up your hard drive, but your choices are now more obvious than ever in the new version. Stripping out some of the tools also helps to speed up the install process, which can be quite slow.

Gadget candy

There’s no quick way to learn all that Nero has to offer and although program descriptions have improved, it’s not always that easy to find the program you’re looking for (Nero InfoTool and Nero DriveSpeed are two such examples), and the navigation in some applications is nowhere near as refined as the revamped SmartStart menu.

Despite the improvements in the overall menu system, the additional gadgets don’t go far enough. In SmartStart you’ll now find RSS links and news items, but these are of limited value in such a suite and you’ll have to be pretty serious about your disc burning to make much use of them. We’d have preferred to see more attention paid to integrating the apps into the browser rather than news feeds.

There is the Sidebar gadget for Vista, of course, but in true Vista Sidebar style the Nero burning gadget sometimes loads onto the screen in the wrong order and has been known to duplicate itself for no apparent reason. Although it’s an early version of the Sidebar gadget and is sure to improve, it isn’t enough to bring a new and exciting dimension to your everyday burning jobs.

Nero has long been the speediest burning suite around and Nero 8 certainly doesn’t disappoint here, delivering streamlined, quality authoring in seconds. Whether Nero 8 is worth an upgrade largely depends on your thirst for HD, but on its own it’s worthy of your cash for copying discs using a range of format options, creating videos, making regular backups and even performing data recovery.