Nero’s SmartStart front end doesn’t take you to every Nero app by default, but you can easily add your favorites.
When you install Nero 8 Ultra, no fewer than 22 individual apps take up residence on your PC. Some cover very specific tasks, such as DriveSpeed (which, as you might guess, tests the speed of your drive). Others are much more ambitious, like Nero Home, a Media Center–like interface that serves as an entertainment hub for music and video playback, TV streaming and recording, and content sharing over a network, all via a large living-room-friendly interface. Newcomers to Nero will appreciate the SmartStart app, which installs with a desktop shortcut, and helps make sense of the mayhem by presenting a more manageable number of categories and common tasks, e.g., “Rip and Burn,” that then lead you to a suitable app. It’s helpful, but it’s definitely geared toward newbs. For instance, when you choose to create an audio disc or copy data, SmartStart takes you to Nero Express rather than Burning ROM—the more powerful, feature-rich program.
Such concessions to novice users, however, are actually pretty minimal in Nero, especially when compared to Easy Media Creator 10. We appreciate a degree of assumed sophistication, but Nero is sometimes too sparse with information, leaving it up to users to hunt and peck their way around an unfamiliar app.
The meat and potatoes of the Nero suite are Burning ROM, Recode, and Vision. And these three applications are virtually unchanged from their Nero 7 versions in terms of functionality. That’s a good thing, for the most part.
Burning ROM remains a one-stop shop for burning audio, video, and data to a CD or DVD, and we continue to appreciate its straightforward interface, reliability, and array of options. The app also supports burning data discs to HD DVD and Blu-ray media.
Recode would be the ideal format-conversion app if it offered support for more formats.
Recode is still the place to go for video conversion, such as when you want to compress the contents of a double-layer DVD into a file that will fit on a single-layer disc, or compress the latter into something better suited for a portable player. Recode does it well, keeping all the elements of the source material intact and offering a comforting degree of tweakability. You can, for instance, adjust the compression quality of all the secondary elements of a movie, such as menus and extras, in order to achieve higher quality in the main movie. And Nero’s extensive list of “fit to target” options makes it easy to achieve the perfect amount of compression for a given device. A notable shortcoming of Recode, however, is its use of the Nero Digital file format. While this MPEG-4-based codec is compatible with a number of devices, it’s no substitute for more open standards, such as DivX and Xvid. We couldn’t, for example, stream a Nero Digital video file to our Xbox.
For its part, Nero Vision lets you create, author, and burn video discs. As in Nero 7, this app provides a timeline for editing footage, slots for two audio tracks, a handful of effects and transitions, and a number of menu options (the download of Nero 8 comes with just a couple menu templates, but many more are available for free from the Nero website). These features are available to AVCHD video as well as standard-def formats. And new to Nero 8 is support for Blu-ray authoring (BD-AV), although there are currently no menus, effects, or audio options when working in this format. A $25 plugin will add HD DVD authoring support to Vision and allow you to play commercial HD DVD and Blu-ray discs in ShowTime, the suite’s playback app.
Other suite mainstays include PhotoSnap, which provides a decent array of photo-editing options and effects and a degree of user control that put it slightly ahead of a free editing program such as Picasa; and SoundTrax, which lets you create audio tracks from various source materials, with support for multiple discrete channels.
Apps like InfoTool lend Nero its hardcore character.
Nero rounds out these standards (and puffs up its package) with a handful of applications that are clearly geared toward enthusiasts. Examples include the previously mentioned DriveSpeed app; InfoTool, which provides information about your installed hardware, software, drivers, etc.; RescueAgent, for recovering damaged files from an optical disc; and BackItUp3, which lets you perform and schedule full or incremental backups of any drives, folders, files, or connected devices.
Nero 8 has been optimized for Vista, and in our tests it ran stably with the new OS, even in 64-bit mode. Vista users might also appreciate the one-click Copy to Disc sidebar gadget. And folks who like to share audio or video online might benefit from the Export button integrated into Nero’s creation apps—if it actually worked. When we selected the Export to Web option, our video was converted to an appropriate format, but then we were left hanging about what to do next. The drop-down menu for selecting a community offered no options, nor was there any place to add a site. The Help button simply took us to the web, where we could have downloaded a PDF of the entire Nero Vision manual. No thanks! We’d just as soon not have the feature than pore over a manual to figure it out.
While we’re fans of Nero’s core burning, recoding, and editing apps, and we can even see using some of its other tools on a semi-regular basis, we’re just not convinced we need to spring for the inflated package—especially when some of its features feel half-baked.