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TANGENT Burning questions burning answers

By Matthew Fordahl

Associated Press

It might seem like overkill to spend $100 on software to burn compact discs and DVDs. After all, Windows XP can handle basic CD authoring, and free programs such as iTunes and Napster create audio CDs in a snap, and most DVD writers ship with a hodgepodge of video and audio programs anyway.

But doubters need look no further than the latest versions of Roxio's Easy Media Creator or Ahead Software's Nero Ultra Edition to see that there's benefit to spending extra money for a suite that keeps all disc-burning functions under one software roof.

To begin with, it's less difficult to master a suite because such programs usually share common icons and interfaces. Plus, a unified suite makes it easier to pull video, audio and pictures together into a single project.

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Both Easy Media Creator 7 and Nero Ultra Edition 6 include sound and video editing software, media-capturing modules, a utility to design labels and inserts, backup tools and, of course, programs for copying, burning and playing every conceivable format of compact disc and DVD.

Roxio goes further, integrating its PhotoSuite picture-editing software as well as its Napster 2.0 music store and organization software into the suite.

Nero doesn't feature a music store component. Instead, it opens a floodgate of options so that users can control just about every aspect of the burning experience.

Both Easy Media Creator and Nero start off with a screen that lays out all the options. Instead of having to guess which program does what, it's as easy as clicking on "Create DVD" or "Capture video" from a start panel.

Roxio's program maintains the same look and feel regardless of which program is launched. Icons are consistent throughout, though they're not always intuitive. Helpful tips pop up when the mouse pointer hovers above the icons for a moment.

Roxio's installation went smoothly, though it seemed to take forever, giving me plenty of time to reminisce about how an early version of its Napster software crashed my computer. Thankfully, it didn't this time.

I started off by capturing pictures and video, keeping track of everything with the media management software.

The video-editing module is an intuitive, drag-and-drop process. As with other video editors, movies are created by dropping scenes into a story line or timeline. Music, narration, titles and other visual effects can be plopped in too.

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Roxio's suite includes a guided-editing wizard as well as an automatic editing tool, which reminded me of muvee Technologies' autoProducer program.

I tried it out with some home movies and a song.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't recognize music purchased from iTunes. And with Napster-purchased music, Roxio asked me to click a button to check with the mothership, then rejected me. I ended up using an unprotected MP3 file.

After choosing an option that promised to give the video an Impressionist feel, I sat back while the computer worked its magic. But the result was far from magical. Some of the images were so fuzzy, they were unidentifiable.

I had better luck creating a slide show out of pictures I imported from a digital camera. Instead of wasting a DVD, I burned it as a Super Video CD. It played on my TV's DVD player with no problems.

The integrated PhotoSuite application offers considerably more features, filters and effects than iPhoto on the Mac. It adjusts tint, removes red eye, changes saturation levels and offers countless other ways to fix -- or ruin -- a picture. The auto-fix feature tended to leave the pictures looking washed out, though that might be more a result of bad photography than bad software.

Nero, by comparison, tends to focus more on functions that are more directly related to disc burning.

Its strength is that it allows nearly total control over the burning process, from choosing Byzantine technical options (like Joliet, ISO 9660, HFS and the like), to squeezing more data onto a CD, a process called overburning.

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For beginners, Nero's friendly colorful start screen gives little clue of the power lurking behind those icons. There are boatloads of options, including some that will inevitably result in coasters.

Someone seems to have recognized this, and the company has created simplified, wizard-driven programs. Still, I managed to run into trouble.

When I tried to burn a DVD of home movies, I ended up with a half dozen discs that played on my computer but not on my TV's DVD player. But when I burned it as a Super Video CD, it played just fine on the TV.

The 139-page Nero Burning ROM manual had the solution to my problem. In fact, it likely has the answer to any question that might possibly pop up in the process of burning a CD or DVD -- or writing a doctoral thesis. For some reason, it's not indexed.

Thankfully, other programs in the suite offer indexed manuals, though they can also be quite lengthy.

Needless to say, if you think Joliet is just a famous prison in Illinois, you might want to stick with Nero's basic mode or check out Easy Media Creator 7.

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