May 2002|I think I've previously admitted in these pages a lifelong affinity for Sports Illustrated. Of course, I see and enjoy lots of industry pubs, especially One to One, DVD Report, and AVVideo/Multimedia Producer, and have subscribed from time to time to The New Republic, The Nation, The New Yorker, National Geographic, and either Time or Newsweek, I forget which. And I also got Dave Marsh's Rock ‘n' Roll Confidential for a couple years, although like DVD Report, that was more of a newsletter.
But SI is the one I've read quasi-religiously for about as long as I've known what magazines were, and have probably had my own sub for going-on 20 years now. Which is not to say that I don't wonder if it's worth it every now and then, especially this time of year, when they wink and nudge and send me the swimsuit issue, which in spite of its uhh, decorative appeal and newsstand-spiking sales value, hardly illustrates sports. I know the sixties didn't happen to everybody, but with our current mass media glut, I kind of figured the nineties did. Anyway, all that said, the annual bathing suit sampler is too easy a target for me to take on here.
SI has given me plenty else to scratch my head about of late, whether it's their oddly light-hearted treatment of former NBA star Jayson Williams' alleged drunken (accidental) shooting of his limo driver, or the "husband of the year" PR puff piece they did for New Jersey Net Jason Kidd, who punched his wife in front of his son in January 2001. But the real cake-taker in the last few months has to be their February 25 story on Native American-mocking sports team names, which captured some fascinating and wonderfully relevant data on how white people feel about the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves' tomahawk chop, and other neo-colonial marvels.
Inspired by SI's example as I plunged into my review of Stomp's terrific CD recording software, RecordNow MAX 4.0, I thought, why limit the review just to my perspective, as a longtime, avid CD-R user, with a demonstrated stake in the technology and experience with most of the competing Windows tools? Just like their SI counterparts, EMedia readers deserve more. So adhering closely to SI's methodology, I rounded up a similarly suitable survey group to the white folk who shared their views on the stupefying "wahoo-wahs" of the pro sports world.
I got right down to business and organized a seance to gather the opinions of my four deceased grandparents on the merits of RecordNow MAX. Never mind that three of them died before CD-R was invented, and a fourth never touched a computer, and passed on before Stomp or any of its Veritas/Prassi ancestors came to market. Not surprisingly, I didn't get much feedback, but I'll take SI's tack and count that as mild approval (except for the one who seemed to whisper, "CD-R meant business back then and this is none of mine!"). I also recalled hearing a reference to a Broadway show called "Stomp!" on TV sometime not too long ago, and figured their cast and crew might have some useful opinions on RecordNow MAX. But I never reached them for comment. No luck channeling proto-Luddite Ed Ludd either, though his perspective on a new wrinkle in CD-R seemed appropriately irrelevant. So I guess you're stuck with the findings of my own personal testing. But just for the record, SI earnestly reports that 92% of the Atlanta Braves' 98% non-Native American fan base revealed that after due consideration and copious soul-searching, the Tomahawk Chop doesn't offend them at all. But they're willing to sign a treaty to cut it out next year, wink and nudge no extra charge.
Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to associate RecordNow MAX in any way with the Redskins, Fighting Sioux, and their ilk; that would be like comparing apples to albatrosses.
I suppose apples to apples hardly seems appropriate either, since we're talking about a Windows tool. I've looked at a number of Windows recording software products in the last few months, and I've got to concede I'm mighty comfortable working with Stomp's latest offering. To be fair, it's not exactly a Stomp invention in the way the CD Stomper was, or the way Nero is ahead's, CD Maker is NTI's, SimpliCD is Oak's, or Easy CD Creator is Roxio's. As the exclusive stateside retail channel distributor for Veritas' RecordNow line, Stomp is effectively the North American face of the CD recording engine Veritas picked up in their acquisition of Prassi. And it's quite an appealing face.
Stomp (www.stompinc.com) ships the Platinum bundle with six applications, or "modules," as Stomp affectionately calls them. RecordNow MAX is the all-purpose CD recording tool at the core of the package, formerly known as MyCD Pro; medioStream's neoDVDStandard, an old favorite in this office (reviewed in several EMedia pieces), ably handles recording of DVD-Video images to DVD-R and DVD+RW; Click 'N Edit Sound LE compares well with Nero WAV Editor and Spin Doctor as a handy analog-to-WAV converter for recording LP tracks to hard drive; Simple Backup and DLA (stands for "Drive Letter Access") take care of backup and packet-writing chores; and Stomp's Click 'N Design 3d Pro, a 3D disc labeling powerhouse, rounds out the set with estimable razzle-dazzle.
All these modules install without a hitch (only neoDVD requires the CD key that comes on the MAX Platinum CD-ROM), and everywhere it mattered, the software recognized the three recording drives I had installed at various times during the review—a USB 2.0 24X CD-R and 2.4X RW5120 DVD+RW from Sony, a USB 2.0 24X from Plextor—and instantly registered my Liteon DVD-ROM LTD163 as default read drive.
Stomp sets minimum system requirements at 233mHz Pentium II or equivalent for CD recording and rewriting, and 700mHz Pentium III or equivalent for recording DVDs; going higher, especially for DVD tasks and 24X+ CD-R, is highly recommended. Stomp also recommends 128MB RAM, 80MB of available HDD space for software installation, 5GB HDD space for mastering DVDs (a given, with DVD-R and DVD+RW capacity at 4.7GB), and Windows 98 SE, 2000, ME, XP, or NT 4.0 service pack 4+. Information on supported drives—essential for anyone considering purchasing aftermarket CD-R software—is available at www.stompinc.com at the bottom of the RecordNow MAX 4.0 page. (Users can choose to sort supported drives by manufacturer, or simply view the whole lengthy list.) Testing for this review was done on a 1.4GB Pentium IV Dell using the read and write drives listed earlier.
bullets and wizards
Anybody who knew CD-R in the days of the Washington Bullets, who have since been renamed the Wizards in deference to the frightening murder rate in the U.S. capital (while the Redskins inexplicably played on), knows that the "Wizards" that have greeted you in most CD-R products since the days of Corel CD Creator have done much to advance the popularity of the medium. Wizards make a nice shallow end for those who just like to splash around with CD-R, doing disc-to-disc duping, casual audio disc compilations, occasional file storage, and the like. Wizards used to serve a more significant purpose than they do now, masking what were widely considered complex and counter-intuitive CD-R user interfaces, accessible to engineers, but off-putting for most newcomers to CD-R's growing user base. It's all a matter of perspective, I guess, and since mine comes with years of exploration of multiple tools, maybe I'm not the best-suited to judge, but I find most of today's CD-R software, wizard-enabled or wizard-free, plenty easy to use.
What really annoys some folks (like EMedia scribes Bob Starrett and Josh McDaniel) about CD-R wizards is a propensity toward insipid and intrusive cartoons. RecordNow MAX, happily, gives you a handy wizard with no cartoons in sight, just a three-bar screen giving you trio of common options: "Make an Exact Copy," "Make a Music Disc", or "Make a Data Disc." Click on "Exact Copy" and RecordNow MAX will show you a delightful artist's rendering of a PC tower read drive, and prompts for inserting source disc or change source device; next up you'll get the same visuals and options for your destination drive and media. If you've already got the discs in place, click "Next" twice and you're burning. The "Music Disc" and "Data Disc" options make things just as easy.
beds are burning
What some users will undoubtedly like best about the RecordNow MAX Wizard, however, is how easy it is to get in and out of it. "Return to Stomp RecordNow MAX" is the fourth option on the initial Wizard screen; click it, and you're returned to an attractive recording GUI with a well-packed palette. Copy, Data, and Audio are all to be found along the top menu bar, alongside Image, Mixed-Mode, Video CD, Open and Save (for developing or pre-selected projects), and at far left, Wizard for returning to the Wizard.
At the far right side of the menu bar, the final icon is "Drive," which opens a pull-down menu offering several options, including select/deselect for readers and recorders, open and close tray, and Erase Rewritable Disc. Below the menu bar, a left-side box shows you all relevant drives currently in service. For most of this review, it was the Liteon DVD read drive pre-installed in the test-bed PC, the Plextor PX-W2410A CD-R, and the Sony RW5120 DVD+RW. This main GUI window stays open as long as you use the RecordNow software, with the menu bar and drive ID box as constants; the rest of the screen (Job list, lower left, and a larger multifunction window at right) vary based on the recording task at hand.
The review process for RecordNow MAX began in the waning days of the previous iteration of the software, version 3.3. One thing that becomes clear immediately when you leave the Wizard and go to the main screen is how much Stomp has cleaned up the interface. Previously, the top menu bar consisted of several comparatively inscrutable icons that required a few seconds of mouse hovering to reveal their function. The accessible, Explorer-like icon-word combination in version 4.0 is a welcome improvement.
Other new features in version 4.0 are an integrated launcher for neoDVD, which isn't all that easy to find; easily managed bootable CD creation capability; Section 508 compliance for physically disabled users; and state-of-the-art 320Kbps MP3 ripping. One particularly interesting feature of Stomp that clearly shows its roots in Prassi engineering is the ability to record to up to 64 CD and 16 DVD recorders simultaneously. In RecordNow MAX, this feature is enticingly dubbed "WarpDrive." Although this certainly won't find favor with the same demographic as, say, the accelerated MP3 ripping, it has obvious business and production appeal, in that it essentially turns a PC-based recording environment into a multidrive CD duplicator, without the expense of buying a designated duplication device. While the broadening of CD-R's audience in recent years since Prassi first introduced the feature has probably gone in directions where simultaneous multidisc recording isn't necessarily a high priority, on the other hand, with more and more PCs shipping with CD and DVD recorders on board (like the HP units that ship with a differently abled version of Stomp), and cheaper and cheaper aftermarket drives entering the channel, users are much more likely to have multiple drives available.
I tested Stomp's multidrive recording with a simultaneous 12X disc-to-disc copy of a 78-minute audio CD, using the Plextor CD-R and Sony DVD+RW. This process succeeded on one of two occasions: buffer underruns ensued on both recorders the first time; downshifting to 8X and making a temporary image on the hard drive the second time did the trick. Users who intend to use this feature with different recording drives will need to alter settings in the options/advanced features menu to disable the default setting, which mandates uniform drive use for simultaneous recording. Sticking to this setting has obvious advantages, since all drives record at different speeds (even, say, 24X units from different manufacturers); users should also be sure to set recording speed at a level both drives can achieve. (I picked 12X initially because that's the top CD-R speed of the RW 5120.)
In addition to straight-up simultaneous recording, WarpDrive also lets users record multiple jobs at once using different recorders. In my experience, this approach proved an unqualified success. I played it safe, keeping buffer underrun protection activated, and setting the bar comparably low with 8X as my top recording speed.
Other recording functions proved successful as well. I assembled a nice, if short, collection of VideoCD tracks from MPEG-1 performance clips of Elvis and Bob Dylan located online (attempts to locate uploaded feature films like Shrek only unleashed torrents of porn—a lesson for anyone seeking to use VideoCD for material to which you don't own the copyright). The VideoCD I produced played back with equal facility in my DVD-ROM drive and DVD player. Multisession burns also went smoothly, like VideoCD and audio CD recordings, at maximum speed (24X for the Sony and Plextor CD-Rs, 12X on the Sony DVD+RW). Stomp also pulled off all this high-speed recording work with other applications churning away in the background, such as Outlook Express, Microsoft Word, and Internet Explorer. I even roamed around to other sections of Stomp. While multitasking isn't recommended for all recording tasks, particularly on slower PCs, it's a nice freedom to have—I always prefer recording programs that leave it up to me.
Beyond multisession and bootable CD recording, RecordNow MAX also lets you take "data" recording to a fairly high acuity, allowing burning from various types of image files, including "Global Images" for CD and DVD. You can also make fine-tuning adjustments for different types of recording, such as creating a user-defined premastering cache when burning discs with thousands of small files. Choose "Cache All Files," or customize the option via a draggable "slider" that lets you set a "Smaller than..." value to make sure all files under, say, 8KB get cached before recording.
Advanced audio features include the increasingly popular CD Text function, and pre-gap adjustments (important for eliminating between-track silences in Disc-At-Once discs). Both these features are found front and center in the audio disc window, just above the workspace into which you add selected tracks. Mixed-Mode CDs can also be created, simply by clicking on the Mixed-Mode icon in the main GUI menu bar. Audio tracks in the first session and "files and folders" in the second session are the default option. Another nice audio attribute is the ability to test audio extraction speed and accuracy before ripping with a handy reporting function.
We've sung neoDVD's praises in these pages before (See "QPS Que! USB 2.0 DVD Burner," www.emedialive.com/r6/2002/nathans2_02.html; and Jeff Sauer's article, "Amateur Hour," www.emedialive.com/r8/2002/sauer4_02.html), so we won't repeat ourselves. That said, in testing done specifically for this review with the Sony RW5120, DVD+RW media from Sony and Verbatim were recorded with equal ease and effectiveness—not a blown disc in the bunch, and all played back on a Liteon DVD-ROM and Pioneer DVD-Video player.
The RecordNow MAX bundle also ships with a handy manual that explains in lucid detail how to do all these cool things. The same material is also available online.
We've reviewed a lot of great CD-R tools in EMedia, and I've had the pleasure of working with just about all of them. Josh McDaniel favors the power and versatility of Nero; Bob Starrett's always been a Prassi man. Hugh Bennett plays his cards a bit closer to the vest, but seems to rate Roxio's Easy CD Creator a little higher than the others do. I've had the pleasure of working with all three tools, and have certainly sung their praises where praise was due.
All things considered, Stomp RecordNow MAX Platinum 4.0 is the finest Windows CD recording bundle I've seen. For one thing, I like the intelligence of the bundle, neoDVD leading the list of "ancillary" benefits. As DVD recording approaches the ubiquity of CD-R, users will expect the dual-functionality, and Stomp's approach in licensing a tool as straightforward and effective as neoDVD makes a great deal of sense. Aesthetics and accessibility go a long way in my book, and while I wouldn't have given version 3.3 the nod in that respect, version 4.0's well-constructed main window takes the prize. And words can hardly describe the wonders of WarpDrive—try hooking up 64 recorders sometime and imagine the possibilities.
Note: In spring 2003, Sonic Solutions (www.sonic.com) acquired Veritas' CD recording software line, including the RecordNow applications. It's reported that the relationship between Stomp and the RecordNow products will not change.
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