Roxio's Toast has come a long way from its disc-burning roots. Today, the latest version is Toast 11 Titanium, and it's a versatile multimedia toolkit that lets you burn, capture, copy, convert and share your digital media, quickly and easily.
This expanded brief is reflected in the application's icon, which for the first time has an optical disc in only one toaster slot; the other holds an iPhone 4.
But while Toast has long been a near-essential application for Mac users, the last couple of versions struggled to make a convincing case for upgrading if you already had the previous one. Can Toast 11 Titanium break the mould and appeal to existing users as well as newbies?
Owners of PowerPC-based Macs are spared the choice. Toast 11 is Intel only, an entirely predictable move considering how poorly supported Toast 10 was on PPCs. But if you've an Intel Mac running Leopard or later, the new app brings a wealth of functional and under-the-hood improvements.
It's been rebuilt from the ground up, with a streamlined interface and a faster, more efficient operation.
Toast 11's media browser is now part of the main user interface, but you can pop it out as a separate window if you wish.
Project categories are listed at the top of the main screen, with the number of copies and drive selection at its foot instead of on a separate pop-up window. Fewer processes make for a more streamlined experience.
Support for multiple disc burners has been added, and updates are done from within the app. You no longer have to log onto the Roxio website and tediously download the entire suite every time a new version is released.
Toast's video conversion feature now supports a wider range of playback devices than ever before. There are presets to convert footage for Apple TV, Video iPod, iOS devices, most popular games consoles and non-Apple mobile devices such as the BlackBerry or Palm Pre. Alternatively, you can save it out in a specific file format such as H.264, MPEG-4, WMV, MKV and more.
You can make changes to preset profiles and save them as custom settings. The media browser now integrates with Adobe Lightroom as well as iPhoto and Aperture, and outside the browser, you can just drag and drop a file into the main Toast window.
If you have a Mac with CUDA-compatible Nvidia graphics (most recent Nvidia cards support this), a feature called VideoBoost speeds up your H.264 conversions. Toast is still compatible with Elgato's Turbo.264 USB hardware accelerator too. If you have one plugged in, it takes precedence over VideoBoost.
Converting MacFormat's five-minute sample movie to best-quality iPhone 4 video on a 2.0GHz iMac (not CUDA) took Toast 11 six minutes, 36 seconds, but with Turbo.264, it managed it in three minutes, 34 seconds. Rival app Handbrake, encoding using its iPhone 4 preset, took 11 minutes, eight seconds.
Scheduled conversions make their Toast debut. You can now set your video conversions to start at a specific time and date, or after a countdown set in hours and minutes. This is useful if you want to run them during the night, or at other times when you're not using your Mac for other things.
Videos can also be encoded and posted directly to your Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo accounts and tweet video links through Twitter – useful features for those who wish to share their home movies.
You can extract specific video or audio files from an unprotected DVD or VIDEO_TS folder, and even embed subtitles into your conversions. Unfortunately, this proved fickle in execution. Some VIDEO_TS folders converted correctly, others failed to convert at all and one actually crashed the application. We hope future updates will expand compatibility, as it's a great feature when it works.
Toast 11 lets you set video chapter markers manually as well as at preset intervals. With a £15 HD/BD Plug-in, you can create hi-definition discs using a standard DVD, for playback on a Blu-ray player. A new feature also lets you view these discs on your Mac within the application.
It's much easier to create a video/ROM hybrid DVD too. As before, you can add front-end menus to your DVD video discs, but you still can't manually position the buttons.
A new audio-burning feature spans tracks across several discs, with markers indicating where one disc's contents ends and another begins. These markers are placed automatically, but can be manually repositioned, and you can add more if you wish.
Audio CDs have a 99-track limit, however they're created. Unfortunately, this limitation still applies when you're spanning your music over several discs with Toast 11, though we're promised it will rise to 200 tracks with the pending Toast 11.0.1 update.
Help is at hand
If all this seems a little daunting, Toast Assistant brings you several online tutorial videos that explain the app's key features. You can download step-by-step instructions as PDF documents too.
As is usual for a Toast suite, several other applications are included. A redesigned Spin Doctor can now capture audio from a single running application, so if an email or instant message arrives while you're recording, the incoming alert sound isn't captured. Other bundled apps include DiscCatalogMaker, Get Backup 2 and Disc Cover 3.
The £125 Toast 11 Pro also contains Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, Boinx FotoMagico 3 RE, BIAS SoundSoap 2 SE, SmartSound Sonicfire Pro and the HD/BD Plug-in. This turns out to be a real bargain, when you consider Photoshop Elements 9 alone costs almost £80.
Previous Toast updates have been criticised as offering precious little reason to upgrade if you have the previous version. Those criticisms end now.
Toast 11 Titanium's streamlined interface, expanded feature set and online tutorials mean it's definitely worth considering, even if you're an existing user. Only its difficulties converting VIDEO_TS folders stopped it getting that coveted fifth star.
Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: http://twitter.com/techradarreview