Review: NTI CD & DVD-Maker 6.5
Posted Dec 16, 2003

Summary: NTI has put together an attractively priced, well-integrated, powerful set of tools with an easy-to-use interface, and they should be applauded for that. But with no DVD movie-making functionality, NTI may have a hard time competing in a market where the other main players have DVD authoring built-in.

In an industry with an ever-increasing tendency for program bloat, there is something to be said for a product that values simplicity and purity of purpose. Unlike its market competitors Nero and Roxio, in their latest offerings, NTI has made no attempt to expand its CD & DVD-Maker into a full-blown digital media studio. Instead, NTI CD & DVD-Maker 6.5 does just what the name implies—burns CDs and DVDs. This may be a welcome sight to users who already have an arsenal of third-party tools at their disposal, but it also may disappoint the consumer who is looking for all the necessary tools in a single package, especially when comparison-shopping with Roxio and Nero, not to mention Sonic's new MyDVD/RecordNow combo.

Although NTI has added the obligatory DVD recording ability, a tool absolutely necessary to remain competitive in this market, they unfortunately have limited this to data backup only. There is no support whatsoever for DVD movie making, a glaring omission when compared with competitive offerings that can capture video and offer at least rudimentary DVD menu creation. To their credit, NTI provides the ability to record VCD, Slideshow VCD, SVCD, and Slideshow SVCD, as well as support for a variety of data and audio formats. Their interface is clean and easy to use, and they deliver a balance between simplicity for the consumer and options for the power user. As a piece of software for pure recording purposes, you couldn't ask for more, but in a market where consumers may be looking for supplemental features, it's impossible to ignore their lack of support for DVD movie production.

This review takes a look at NTI CD & DVD-Maker Platinum 6.5 and how it defines itself in the current CD and DVD recording software marketplace.

Right off the bat, you have to like that NTI requires a mere 75MB of hard disk space. Compare that with the whopping 800MB you need to install Roxio or the 500MB recommended by Nero. After you put the installation disc into the CD player, you are presented with an installation front end, which is overkill, since all you can do is install, browse or go to NTI's Web site. Installation is a snap—not even requiring a registration key—a welcome rarity in this day of locked-down programs.

Some users may be unhappy that you cannot pick and choose which pieces you want to include, something that both Roxio and Nero allow. Upon completion of the installation, you are presented with the Indeo software codec installation. Finally, the program installs an NTI Backup trial version. Granted, NTI makes the best Windows backup tool in the industry, but they could have saved everyone some aggravation here by giving a choice about installing it. It's only a seven-use trial and it makes little sense to force it onto every user. Experienced users will simply cancel out of the installation process, but those with less savvy will have to live with it. NTI would have served everyone better by providing an out or simply including a full working copy of the program in the package.

Menu Please
Like Roxio and Nero, NTI has developed a front-end menu system to make it easier to access each program in the package. In this case, NTI uses a CD graphic metaphor for its menu, breaking down their package into different types of activities such as audio, data, or video. Clicking a menu name reveals specific functions in a pop-up. Selecting a function brings you to a screen where you can begin the process of choosing the files you want to record.

Although there are differences depending on which choice you make, NTI presents a uniform interface for all tasks, making it a very easy program to learn and use. This is a nice advantage over Easy CD & DVD Creator, in which Roxio has made little effort to unify the "look" of the new modules and the "classic" interface. The visual integration here also arguably beats Nero's.

Each separate task includes a set of numbered buttons on the left side of the screen, which NTI calls EasySteps that are really an embedded help system. Clicking a step number reveals a pop-up with the instructions for completing the task (or the correct dialog box to complete the task). This is a nice nod to the novice user; unfortunately in their effort to keep the steps brief, they don't include all of the instructions in the EasySteps. Clicking the Help button brings up a context-sensitive help page with the complete instructions, but the beginner at whom this is aimed is probably not going to know this.

Simple Audio CD Burning
For simple audio burning, NTI offers a variety of formats including audio, live audio (the ability to record directly to a CD using a connected microphone, a nice touch), MP3, WMA and recording from an audio player (the default being the Windows Media Player). Recording a basic audio CD is a snap. From an Explorer-like interface, you navigate to the files you want to record in the left pane, then drag and drop the files from the right pane into the audio track layout pane. You can begin the recording process in a number of ways, including clicking the appropriate EasyStep button. It would have been nice if NTI had provided a way to change the format type on-the-fly from the production screen instead of forcing users back to the menu to make a change.

When you're ready to record, you'll find that NTI offers beginners the default opion of having CD & DVD-Maker automatically control all recording decisions, hiding the advanced options so the novice need not even see them. For those users who want additional control over the recording process, clicking the Advanced button reveals other options. This should appeal to both novice and experienced users, providing whatever level of power they desire.

The recording process is smooth and reasonably fast. When it's finished, NTI provides the option of going to their built-in jewel case editor to create CD and jewel case labels. The labeling tool provides an interesting variety of graphics for the disc itself, but the template jewel case graphics tend to be too busy, making it difficult to read the text. You can choose not to include a graphic or to start your own background image from scratch if you aren't happy with the ones NTI has included.

Movie Burning
The video-burning menu is the most perplexing in the program. Without DVD movie making and recording, a lot of consumers will turn away from this product. If you don't need DVD movie recording, however, there are two CD movie recording choices, VideoCD and Super VCD. Granted, most DVD players can play both VCD varieties and recognize menus in VCDs. But with DVD recorders available for $200 and brand-name media widely available for $2 per disc or less, supporting the VideoCD formats to the exclusion of DVD-Video seems almost anachronistic.

For VideoCD and Super VCD authoring, NTI provides the ability to drag in a menu graphic but does not include built-in menu editing. Instead, the user must have the wherewithal to figure out how to edit the menu in a third-party graphics tool. Novice users will almost never get this; even if they do, they need to figure out how to carefully line up the menu items. It's a process that would have been better to integrate directly into the program, rather than leaving it up to the end user. It's also important to note that there is no method for importing video directly into the program, leaving the user to figure out how to capture video from a video camera using third-party software. Granted, Nero and Easy CD & DVD Creator are no great shakes in this department—dedicated consumer DVD authoring tools like MyDVD and WinDVD Creator offer much more versatility—but at least they'll let you build a DVD movie.

Beyond these limitations, making a VCD or SVCD is a simple process, much like creating an audio CD. You simply locate your source material in the Explorer-like interface and drag and drop it into the layout pane. You do the same with the menu graphic and then start recording.

With a Data selection on the main menu that allows you to copy files to a CD or DVD, a backup program might be superfluous, which could explain why NTI has decided to sell the backup program separately rather than integrate it into the standard version of NTI CD and DVD-Maker. Nonetheless, the backup program is sleek, easy to use, and elegantly incorporates EasySteps into the application. Rather than having the user read what the steps are, clicking a step displays a screen with a clear task and a brief explanation. For instance, in step 1 you select your files. You don't need to be "told" to do this because the interface displays a form for selecting the files for backup. Even the backup program's toolbar uses slicker, clearer graphics. If NTI could build each application using this clear design, they would improve the usability of all of their programs. The backup process is clear and easy to understand, and the program includes a built-in scheduler so that you can schedule regular backups.

Final Thoughts
There's certainly a lot to like about NTI CD and DVD-Maker 6.5, but ultimately it will be judged by what it is missing rather than what it includes. As a straightforward tool for recording a variety of media and file types, it does a great job. NTI has put together an integrated set of tools with an easy-to-use interface, and they should be applauded for that. But with no DVD movie-making functionality, it's going to turn some consumers away and make it difficult for NTI to compete in a market where the other main players have DVD making built-in. This is not to say that NTI needs to make major changes. They have a good base and a clear product that boasts a simplicity and consistency of design that's at least the equal of its competition. If they took the next logical step and added DVD movie making, they would be right there with the rest of the market. And at only 75MB and $69.99, they would attract a lot of users who are tired of program bloat.

NTI CD & DVD-Maker 6.5
NewTech Infosystems, Inc.

System Requirements
• 266mHz Pentium (700mHz Pentium 4 recommended) running Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
• 128MB RAM (256MB if running Win XP or 2K)
• 75MB available HDD space
• a compatible CD or DVD burner