Date: December 17, 2007
Author(s): Nate Marion
Is Nero’s latest upgrade worth the cash? We are leaning towards yes. With 8, Nero have shown renewed focus on what it is consumers are most interested in, and as a result, have made the application much easier to use. Read on as we explore all that’s new and notable.
When it comes to recording data to discs, the folks at Nero AG have it down. Various incarnations of the Nero Burning ROM have been around since the earliest days of CD-Burners, and if you’ve purchased an optical burner any time within the past seven years or so, chances are you’re familiar with Nero software.
These days, the ol’ Burning ROM is just a small piece of a huge library of Nero software that has continued to evolve and grow. The most recent incarnation of the popular Nero software suite is Nero 8. Today we’ll be taking a look at some of the new and improved features offered by Nero 8 Ultra, and hope to give you a good idea of what this software can do for you, and if it’s worth your time and money.
Here’s what Nero themselves have to say about their product:
Nero 8 brings the digital world to your PC. Create and edit photo slideshows and high definition video, convert your favorite content to enjoy on portable devices or share them online with friends or communities, rip and burn CDs/DVDs with easy one-click functions, create a home entertainment center with integrated TV, DVD, music and video streaming, recording and playback options. Rest easy with advanced backup features to protect against loss from system crash or damaged disc. Nero 8 makes your digital life fun with easy-to-use functions and cutting-edge technology to help you manage your multimedia projects.
A rosy picture made more attractive by the lenient system requirements.
You may want to refer to our review of Nero 7 Ultra Edition from last year for a frame of reference. For a complete list of all programs included with Nero 8 Ultra, check the product page. Now, let’s see how Nero 8 measures up.
One of the biggest things that Nero is highlighting with this latest release is a more intuitive and user-friendly user interface, beginning with the SmartStart window.
The SmartStart window received a pretty thorough cleaning compared to the somewhat busier look of Nero 7. The most notable new feature is the ability to add and remove program shortcuts to the menu on the right side of the window for easier access to commonly used applications.
On the left side of the window are four general shortcuts for creating data and music discs, ripping and copying discs within the SmartStart window itself.
As if drag-and-drop wasn’t simple enough, take a look at the copy disc option!
Press copy, watch a progress bar, insert blank disc, then watch another progress bar, and you’re done. The only problem with this feature is that copying a disc cannot always be cancelled, and can take several minutes.
The top of the SmartStart window lists functional program groups in the familiar way, but the menus are slightly different this time around, emphasizing general activities (rip, burn, edit) rather than data types (audio, video). You can see the functions of each tab below.
Another new addition is the inclusion of RSS feeds along the bottom of the SmartStart window. Default feeds for software updates, help, the Nero Community, etc. are shown initially and user-defined feeds can be specified in the options menu on the top left of the main SmartStart window.
Just below and to the left of the RSS feeds, there is a program launch menu similar to the Windows Start button that lists the applications included in Nero 8.
The more general function-based organization seems to have reduced the number icons on the screen, giving things a cleaner look and making it easier to find the right program.
One of the most substantive improvements found in Nero 8 is with the new version of Nero Vision, which promises to make movie creation and burning incredibly easy and flexible.
The main menu here allows users to burn video to basically any known format. Nero 8 adds support for editing and burning to HD-DVD (via additional plugin), Blu-ray and ACHD, meaning that Nero Vision 5 will allow users to burn pictures and movies to pretty much any media available. I do not have the necessary equipment to test HD-DVD and Blu-Ray burning, but there is a lot of functionality that has been added to the creation and editing process that users will appreciate regardless of the media they use.
This is the main menu that is used to create both videos and slide shows in Nero Vision 5. Media files are dragged into the top right pane where they are displayed. The top left pane is used for previewing, ‘cutting’ segments of video out of video files, taking snapshots within video files, and recording voice-overs to a .wav file directly from your microphone. Snapshots are saved as .png files and must be added to the project manually, while any audio that is recorded is automatically added to the list of media files in the top right pane.
The horizontal bar at the center of the window is where additional effects are added during the course of the movie. On the second tab, the video track’s progress is shown in the center, up to two additional audio tracks can be played at any time, and there are also various video effects and scrolling text that can be applied. The picture below shows some of the options.
Once individual video files are edited, the first tab can be used to determine the transitional effects between the files, of which there are plenty to choose from.
Once the video file is edited, it must be exported before it can be burned. Clicking the export button brings up another menu.
Here, users can export to video and audio files, as well as to a camera, e-mail or website. Supported websites include YouTube, MySpace and MyNero. The output format can be configured many ways depending on format selected by the user. Custom resolutions and refresh rates can be set, audio encoding and compression can be changed, etc. A typical configuration menu for an MPEG-2 video gives a good idea of the kind of control the user has.
Supported video formats include: AVI, AVI (DV), MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Nero Digital, Nero Digital AVC, and AVC. Once the video files are ready to be burned, users will find this familiar menu when they choose to create a video disc.
This menu incorporates the main menu from Nero Vision 5, and allows chapters to be set up. Continuing allows the main DVD menus to be set up using basic templates that can be customized with different colors, text, picture, video and audio backgrounds.
The additional editing features offered by Nero Vision 5 make it a home video maker’s dream, striking a great balance between ease of use and editing options. Compared to its predecessor, Nero Vision 5 has far more tweaking ability and templates/creative assets to choose from.
SoundTrax is a comprehensive audio editing software suite capable of creating just about any combination of tracks, mixes, scratches, etc.
The main window is where audio files can be dragged/dropped into the mix, and the overall layout of the track can be set. Loops, scratches, beats, volume and pan curves can also be inserted and manipulated in this window fairly easily, and the tempo can be adjusted. Most video file types (non-copy protected) can be dropped here for editing as well.
The soundbox and scratchbox programs are easy to understand and offer a lot of options that can be easily added to any tracks. Recordings can be made in 8 to 32bit stereo or mono.
For fine editing of individual audio tracks, Nero Wave Editor 4 offers a literal plethora of options that could take weeks to detail. The interface is comfortable enough for beginners to figure out, but there is plenty of depth for the more experienced.
Next, we will take a look at audio ripping, Photosnap and Nero Recode 2.
Not much has changed with audio ripping in this release. The menu is simple and includes all of the usual options with regards to read speed, file names and extensions, etc.
There are a few other noteworthy shortcomings of the audio ripping software in its current form, namely the complete lack of FLAC (although a 3rd party FLAC plug-in is floating about somewhere) and also support for being able to use your own version of LAME and your own options. Also, I find it puzzling that there is no ‘secure mode’ option when ripping audio to ensure that disc scratches don’t ruin the rip – such functionality is readily available with freeware applications, and it’s a shame that such functionality is not included in this suite.
Aside from that, the ripper functions very well.
Also included in Nero 8 is a basic photo editor, Photosnap. Not much has changed here since Nero 7.
The interface is slightly different (simpler), but the functionality appears to be the same. General photo effects like sharpening, red-eye reduction, brightness/contrast, etc. as well as other options like aging, duo-tone, kaleidoscope, etc. It remains a very useful tool for simple photo edits if you don’t have access to a more advanced image manipulation tool.
With all the different video players and formats flying around these days, the ability to convert file types is practically a necessity.
Thankfully, that’s where Nero Recode comes in, allowing users to convert video files (generally ripped from DVD) into various formats, including custom formats, for use on various players. The program with template settings for the PSP and iPod, and users can set their own resolutions, audio compression, and target size.
There may be some minor issues when it comes to using templates; for instance, selecting the PSP format only allows two resolutions to choose from, neither of which will use the entire screen.
The most notable update in Nero Recode 2 is multi-processor support. SSE4 hasn’t been incorporated yet, which is somewhat disappointing, but the speed bump from additional cores is definitely a step in the right direction.
Users with HTPCs or home networks will likely appreciate the file sharing and streaming functionality of Nero Home. While the software hasn’t changed much from Nero 7, the program remains a useful tool for many users.
Nero Home includes a server program that allows any device on your home network to access and play audio and video content stored on other network devices, and can also be installed on a single PC (usually attached to a TV input and run through a television monitor) in order to use content playback and recording features. This updated version of Nero Home offers the ability to stream and record live TV provided that there is a compatible TV tuner card installed. Not having a tuner card, I was unable to test this particular feature.
Setting up the network and sharing files was easy with the setup wizard, however I found that I was unable to play some uncompressed DVD video files with Nero Home that played normally with Nero Showtime. Once the files were compressed with Nero Recode to something smaller, the files played normally, but it’d be nice if Nero Home could play the same file types as Nero Showtime.
One of Nero’s best features is BackItUp, a program used to automatically create backups of your computer (including partitions) and files, encrypt/decrypt them, and restore them in case of emergency. While the core BackItUp functionality hasn’t changed with this release, there is a new feature called ImageTool, which allows users to create a boot disk (CD or DVD) that will enable the restoration of backed up files in case that the OS partition fails.
ImageTool is a utility that creates a bootable Linux CD that will allow users to restore backed up files without needing to boot from a hard drive. Creating the boot disc is incredibly easy, however, when I tried to boot from it, the system hung at the loading screen. This isn’t the first Linux boot CD that has failed to load on my PC, and I suspect that my SATA optical drive and ICH9R southbridge may be the cause of the problem.
Editor Note: Rob tried out the boot disc on similar hardware and it booted/functioned fine, so this might be an isolated case. If you have the opportunity to try ImageTool and it doesn’t boot, please let us know in our forums.
These types of compatibility issues are exactly the kind of thing that will anger customers in the event that ImageTool is truly needed; there needs to be more effort invested in ensuring that the boot disc will load in a wide variety of circumstances.
BackItUp is another Nero program that hasn’t changed much with this new release, but considering how useful and convenient it already was, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Users can use BackItUp to create any backup routines they please, from selecting only certain files/folders to entire partitions.
Backups can be automatically scanned for viruses prior to being backed up, verified for correctness after backup, compressed, and can also be encrypted for increased security. Users can create and save as many backup routines as they want, and can schedule them to occur automatically as long as the PC is powered on. The interface is very user friendly with wizards to help with any of the functions, and the large degree of flexibility makes BackItUp one of the best backup tools out there.
There’s a reason that the Nero software suite has been so successful up to this point. Nero’s software has always been reliable, easy to use and up to date with current technology. With a few very small exceptions, Nero 8 maintains the great track record that Nero has created, and delivers a very powerful and worthwhile package.
The amount of functionality Nero 8 brings to the table inside a single application suite is fantastic, and well worth the $100 price tag. Comparing the huge number of things that Nero 8 does right with the few issues that I experienced, a 9/10 rating is definitely in order.
Addendum: Nero are currently offering the downloadable version of Ultra Edition with Photoshow Deluxe 5 together for $59.99USD! (Link)
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