Pros: Powerful, wide range of cd formats, consistent user interface
Cons: European background evident when reading help files, limited hard disk backup capability
Nero Burning Rom 5.5 was one of the two best known and widely used CD authoring programs available (the other being Easy CD Creator 5). (UPDATE April '04-New versions of both programs, Nero 6 Ultra and Media Creator 7 are now available). Like the platinum version of Easy CD Creator (ECDC), Nero offers just about every recording capability you might want, and a few you hadn't thought of. Although both products are very good, Nero topped ECDC5 in a few areas, notably the ability to burn SVCD's (a high quality version of video cd's compatible with many new DVD players), the ability to burn a cd from a bin/cue image file, and copying difficult to copy cd's (these missing features are all part of Easy CD Creator 6). The latest versions of Nero also include a cd cover designer, packet writing (UDF) software, an integrated MPEG1 encoder (for creating VCD's), utilities to check cdrom speed and slow down and reduce sound from cdrom drives, a wave file/sound editor, and a virus checker to check files before burning to CD.
If you are interested in this product, you may also want to take a look at Roxio's latest product also, Media Creator 7, reviewed here:
Roxio Easy Media Creator 7 - Way Past CD Burning Now
Installation of Nero goes quickly. Inserting the cd brings up a menu of 3 programs to install, Nero, Nero media player, and InCD Packet Writing Software. Most users won't need to install another media player, and will only install Nero and InCD. InCD is packet writing software, compliant with the UDF 1.5 standard, which means it is similar to and compatible with DirectCD, ECDC's packeting writing program. Once you format a blank cdrw with InCD, you can save files to or erase files from it using Windows explorer (or other programs) as if the cd were a floppy disk or hard drive. In my case, InCD did not work with my cd writer, but an upgrade to fix the problem was available on the Nero website (www.ahead.de).
Getting Started With Nero
I installed the software on on a system that included a Cendyne Lightning 24 X 10 X 40 CD Writer, Abit bh6 motherboard, 750MHZ celeron processor, 128 mg ram, Soundblaster 16, Creative Labs TNT video card, and 80gb Maxtor hard drive, running Windows XP. Once the software and InCD update was installed, everything worked as advertised. Nero's user interface is well integrated, but new users will not find it to be intuitive, there are a lot of options under different menus, and the icons are not as obvious as they might be. After you use Nero a few times, you'll find the interface easier and quicker to use than ECDC, and will appreciate the single interface for performing all operations.
Nero lets gives users two paths to creating a cd. Using the standard windows style menu, users can select FILE and then NEW from the top menu, which opens a list of choices of types of cd's to be burned:
Mixed Mode CD
Super Video CD
CD-ROM (Hybrid) - Mac/PC CDs
Choosing one these types opens two windows in NERO, on one side of the screen is a list of files and directories on you your computer. On the other is a blank window representing the cd to be burned (the compilation window). To add files to be burned, you simply drag files from the first window to the second. A scale at the bottom screen shows how much space this file uses, and remaining space available. The second path to creating a cd is a "wizard" which walks you through the same process. The wizard probably helps a new user somewhat, but does not take you through the complete processand drops you off at the compilation window.
Highlites of Nero's capabilities include:
Saving data to cd's is the main function of any cd authoring software. Nero calls a data cd CD-ROM (ISO), and Nero handles creating and burning data cd's flawlessly. Using an interface similar to Windows Explorer, you drag and drop files to lay out your new cd. A simple status bar at the bottom of the screen continuously updates remaining space available, and shows endpoints for 650mb and 700mb cd's. After you have laid out the new cd, a burn menu is brought up by clicking one button, which gives the standard options, including adding label information, an option to date files with their original date or burn date, an option to finalize a cd so no more files can be added, a check box to utilize "burn proof" or similar tecnology if your drive supports it, and a choice between ISO 1 and 2 standards. ISO 2 allows long file names, but is not supported by Windows 3.1 and earlier. Clicking the write button starts the process to burn the cd, which brings up a status window, showing any error messages, if any, burn time and buffer status.
Nero offers a strong package of tools for creating audio cd's. You can "create" music cd's to be played back on most recent model cd players (some older players will not recognize cdr's and/or cdrw's), by copying music from other music cd's (the track.cda files on your music cd's), or by on-the-fly conversion of mp3 or wma files to cd audio tracks , or by adding .wav files to your music compilation. To create a compilation cd from several of your music cd's, add tracks from the music cd's to the compilation cd window. Once you finish laying out your compilation, click the burn button, and Nero asks you to insert each cd as it burns the songs you have selected. If you want to avoid swapping cd's, you can also use Nero to extract .wav files from music cd's (~10mb / minute of music) and save them to your hard disk. After extracting all of the wav files for your compilation, you can then add them to the compilation window and burn the compilation cd without further swapping of cd's. When this method is used, you can also add CD-Text to your cd, or adjust the pause time between tracks.
The compilation window offers a couple of useful buttons, a play button that allows you to play a selected track, and an edit button that launches the Nero Wave Editor, which allows you to add a lot of special effects and enhancements to your wav or mp3 audio files. The changes are non permanent, that is, they can be implemented, played back and "undone" if desired, without permanently changing your files until you save. The Nero Wave Editor is user friendly, and is a stand-alone program that offers a surprisingly wide range of options and capabilities.
If you double click on an audio track in the compilation window, it brings up an window that allows you edit track info (CD-Text for artist and title, pause) or to implemement and test several sound filters, including echo, stereo widening, declick, hiss reduction, and "karaoke", which removes a lot (but not all) of the vocals. Each filter offers 1 or more adjustments, and can be tested one or more at time before burning the cd.
Nero offers two copy options, on an "on-the-fly" mode where Nero reads a cd in one cdrom drive while writing the data back to a blank cd in the cd writer. The second option, "image" copy, requires Nero to copy a cd to an image file and saves the image to your hard disk, which is then burned to a blank cd. On-the-fly mode is faster, but "image" copy allows you to make the best possible copy's, particularly useful for music cd's, or if you expect read errors (from dust, scratches, etc) on the source cd. Image copy also allows you to make backup copies of some copy protected cd's.
Video CD/S-Video CD
"Video CD V2.0 (VCD) is a standard for storing video data on a CD so that more data fits onto a CD and interactive selection of the content is possible.......Super Video CD (SVCD) is an extension of the VCD standard which uses the MPEG-2 compression standard with variable bit rate encoding and also allows a bitrate that is twice as large as the one from VCD...." From the Nero Help section on VCD's and SVCD's titled TECHNICAL BACKGROUND.
Creating VCD's and SVCD's is one of the most useful, least understood tools that Nero offers. Almost every DVD player sold today will support reading cdr and cdrw's, and will play back VCD's. Less common, but still easy to find, are DVD players that can also play back the higher quality SVCD format. (Note that some older models of DVD players will not read cdr's and/or cdrw's) After opening the VCD compilation window, you can add VCD compliant MPG files, uncompressed AVI files, or even non-VCD compliant MPG files to your target cd. Nero automatically detects the type of file added, and converts AVI and non VCD compliant MPG files to VCD compliant mpg files on-the-fly (and this conversion can take a long time, up to several hours on older computers). After conversion Nero burns a video cd which can be played back in your DVD player. I have found that Nero is also capable of converting many, but not all, compressed AVI files (DiVX) to VCD compliant MPG files, depending on resolution, frame rate and other factors I have not identified.
Creating an SVCD requires that you start with an SVCD compliant mpg file (MPEG2), unless you purchase an add-on mpeg2 encoder from the NERO website. Most SVCD's look very good when played back on DVD players, as good or better than broadcast or cable TV, but only about 40 minutes of video will fit on a 700 mb/80 minute cd.
I have purchased and installed the Nero MPEG-2/SVCD encoder on a couple of systems. The encoder is available as a $16 download from the Ahead website, and the download is a small, single executable file that you download and run once to add SVCD encoding capability to your Nero installation. With this plugin, I've been able to convert a lot of DivX-avi and MPG-1 video files to SVCD's easily. The conversion is done as part of the burn process and takes 4-6 hours for a full SVCD on my 750mhz Athlon system, and about 1-1.5 hours on a 2.4 ghz pentium 4 system. The SVCD's play back well on both APEX DVD players I own (an Apex AD 800 and an Apex AD-1500. This encoder, as a part of Nero, offers a few nice options, including the ability to add menu's to your SVCD, an option to ask Nero to encode the video to fit on one CD or at a fixed bit rate, and options to encode at NTSC (USA) or PAL (Europe) resolutions.
You can also add add still pictures (JPG format) to the VCD or SVCD compilation window, and Nero will create a slide show that you can play back on your DVD player. This works quite well, particulary if your DVD player supports playback of high resolution images. Nero saves the image in normal resolution (352X240 for VCD, and 480 X 576 for SVCD) and high resolution (704X480 for VCD and SVCD) for both the VCD and SVCD compilations, if the original jpg file is high enough resolution. Some newer players (such as my Apex DVD player) offer the ability to display the higher resolution versions, which offers a much improved picture quality.
Included with Nero is InCD, a program that formats rewritable blank media per the Universal Disk Format (UDF) standard so that it can be used as a hard disk or floppy disk. Once cdrw is formatted, you can write to or erase from a cdrw, just as you would a floppy or hard drive, from any program. This allows you to completely avoid using Nero. InCD formated disks can be read on any computer with InCD other UDF software (such as DirectCD from Easy CD Creator), although you cannot have both Direct CD and InCD installed on your system. UDF disks are good for saving data, but are not to be used to make audio or video cd's. Formatting a cdrw with InCD can take 20 to 40 minutes, depending you your cdrom drive, and reduces its capacity to about 500 mb. A free software UDF reader is available from the Nero website, allowing you to add UDF read capability to any computer.
One of the biggest drawbacks to enabling "drag and drop" saving to your CDRW disks is the 20-40 minutes required to format the disks with UDF software (InCD, DirectCD, etc). A new technology, call Mt. Rainier, has been developed which only requires about 1 minute to format a CDRW. A few of the newest 48X cd writers support Mt Rainier, and InCD is one of the first software applications that support Mt Rainier. Future versions of Windows will include support for Mt Rainier, but for now you will need InCD to take advantage of this much faster drag and drop technology for CDRW disks. You can read more about Mt. Ranier here:
Other types of CD's
Nero also will help you author several other types of cd's:
Mixed-Mode CD's - Contain audio music files and data files
CD-Extra - A format that allows you to create music cd's that also contain video's or other data. If you have ever purchased a music cd that included extra video's of the group, it was probable a "CD-Extra" cd.
Bootable-CD - If your PC's bios supports booting from your cdrom drive, Nero will help you burn a cdrom that you can boot from.
Hybrid CD's - Each file you save to the cd is saved twice, in formats that allow it to be read both by PC's and systems that use the Apple HFS file system.
Nero's Cover Designer can be launched from within Nero or independently. Launching from Nero pulls the track information into Cover Designer. Cover Designer includes templates for several types jewel cases, including multi cd, standard, slim case, mini cd and "business" card cd's, and helps you lay out designs for the front, back and inserts for your jewel cases, as well as lay out a round label for your cd itself. Cover Designer also includes a handful of jewel case designs to get you started and a full set of graphics editing tools to create the cover designs you want.
Nero also includes:
CD-Speed - A utility to rate your cd drive for transfer rate, seek times, CPU usage, burst rate, DAE quality, transfer rate, and spinup/spindown time.
Drive Speed - Drive Speed will change the read speed of your CD-ROM drive and/or recorder, to help it run quieter. Nero also claims this will decrease spinup/down time, which can improve the playability of games that access the cd rom drive a lot.
Hard Disk Backup - Nero includes a limited hard disk back up utility, allowing you to back up and restore complete disks and partitions, and supports FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS file systems. Restoring individual files is not an option, and back up data is not compressed. (I do not use this backup software, preferring to use sofware that allows selective restore of files.)
Virus Checker - Checks any files for viruses before burning to cd.
Image Drive - If you have an image file of a cd, and want to test it before burning to a cd, Image Drive emulates a cd rom drive containing the cd in the image file, allowing you to use the image file as if it were actually in your cd rom drive.
Plug Ins - As new audio and video formats evolve, these can be added to Nero via plug ins. Currently the Nero website offers plugins for WMA support (free) as will as MPEG2 video and MP3 and MP3-Pro audio encoding (for a fee). (The standard version of Nero only includes capability to encode 50 audio files into the MP3 format.)
DVD Recording - According to the documention, Nero can also burn DVD's. Unfortunately, I don't have a DVD burner to test this. You can burn to DVD RW, DVD-RW and DVD-R's and options include, DVD ISO (data DVD's), DVD UDF, DVD ISO/UDF (Bridge), Bootable DVD's, DVD Copy on-the-fly and via image, and creating DVD-images.
Nero supports and takes advantage of the different buffer under run technologies (such as burn-proof), included with all recent model cd burners, and allows overburning and the use of 80 minute and larger cdr's.
The latest version of Nero is excellent, and offers more power than any other cd authoring software. It includes a user interface that is consistent across all parts of Nero, and while not as intuitive as Easy CD Creator's interace, it is easier and quicker to use once you learn it. Nero is continuously updated to support new cdrom drives, and includes execellent online help, although occasionally it reads as if it were translated into English from another language. Some helpful FAQ's are included on the Nero website, and online email support is offered, but online forums containing questions and answers, or a searchable database of support issues would have been appreciated.
I use both Easy CD Creator and Nero, and both are very good, surprisingly powerful, mature programs. New users may initially find ECDC easier to use, and the Easy CD Creator 6 Platinum version offers a few minor advantages for creating audio and music cd's. Nero's Express interface now makes Nero just about as easy to use as Easy CD Creator, though it "hides" some or Nero's less used features (like hybrid cdrom burning). Nero offers more video cd options, better support for image files, and comes in a tighter, efficient, and ultimately, easier to use package.
Thanks for reading this review. Any comments you might have on Nero or this review will be appreciated.