Nero is one of the most popular disc-burning suites for Windows, and certainly one of the most comprehensive disc-burning suites for any platform. Version 7 had a run of nearly two years. Over that time, it got a large number of bug fixes and new features (e.g., Vista compatibility and HD disc support). Now, version 7 makes way for the current version - we tested version 18.104.22.168 of Nero.
The installation process for Nero 8 was more polished than it was for Nero 7. We encountered no significant issues over the course of the install, and we haven't seen any references to the download version that we installed as being a trial version since we entered the product's serial number (that was a bone of contention that many users had with Nero 7).
Once installed, we thought the logical place to start testing was to look at StartSmart, which is essentially the portal/command center/application launcher of the suite. If you don't know exactly what part of Nero to use to handle your project, start here. The look and feel of StartSmart is quite different from that of previous versions. On the left-hand side of the app, you can quickly assemble a data disc for burning, create an audio CD or a "jukebox disc" in MP3 or Nero Digital Audio+ format, rip an audio CD to MP3, Nero Digital Audio or WAV, or copy a disc (unprotected, if you please).
The other tabs of StartSmart encompass ripping and burning of content, creation and editing of content, home entertainment tasks and backing up your data. Alternately, if you know which app you need, hit the flame icon on the lower left-hand corner of StartSmart and pick the application you want. Or, just use the good ol' Windows Start menu, find the Nero program group and break a leg.
Did we mention everything you can do with Nero other than just burning discs? You can also design covers, manage photos, convert and edit video, convert music and edit WAV files.
Nero also preserves the toolkit, a favorite of power users. It includes functions such as controlling the speed of the drive, an image mounter that allows you to see the contents of a disc image before burning it; InfoTool, which allows you to see a lot of details about the drive and media you're using; and RescueAgent, which tries to recover files from damaged discs.
Nero has also added a feature that gives you the ability to perform one-click transfers to or from YouTube, MySpace or the new My Nero community. And, of course, keeping up with the state of the art, there's full support for Windows Vista as well as AVCHD and Blu-ray Disc (BD-AV) playback.
Previous versions of Nero have also included Nero Vision, a kinda-basic video-editing applet that naturally makes it pretty easy to burn your video to DVD, AVCHD and even Blu-ray Disc, if you happen to have a Blu-ray Disc burner on your system. You can work in either a timeline or storyboard interface. The basic premise of the applet is to just drag and drop your clips into either the timeline or storyboard. After that, click Make DVD and set up your chapter points, by having the software insert them automatically (either by detecting scene changes or by placing chapters at the first frame of each imported clip) or by manually placing them and moving them around. The menu creation facilities are simple but reasonably effective for a simple project, and you get control over things like backgrounds and thumbnails. Next, you can preview your project. Finally, you can either burn your completed and tested project directly to disc or burn it to a folder or disc image.
Nero Vision's MPEG-2 encoding has gotten a lot better in this release. In past releases of Nero Vision, we observed some problems with audio sync drifting over time, but in playing a test DVD-video project that we created with Nero 8 (er, Nero Vision 22.214.171.124), we didn't notice that happening. The MPEG-2 encoder is relatively streamlined, but you get a decent amount of control: there are controls for setting the project's aspect ratio, choosing whether you want to use single-pass (fast) or 2-pass (high-quality) encoding, choosing audio format, choosing progressive/interlaced sampling and choosing encoding quality settings. Most settings also have an automatic setting as well.
Nero remains a very strong choice among authoring suites for Windows. It's one of the perennial favorites in the category, and for good reason-the software continues to get better and better over time. This is easily the best Nero we've seen in quite a while. Whether it's worth the cost of upgrading is up to you, but from where we stand, it's a solid upgrade from version 7. If you are using an OEM version of Nero that you're happy with, you might consider taking the trial version for a whirl. (You do have a broadband internet connection, right? Or access to one? You'll need it... it's 183MB. If you like it, you don't have to buy a CD or re-download the full version - instead, you just have to buy a key from Nero and enter it to unlock the software.)
OS: Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP SP1/MCE 2005/Pro x64 edition, Windows Server 2003 SP1, Windows Vista Home/Business/Ultimate (32- or 64-bit versions)
Processor: 1GHz Intel Pentium III or equivalent
Memory: 256MB (512MB required for Vista)
Hard Drive Space: 1.5GB for installation
- Much-improved MPEG-2 encoder.
- More polished and stable than previous versions.
- None significant
A strong suite for disc authoring and other digital media creation tasks that keeps improving incrementally with every update.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker's Associate Editor.
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$100 retail; $80 download