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Latest slice of Toast worth savoring

Toast Assistant .jpg

When it comes to capturing, copying and converting digital media and entertainment — and burning disks — Roxio Toast Titanum from Rovi Corp. has long been the leader. And with the just-launched Roxio Toast 11 Titanium (US$99) for Mac this hasn’t changed. I’ve just finished test driving the Pro version and recommend it as one of the best buys around in Mac software.

First off, Toast 11 has been redesigned from the ground up and showcases a new interface. It wasn’t hard to use before, but now its even more intuitive. For example, the revamped interface makes it easier than ever to restore or convert LPs and cassettes to a digital format. And you can capture sound from just about any program running on your Mac (heck, Toast will even ignore notification sounds).

The new Toast Assistant provides access to new product tutorials and helps you navigate the variety of projects available for you to create in Toast. Additional tutorials will be added and appear automatically throughout the product lifetime, according to the folks at Rovi. The tutorials make it easier for existing Toast users and those new to the program to quickly complete media tasks.

Toast 11 adds features such as recording to multiple drives simultaneously, a streamlined product update mechanism, and the ability to save custom video profiles (very handy if you’re converting video for a particular device). The latest version now also offers built-in features for directly uploading media to social networking sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook.

Toast 11 also touts VideoBoost technology that speeds H.264 (high definition) video conversion or encoding. If your Mac has a modern Nvidia graphics card (sorry, AMD users), you can leverage the graphics card’s power to “supercharge” your H.264 video conversions for the iPad, Apple TV and other devices.

With Toast you can choose from preset video export settings to create video for playback on your iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, Xbox 360TM, PlayStation 3, and now even export directly to DivX Plus HD, MKV, and Flash formats. When moving from one format to another, you can select from a variety of format and quality presets optimized for your favorite device. Or you can create and save your own custom profiles for ongoing use.

A built-in media browser integrates search tools directly into the app. You can pull HD video from your camcorder without waiting on a loooong conversion process. With Toast 11 you can extract video and music clips from any DVD-Video and convert it for viewing on your Mac, iPod, or portable device. (We’re talking non-commercial DVDs here, so don’t expect to use it on that “Inception” DVD.)

New or exclusive-to-Toast features include: Internet audio recording; the ability to capture, save, and convert Web-based video content; disc spanning (automatically spreading a large amount of data or audio tracks across many discs); one-click backup of HD camcorder footage; dual-platform compatible disc creation, and TiVo-to-Go support.

Toast 11 also offers several features of convenience. You can set up and queue video conversion projects to run at a later time, allowing you to run CPU-intensive conversions when you’re away from the computer to avoid slowing down your work (or play, if that’s the case). You can still pause and resume conversions in process when needed.

You can preview video clips at selected quality settings quickly. You can even save your preview clips to open them side-by-side for comparison before committing to a longer conversion.

As nice as Toast 11 is, spring the extra $50 bucks and go with the Pro version, which is priced at $149.99. It includes everything offered in Toast 11 Titanium as well as the Blu-ray Disc Plug-in (which sells for $19.99 alone) and four solid digital media applications:

° Adobe PhotoShop Elements 9 — the latest, full-featured version of the consumer photo-editing software for the Mac.

° SmartSound Sonicfire Pro 5 — for creating a soundtrack to accompany videos and slideshows.

° BIAS SoundSoap SE — for removing unwanted noise like wind, hisses, scratches, and pops from LPs, cassettes, or almost any audio, music, or video soundtrack.

° FotoMagico 3 — for turning pictures and video into slideshows.

Each of those apps is worth your attention. But getting them all bundled with Toast 11 Pro is a solid investment. Whether you go for the regular or Pro version, Toast 11 is an essential component to Apple’s iLife suite. But the latter offers much more bang for your buck.

Toast 11 Titanium requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.5 or higher.

Rating: 10 out of 10

— Dennis Sellers

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