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Just a Peek - Toast 7: iLife's Little Addition

by

- February 22nd, 2006

You know, Apple's iLife suite of applications is about as good a package as one can get; it contains nearly everything you need to turn raw photos, movies, and music into stellar presentations that are enough to make relatives weepy, and strike envy in the hearts of the more proficient media creators among us.

I say "nearly" because, if you've played with iLife for any meaningful amount of time, you start to realize that it doesn't cover all the bases when it comes to producing movies and slide shows, and while the latest iteration of the famous iApps include new ways to share your creations, they do not cover every possible way to get your jewels out into the hands of others, and I think that's a good thing; it helps foster a community of after-market vendors who create add-ons and supplements to the iLife package, and it helps to keep innovation alive.

For instance, iMovie includes some great transitions and title effects, but there are several vendors out there who make add-on titles and transitions that can help make your movies and slideshows shine even brighter than they would with iMovie alone.

I wrote an column a while back that discussed some of the many things you can do with your photos and movies using iLife and some free or low-cost applications and services. One of the apps that I mentioned then was Toast 6 from Roxio, which gives you the ability to create video CDs (VCDs), a really useful feature lacking from the iLife suite.

Apple has long promoted DVDs as the medium on which to deliver your creations because DVDs gives you the absolute best quality, and they provide loads of space on which to dump you works of art.

The problem has been that not all DVD players, especially the older ones, will run DVDs created on computers, either from Macs or PCs, because the format of the DVD produced on computers is different from those that are commercially made or understood by older players.  

Most newer DVD player (devices 2 years old or younger) will readily play computer-created DVDs, but there are enough recalcitrant older players out there for the problem to be more than a nuisance.

Recently, I created a slide show of my wife's family reunion. I dumped the movie to DVD via iDVD. Being proud of the work I did, I plopped the DVD into my older Philips player so that my wife could ogle my composition then heap mounds of praise upon me for my directorial expertise.  

When I fired up the player, however, instead of heartwarming photos and music, all I got was a message that said "Disc Error."

Grrrrrr!

I had to run the DVD on my newer DVD player in the bedroom;  we could not watch the slides in big-screen glory, we wound up squinting at a 14" picture accompanied by tinny stereo sound. (I think the AV system in the bedroom is due for an upgrade.)

Since the slideshow was destined for folks who may believe that VHS is the state of the art in audio/visual entertainment (and so would likely own older models DVD players), I knew I couldn't send my creation to them on DVDs created with iDVD.

VCD For Me And Thee

Luckily, the nice folks at Roxio sent me a copy of their new and improved Toast 7 to take a peek at.

I easily imported my iMovie output file into Toast 7, selected one of several menu styles offered, selected the format I wanted (Video CD, Super Video CD, or DVD), plopped in a CD, and let 'er rip.


Toast 7's Main Screen

The result was a Super Video CD that played in my old Philips without a hitch. The quality of the video, while not as good as that from a DVD, was very good, more than adequate for the VHS crowd my slideshow was aimed at.

Making VCDs is only part of Toast 7's story, however, the application also provides a single interface to allow you to create data and audio CDs and DVDs easily.

Would you like to create a party music DVD that contains over 4GBs of music on one disc? A music DVD created with Toast 7 will give you over 50 hours of tunes. That's one helluva party! (Please be sure to invite me.)

How about backing up your iTunes library, iPhoto library, iMovie or iDVD projects onto a DVD? Need a backup of that new DVD you bought Junior for his birthday? No problemmo.

Another feature in Toast 7 that should make photographers happy is its ability to produce hi-rez slide shows. These are not movies; they are your photos rendered in the absolute best quality and shown in a very basic slideshow format; you can't use panning or zooming, the photos are static, but you can adjust how long each slide is shown.

But Wait, There's More...

Roxio includes several additional applications in the Toast 7 installation; CD Spin Doctor, Discus, and Motion Picture HD.

CD Spin Doctor is a handy app that lets you import analog audio from a variety of sources and encodes them into digital format. CD Spin Doctor offers a voice recorder widget that gets installed on your Dashboard (for Tiger users). There are also filters available to help you clean up your analog audio.


CD Spin Doctor

Discus lets you create CD labels, jackets, and more. What's nice about Discus is that it includes style sheets for more than 100 label layouts. You can either choose one of the many included CD backgrounds or import your own photos or drawings.


Motion Picture HD

But, the crown jewel of Toast 7 is a new application called Motion Picture, which lets you create slideshow movies that you can burn directly to DVD or CD, or easily export your creation. Toast 7 and Motion Picture lets you work directly from your iPhoto and iTunes libraries to create some really slick shows just by dragging in the photos you want, arranging them, and adding music.

Motion Picture HD lets you create a montage of up to six photos, each appearing and panning in its own frame. If you are producing your show for a widescreen TV then the montage feature will let you take advantage of the extra real estate.


A Montage Of Flowers In Motion Picture HD

Another nicety in Motion Picture HD is the effects it offers; whereas iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD offer the Ken Burns effect for panning photos, Motion Picture HD goes further by letting to control the rotation of the of the photo. The net effect is a very interesting zoom, pan, and rotate that end up at a particular area of interest in your photo.

Once you're done arranging Motion Picture lets you export your creation to Toast 7 or iDVD for burning, or you can e-mail it, post it to your . Mac site, or simply create a QuickTime movie. I found this feature most useful because I could mix movies and slide shows created in iMovie with those created in Motion Picture, producing a video that is as unique as it is captivating.


A Montage Of Motion

The Down Side

Lots of video creating goodness? To be sure, but Toast 7 does have its flaws.

Toast 7 offers no transitions for slides; you adjust the length of time the photo is shown and Toast 7 does the rest, fading out then fading into the next photo. No cuts, cross-wipes, blurs, or dissolves. Nor does Toast 7 allows many other effects: Panning, scanning, and rotating your photos is all you get.

If you intend to use Toast 7 exclusively, the lack of transitions and effects might be limiting, but if you use Toast 7 in concert with iPhoto and iDVD, then it becomes yet another means of creating interesting content.

The biggest problem that I found in Toast 7 is the lack of control one has over media menus, whether it be in DVD, VCD, or CD. Roxio includes a small list of rather nice menus for use with movies; however, you are not allowed to manipulate the menus in anyway, even the menu items, such as movie or slide show names, are defined when you name your media. Nor can the position of the menu items on the menu, or the photo or movie inserts be modified as you can in iDVD. 

Roxio does offer an extensive selection of menu backgrounds, however, which can be purchased in packages from its Web site. But, even these varied and interesting menu backgrounds can't compete with the ability to customize menus as offered by iDVD. What you may wind up doing is creating parts of your DVD content in Toast or Motion Picture HD, then exporting it as a .dv file for use in iMovie to be ultimately transferred to iDVD. If you intend to use the VCD option in Toast 7, then you are out of luck and must use the menus provided by Toast 7.

Then again, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to produce DVDs and VCDs with the least amount of fuss, Roxio's approach may be the better option. In fact, it does a lot of the work of producing output for you; audio is automatically clipped and faded to match the length of your movie or slide show, transitions between photos are automatic, as is the composition of the menu screen, as I've mentioned. There are times when you will want to just push out a quick slide show for a visiting relative, and these drawbacks will become much needed features. It is your call.

One final point I'd like to make: Toast 7 and Motion Picture HD are good applications in and of themselves, and while they do tap the iLife application libraries for media, and export in formats readily used by the iLife apps, I still wish for tighter integration. For instance, it would be nice if I could bring up Toast 7 or Motion Picture HD Directly from iMovie, do what I need to do, them have the results appear as a selectable digital video in iMovie's palette.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this; Toast 7 easily fills in many of the gaps in iLife left by Apple, most notably the ability to create VCDs. In addition, Toast 7's Motion Picture offers some interesting photo options not available in iLife, CD

Spin Doctor provides a simple but effective means of creating analog input, while Discus gives you the means to make your DVDs and VCDs look as good on the outside as the content you put in them. Even with all the recent improvements Apple has made to the iLife apps, I think you'll find that Toast 7 and its included apps will get used again and again, and is a good value.

Review Item Toast 7
Manufacturer Roxio
Price

Street Price

US$79 (After upgrade or competitor rebate)

US$59 (Amazon)
Minimum
Requirements
PowerPC G4 processor or faster (G5 recommended for viewing DivX files on your Mac)
PowerPC G3 processor and Mac OS 10.2 users, see Toast 6 Titanium or Popcorn
Mac OS X v10.3.9 or later
300 MB of free disk space to install
Up to 15 GB of temporary free disk space during usage
QuickTime 7 or later
CD or DVD burner and recordable media
 

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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