For many of us, Toast has become so indispensable that life without it is unimaginable. This may sound rather dramatic, but think about it... true isn't it? It's also hard to imagine how Roxio could improve on such a solid and reliable piece of software, but somehow the developers have made it even better.
For a start, in the Source and Settings window you'll find a new media browser feature that takes you directly to your creative centres - music, photo and movie libraries - from where you can easily drag the files you want to burn. This is just so much classier than bringing windows to and fro, and could usefully have been extended to a general browser for all types of files and folders.
Toast has never been that useful for archiving data. That changes now, with the introduction of Data Spanning. This new feature enables you to spread large folders and files across any number of discs. You can, for example, back-up your whole iTunes library in one go across a few DVDs, and each disc contains an index of content and location so you can find and re-load individual files or folders using the bundled Restore software, a copy of which is also saved to each disc.
It doesn't give you the progressive backup of Retrospect, for example, but using Déjà Vu, a program that comes with Toast 7, managing and organising backups becomes a whole lot easier.
There are a few other minor improvements to data handling. You've always been able to create Mac and PC compatible discs, but now you can simply and easily make hybrids with exclusive content for Mac and PC users. For that creative touch, you can customise the background and icons of your discs with colours or pictures from your photo collection.
You could create music DVDs in Toast 6, but they're being brought to prominence in version 7 - handy as many of us have home theatre systems to play them and music libraries big enough to fill a DVD. You can fit up to 50 hours of music on a single disc using Dolby Digital compression, which should be long enough for most parties, though the capacity reduces to seven hours if you want to maintain PCM quality and less than half that for 96kHz and 24- bit audio.
To make life much easier, you can also now drag-and-drop iTunes playlists directly from the media browser, and audio file support has been extended to include the newish AAC, OGG and FLAC file formats.
Making DVDs to watch on your home system is getting simpler. DivX compressed movie files can now be burnt to DVD, which is fine if you have a DivX certified player. DivX files are 1/10th of the size of DVD video and of comparable quality, and what's more, DivX HD discs support 720p high-definition video resolution, which is not the case with DVD video.
iMovie HD and Final Cut HD projects can also be turned to HD discs using your existing burner and media. The HD trend extends to still images, which can be collected into widescreen slideshows at higher quality, along with the facility to add zoom, pan and cross-fade effects and a custom soundtrack. Watch out Ken Morse. In all cases, the creative possibilities with menus and indexes have been broadly expanded by this release.
DVD copying has been extended to include dual-layer discs, and with it comes the ability to reduce dual-layer source discs onto single-layer target discs using selective compression. There's also the option to copy selective parts such as just the main movie, audio format and language. DVDs recorded in standalone recorders and camcorders can also be copied.
Toast 7 is all about versatility and making life easier, and this update is certain to appeal to those of us who are everyday users and want the best for our creative endeavours, with the least amount of hassle. There are improvements to all its main provinces - sight, sound and saving - not surprisingly, with the main emphasis on DVD burning for sound and vision. As compatibility improves, burning domestic DVDs is fast becoming as easy and reliable as burning audio discs. Bring it on. Tim Oliver