Review: Easy CD & DVD Creator 6
Posted May 1, 2003

With Easy CD & DVD Creator 6 ($99.95), Roxio has put together an impressive collection of applications into an integrated digital media suite. While upgrading to include DVD burning was a must, they have also tried to include tools to cover just about every digital media contingency, including a nice template-based, entry-level DVD authoring program. Yet in their effort to be all things for everybody, they may end up alienating more technical users who prefer more power with fewer bells and whistles.

There was a time when you bought CD burning software to, well, burn CDs. But, as is the case with so many programs today, doing one or two things well isn't enough anymore. So Roxio, building on Easy CD Creator version 5, has added a slew of programs that move Easy CD & DVD Creator 6 well beyond a mere CD burner into the realm of full-blown digital media studio. Whether you consider this a positive move or not depends on your needs as an individual user. Power users who have their own preferred programs for these side tasks may consider the additional programs as mere clutter, while less experienced users or those looking for a single, integrated tool may be happy to have everything they need in one convenient package. Still others may find Roxio taking important strides toward creating multipurpose tools that combine related functions, following a course parallel to products like Pinnacle Studio 8 and Sonic Foundry Vegas+DVD, which integrate video editing and DVD creation. You can't help wondering which approach will attract a bigger crossover market.

While you won't find any major cosmetic changes to the core applications, Disc Copier and Creator Classic, Roxio has made some updates under the hood, including increasing copy speed and providing for DVD support, among others. To Roxio's credit, they have added a DVD burning application along with an integrated Roxio player to play back DVD, SVCD, or VCD, both of which were a must for them to remain relevant. They have also added a new audio application, photo editing software, and an applet that allows you to drag and drop files onto a CD for quick burning. While Roxio dabbled in several similar applications in version 5, these are completely new programs, and the company has taken on a monumental task by overhauling the product in such dramatic fashion. While you might not find all of the functionality you expect in each component, for the most part, Roxio has done a good job of providing for just about every digital media contingency.

Let's Get Started
You can't get around the fact that this is a big program. In fact, Easy CD & DVD Creator 6 has grown from a rather robust 200MB for the full installation in version 5 to a whopping 800+ MB in the current version. Users who prefer a leaner install can pick and choose which applications they want during installation. Roxio has included a familiar Microsoft Office-like installation model, making it a simple task to leave out applications you don't want (or to add or remove elements after the initial installation).

After you install and reboot, you will notice that Roxio has added two icons to your Windows system tray, for Audio Central and Drag-to-Disc (discussed in detail later). You will also notice the Drag-to-Disc applet in the bottom right-hand corner of your Windows desktop. Power users may not be happy to have Roxio add programs to the startup process in this fashion, especially when there was no prompt about it during installation. To be fair, the install program does prompt you about whether you want the Drag-to-Disc program on the desktop.

A Change of Face
When you open Easy CD Creator 6, you will notice an entirely new program selector. Roxio has simplified the process of choosing the right program by switching to a simple menu selector with far less clutter than the 5.0 selection interface. When you place your cursor over a selection, a brief explanation of the application appears, but it would be nice if you could shut this off, since most users will understand the different functions fairly quickly. After you select a program, you can access other programs in the suite from a convenient menu that opens at the top of the Windows desktop. Several of the programs in the suite are designed in a modern Windows style without a title bar and include a new burn button in the bottom right-hand corner, providing simple, one-button access to the burn function, the reason most people buy this package in the first place. Unfortunately, Roxio was not consistent in its design and inexplicably included the old Windows look in Classic Creator. Roxio, however, has included a straightforward tutorial for each application in an integrated Flash interface that explains how to get started using each of the programs.

Make a DVD
Perhaps the most significant change in version 6 is the all-new DVD application Roxio has dubbed DVD Builder. You can build a DVD quickly and easily, and the program is a huge improvement over the video applications included in version 5 (which didn't even include DVD creation capability). While DVD Builder isn't completely intuitive, it's fairly easy to understand, especially after viewing the tutorial. You can import digital media from a digital camcorder, a digital camera or scanner, or a DVD. It also includes a feature that allows you to record directly from a digital source in real time.

You build your DVD by selecting a video source, then capturing the video (if the source is a FireWire MiniDV camera) or importing the files if the video is already on your hard drive. You can then build scenes combining different media, adding transitions and sound, and creating multiple scenes. You can even create a menu with a customized background from a library of backgrounds included with the package. The program includes a preview mode where you can see how your finished DVD should look, so you can find any mistakes before wasting a disc. You should be aware that transitions look pretty rough in preview mode, but look fine on the finished DVD. (Not rendering full-quality video for preview saves time in the creation process, especially on slower PCs.) I would like to have seen a bit more control over the process, such as allowing you to add multiple transitions instead of applying one transition type to all the scenes in a given clip and the ability to add my own backgrounds, but overall it was easy to use. (Other entry-level tools like Sonic MyDVD offer more customization.) Burning my completed movie onto a DVD was a breeze.

Manage Your Photos, Too
Roxio has integrated its PhotoSuite software into version 6, providing a far more robust photo editing experience than it offered with version 5's PhotoRelay software. Using the simple selection icons, you can easily import photos from your digital camera, scanner, or hard drive, then apply one of the many editing effects and finally print or share your photos by email, online photo service, slide show, or Video CD. While it provides all of the features you would expect in a photo tool, some of the tools are not terribly sophisticated. For example, in the slide show creation wizard, I would have liked to have more control over music (you can only include one song for the entire slide show) and have the ability to add transitions to the slides (a basic slide show function that's available on even low-end slide show creation tools). This will certainly suffice for non-technical users, but more advanced users may be frustrated by these types of omissions.

Take Control of Your Digital Music
Not to leave any digital medium stone unturned, Roxio also includes a music player in ECD 6 called Audio Central, which allows you to manage music tracks and record them to CD. It's different in look and feel from version 5's SoundStream appli- cation, but you won't find any surprises here. It includes integration with the Label Maker software and a music editing tool, handy for recording analog sources such as albums or cassettes and adjusting the sound quality for a CD.

Other Goodies
The Drag-to-Disc applet (formerly known as DirectCD) sits on your Windows desktop and allows you to drag and drop files onto it, a great way to back up files to a CD quickly. Sophisticated users may yawn at this feature, because they probably have a thinly veiled Direct CD shortcut on their desktop for this purpose already, but it's a nice addition for the less technical user. It also includes some small automation features such as on-the-fly formatting and eject functions that allow you to leave the disc open for further recording, features that will please even the curmudgeonly technical user. While you can share these discs with others, the default selection requires installing a small reader application on some systems, which could raise red flags at work where IT departments often control applications, or with any users who are leery about software being added to their system. You can choose an ISO file system readable on most computers, but this selection takes longer to eject, and is hidden under Advanced options where it won't be obvious to every user. Packet-writing apps like Drag-to-Disc (or its DirectCD precursor) have never really taken off the way Roxio and other proponents expected; their playback restrictions never disappeared, and portable media options got better. Still, it's nice to have Drag-to-Disc when you need it.

The package also includes an integrated label maker and a player for playing back DVDs, a must for any software that allows you to record DVDs, as well as an application that allows you to record and retrieve material that spans multiple discs.

Final Thoughts
Roxio should be applauded for supplying so much functionality for such a low price, and for including everything you might ever need to manage and burn digital media to CD or DVD in a general-purpose consumer product. While they have done a good job integrating each of the tools, it's baffling that they did almost nothing to update the Creator Classic interface to match the rest of the products. Ultimately, though, they have done a great job, especially for the less technical user who is looking for all the tools in one package. This approach may end up alienating users at the technical end of the spectrum, but that may be the price they have to pay for trying to be all things to all people.

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System Requirements

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For more information, visit www.roxio.com.