Shooting digital photos and video and downloading digital music can be a lot of fun. But managing those files -- whether you're creating music CDs or building digital slide shows -- can still be intimidating. Thankfully, there are plenty of software titles designed to help organize your digital lifestyle -- and even those that have been around for a long time are coming out with new versions.
Roxio's Easy Media Creator 8 and Nero 7 Ultra are among those that are trying to keep up with the fast-changing pace of digital media. At one time folks were using the software to record music CDs, but now they are creating video clips or photo slideshows with customized soundtracks on recordable DVDs.
The tools are plentiful on both suites -- so plentiful that figuring out which tools you need for any given task can be daunting at first.
To streamline the use of the suites, the start pages for Nero and Roxio group functions by task. For example, all of the basic functions for dealing with audio files, from importing to creating a compilation, are found on the same menu listing, even if they use different programs within the suite.
Gathering and recording large amounts of audio-visual entertainment onto CDs and DVDs are the hearts of these programs. So their ability to "rip" files (take them from their source and store them on a computer) and "burn" them (record them to CD or DVDs) is central to their functions.
Nero's burning feature has a simple tabbed interface that changes depending on what type of disc you want to record and it offers a full bevy of recording formats and features. Unfortunately, many of the choices go by names that even the technologically savvy may not understand. How many of us know, for example, whether we want our CDs burned in the "iso" or "udf" formats?
Roxio splits music and data disc creation into two tools: Creator Classic and Music Disc Creator. Creator Classic handles data discs (those containing photos, videos, spreadsheets and the like) in a clean interface. Music Disc Creator uses a similar interface and offers users the new ability to create audio DVDs in addition to audio CDs.
Recordable DVDs can hold much more music than a CD and include features of video DVDs such as chapters and title screens with album information. They are simple to create and worked on the variety of DVD players and computers we tried.
But the suites do more than just burn discs; they also edit photos and video clips and create backup copies of data files. Nero PhotoSnap and Roxio PhotoSuite each offer basic photo editing and slideshow capabilities that are commendably straight-forward. Nero and Roxio also include sound editing software that rips music from cassettes and albums and allows those files to be modified -- for volume settings, for example.
Nero Vision and Roxio's VideoWave offer up robust video editing capabilities for budding amateurs. While both tools are powerful and feature-laden, the suites also include scaled-down versions with fewer options and more guidance, a friendly version that comes in handy when you're trying to throw together a quick DVD.
Roxio Backup and Nero BackItUp each provide flexible options for scheduling backups. Roxio also bundles Backup MyPC, a disaster recovery tool, which comes with a bold warning that it is a pre-release version "for your evaluation."
Nero Home is an intriguing new feature that extends Nero's reach by giving users who have a remote control or wireless mouse/keyboard the ability to control all media files from across the room.
Each suite offers extensive assistants and basic modes to help even novices create quick photo slideshows, movies or CDs. But Roxio's consistent look and feel makes it easier to jump from video editing to CD creation compared with Nero's varied interface formats.
Even with all the streamlining efforts, both Nero and Roxio are providing complex programs, and the learning curves can be steep.