Roxio and Nero produce the two leading disc-burning suites, and they’ve raised the stakes with their respective new versions.

Roxio’s Easy Media Creator 8 and Nero’s Nero 7 Ultra Edition show that the battle for supremacy in this market is still hotly contested. At around £60 each, the suites target users who want to do more with their DVD writer than simply burn data discs. Instead, the suites embrace a wide range of media production tasks.

Both suites are composed of multiple individual modules – Nero counts 18, Roxio has 25 – most of which are accessible via a launcher or individually through Windows’ Programs menu.

In spite of the packages’ similarities, the two vendors’ approaches to software design couldn’t be more different. Nero has a tradition – continued in version 7 – of adding cool features without much concern about how simple they are to access or master. Roxio not only adds features, but it also expends more effort making its suite easier to use – a daunting task given the sheer number of components involved.

Nero 7 Ultra Edition’s new advanced features include high-definition video editing, 7.1-channel surround-sound editing, a musical beat editor and dance synthesizer that exports files to the sound editor, and a living-room interface. However, Nero’s unfriendly design and workflow could use a complete rethinking.

By contrast, Roxio has made significant progress toward improving its product’s ease of use in version 8, as well as adding features such as a DVD music disc function and high-resolution video editing. Simple data and disc-maintenance chores are now easily accessible, and virtually every component has been imbued with the attractive look and logical workflow that version 7 introduced. The result is a much more cohesive feel, though the overlapping capabilities of many modules can still get confusing.

Data

Between Nero Burning ROM and Roxio Creator Classic, Nero remains our choice of the two old-school data-burning applications – even though it retains a poorly organized interface. Roxio’s Creator Classic program may be prettier and easier to use, but it simply can’t match the wide variety of CD and DVD disc projects, the disc image handling, and the integrated audio ripping and encoding that Nero Burning ROM offers.

If you want friendly, direct access to your burning functions, however, go with Roxio. It now integrates the most common disc tasks – such as simple data CD/DVD burning, as well as disc copying, erasing, and finalizing -- into its Roxio Home launch module, making those functions simpler to access. Nero’s equivalent launch module, StartSmart, is not nearly as direct, but it is configurable.

Audio

Both packages are amped up with new audio features that extend far beyond basic ripping, encoding, and burning. Power users will appreciate the 7.1-channel surround-sound editing and individual-track special effects in Nero’s SoundTrax editing component. Nero also has a fun new feature – its SoundBox rhythm box/sample synthesizer allows you to create cool dance grooves.

As fun as Nero’s sound mixing may be, Roxio’s new, brilliantly simple DVD music disc function is far more useful. In this mode, Roxio creates a DVD movie disc, ditches the video to produce more space for an audio track (created from imported MP3s and other audio files), and uses the DVD menu to sort and provide access to the tunes. You can fit far more music on a 4.7GB DVD than on an audio CD – and you can play it in any DVD drive or player.

DVD authoring

Though Nero’s DVD authoring capabilities are decent, Roxio has the distinct edge. Its templates make the task easy. Plus, the suite adds some good image editing, organizing, and secure Web sharing capabilities.

By comparison, Nero Vision 4’s restrictive workflow and arcane language make the otherwise powerful application seem crude. Nero’s suite also has no answer for Roxio’s CineMagic, which deftly automates the production of video discs with professional-looking menus, fades, and musical tracks.

Video

Each suite offers extensive and capable video capture and editing. For editing, Roxio’s stand-alone VideoWave 8 component is more traditional and easier to learn, and supplies more on-screen storyboard space than Nero Vision 4.

When it comes to the high-resolution video handling new to both suites, though, Nero has the advantage. VideoWave 8 and Nero Vision 4 can now edit and export high-definition video (up to 1920-x-1080 resolution, also known as 1080i). However, Roxio exports to DivX HD or Windows Media 9 HD, which may cause compatibility issues. Nero’s export format (Nero Digital) is completely compatible with H.264, one of the codecs included in both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD specs.

Many experts believe that H.264 is the heir apparent to MPEG-2 – which means you would be able to play your video five years from now. Exporting video in high definition can be time-consuming, though – a five-minute 1440-x-1080 clip created on a Sony DV camcorder takes more than two hours to reencode.

Both suites can compress dual-layer content to fit on a single 4.7GB DVD. For this task Nero’s Recode offers more options by far, but has a nearly unfathomable interface.

Backup

Roxio includes the robust, full-featured Backup MyPC 6, and adds a new, simpler Backup component for uncompressed file backups to disc or hard drive. However, the new Backup component has no restore function, relying instead on the stand-alone Roxio Retrieve program that’s stored with the backup. That may be handy for CD/DVD backups, but a pain when you want only to restore from a hard drive.

Nero improves its backup capabilities over those of previous versions with dramatic changes to BackItUp – the only component in the suite whose workflow and interface the company took the time to rethink and reorganize. Not only is defining a backup much easier than before, but a new calendar lets multiple users schedule backups from across a network, and you can now image (back up to one large file) a boot partition. You can even save a new job before executing it.

Interface interplay

Easy Media Creator 8 is easier to learn than Nero 7. However, the suite’s large number of modules, numerous ways to launch those modules, and multiple methods to perform the same task often invoke interface sensory overload. Easy Media Creator 8’s interface is sluggish compared with Nero’s.

In the end though, Roxio Easy Media Creator 8 is still your best bet for easily producing professional-looking DVD projects or making DVD music discs. Power users, will still reach for Nero, as it offers a slightly superior set of features – but only if you have the patience to master the package’s maddeningly complex interface.