Review: Toast 9 – Video Streamer, Audio Recorder, Video compressor… oh, and it still burns stuff too - Macenstein

Review: Toast 9 – Video Streamer, Audio Recorder, Video compressor… oh, and it still burns stuff too

Few apps have excited me personally the way the latest version of Roxio’s Toast has been able to. I’ll admit that my situation may be somewhat unique, but for those of you who have committed to the digital video lifestyle, as have I, Toast 9 is a must-have tool.

First, to let you know where I am coming from, I am a huge fan of watching video on the iPod/iPhone and MacBook. I watch a great deal of my “TV” by ripping DVDs of TV shows using HandBrake and importing them into iTunes. I own an Elgato EyeTV which I use to record shows for the kids, remove commercials, and export for later viewing. I own an AppleTV, and have some 600 TV shows and movies running off a home server streaming throughout my house. So yes, I am committed to the portable video way of life.

Above: Roxio’s Streamer now lets you watch videos from your home computer anywhere in the word with an internet connection on your iPhone, iPod touch, or computer.

New in Toast 9

I began feeling back around version 6 that Roxio ran out of truly new ways to burn a disc. Sure, they added some DVD themes and iLife browsing, but essentially most Mac users who have their music, video and photos managed through Apple’s iApps choose to burn their discs directly via those apps over Toast – not that it was better, just easier, and Apple wouldn’t let 3rd parties burn it’s DRM-content, only iTunes is allowed that privilege. Mac OS X’s Finder can burn standard data CDs, so in general it is the power users and creative pros that needed the power of Toast. While version 8 added some more consumer-friendly additions like Tivo support, it really wasn’t all that appealing to me as a non-Tivo user. Version 9 however, adds so many useful features that will appeal to both consumers and professionally alike that Toast has now evolved form a mere disc burning application into become a must-have digital media tool.

Above: Toast’s interface has undergone a bit of fine tuning for version 9.

First off, Toast 9 now does video streaming, and not just on your home network. You can watch videos streamed from your home computer virtually anywhere in the world on both your iPhone or another PC as long as you have access to a Wi-Fi connection. In fact, technically, you can even watch videos on your iPhone using EDGE, although it is so painfully slow it hurts. I did a test and attempted to watch a streamed video on my iPhone which was compressed at the lowest stream rate Roxio allows while using EDGE. It took about 10 minutes to download the first 10 seconds of the film, meaning your battery would run out long before you would be able to start watching. However, this test did something that no amount of iPhone rumor-mongering was able to do – it convinced me that I want a 3G iPhone. At 3G speed watching movies from my home PC while virtually anywhere with 3G access is a very tempting prospect.

Depending on the type of broadband connection and router you have, setting up Roxio’s video streaming is either ridiculously easy, or not so much. I happen to have Verizon FiOS, and my Actiontec router took some finessing. Luckily I was able to draw upon Macenstein’s loyal readership, and faithful reader Ethan was able to get me up and running quickly (If you happen to have Verizon’s Actiontec router, click here for Ethan’s instructions). If you happen to have an Airport base Station, odds are all that you’ll need to do is a click in a checkbox in the Streamer software, and you should be good to go.

Streamer is actually a stand-alone application that comes with Toast, not a function of Toast itself. I found the program works really well, and provides just the right blend of idiot-proof and non-idiot options. To stream a video, simply select a quality setting of “low”, “medium”, or “high” in the prefs (Streamer defaults to “low”, if you are wondering why your first streamed video looks so bad), and then merely drag video files into Streamer’s window (you can also navigate to videos via the “Add Video” button). As each file is added, Streamer queues them up, and then automatically launches Toast, which handles the compression of the file. The compression process is reasonably fast. On a 2 GHz MacBook, compressing a 24-minute episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender at the “low” quality setting took only 7:31 minutes. At “high” it took just under twice as long at 13:44 min. (The source file was an MP4 already compressed for AppleTV viewing). In my opinion, unless space is a real issue, the “low” setting is not suitable for most videos. By way of comparison, that 24 minute Avatar episode compressed at “Low” took up 52 MB, (320×180 at 300 kbps), and the “High” was 129MB (480 x 360, at 733 kbps).

In order to watch your videos, you will need to create a custom url at Roxio’s Streamer website. This takes about 20 seconds, and then you are up and streaming. Simply type that url in from any computer or iPod touch/iPhone with a web connection, and you can begin watching your videos.

One of the nicest touches of the Streamer Application is that you can set it to e-mail you when the compression is done. So for instance, if you know you are going on a long vacation and want to make sure your kids can watch all 60 SpongeBob episodes you’ve diligently recorded, you can just drag them all into Streamer on your way out the door. By the time your plane lands 5 hours later, you’ll have about 30 e-mails waiting for you letting you know which files are now available. Needless to say, I view the addition of streaming to be the biggest and most useful addition to Toast 9.

Above: Toast’s new video editing window is identical to Elgato’s EyeTV.


In addition to being able to compress video for Streamer, Toast can now compress videos files for pretty much any portable device that is capable of playing video – iPod, PSP, Blackberry, mobile phones, etc. Toast supports a huge range of video source formats as well – far more than QuickTime alone supports. Choose from QuickTime, DivX, AVI, MPEG-2, Video_TS folders, MPEG-4, or H.264, DVD-Video, AVCHD content, as well as TiVo and EyeTV recordings. This pretty much means there is no reason for anyone to buy Roxio’s other compression app, Popcorn, as for not all that much more than Popcorn you get a ton more features in Toast.

Toast’s integration with Elgato’s EyeTV seems to run particularly deep, as the new built-in video editor in Toast is identical to the one found in EyeTV, and Toast also supports Elgato’s USB Turbo h.264 encoder (in fact every time Toast compresses something you see a little “ad” for the device).

Above: tired of waiting for videos to compress? Toast’s conversion progress bar reminds you that Toast now supports Elgato’s h.264 module.

Audio recording

Toast 9 allows you to record audio from virtually any application on your computer. This means you can now record internet radio streams, copy-protected iTunes songs, or even system sounds. Recording is handled through CD SpinDoctor, an app that ships in Toast’s “Extras” folder, and previously only allowed for the recording of analog sources such as records or cassettes hooked to your Mac’s audio input. Given that this is one of the major new features worth mentioning in the CD Spin Doctor app, it is odd that in order to use this feature, you must first choose “Install Audio Capture Support” from the CD Spin Doctor menu. Seems to me this should just be part of the application after installing, and it would have saved me having to go into the manual to find it. While not nearly as robust as Audio HiJack, it likely will handle basic audio recording needs of most Mac users. The nice thing is once you have made a recording, you are presented with the audio waveform and the chance to edit the file and apply filters in CD Spin Doctor.

CD Spin Doctor also now supports “audio fingerprinting”, so after you record a song off a record or internet broadcast, CDSD can fill in all the track/title/artist info for you automatically. Unfortunately in my test of recording tracks off Sirius radio via StarPlayr, the software did not identify any of the 80’s classics “Money for Nothing” (Dire Straights), “Union of the Snake” (Duran Duran), and “Funky Cold Medina” (Tone Loc). Maybe I did something wrong, or maybe it had trouble identifying overlapping tracks, but I cannot yet vouch for its accuracy in identifying tracks.

HD DVD and Blu-ray support

Roxio seems to view the new HD burning features of Toast as it’s strongest seller, and is quick to point out all the wonderful HD options available. I neither own a Blu-ray burner, Blu-ray player, or even an HDTV, so I am understandably not super excited about this yet. However, having two young children I DID go ahead and get a High Def camcorder to preserve their precious moments for the future, so it is nice to know I have the option of burning their HD softball games if I have to.

Perhaps realizing HD is not yet as ubiquitous as Best Buy would have us believe, Toast 9 by default cannot natively burn Blu-ray and HD DVD discs – you must pony up an extra $20 for an HD plug-in to enable this functionality. Perhaps Roxio sensed most consumers wouldn’t want to pay extra for HD burning at this point, or that the ones who did want it would pay extra, I’m not sure, but the extra $20 seems a little silly for a product so mature that still charges $60 for an upgrade.

Above: This is how your movies show up when viewed on the iPhone.

The cool thing about Roxio’s approach is you do not even need an HD burner in order to burn HD discs. Toast offers Mac users the option of burning their High-def content to standard DVDs which will play back in most HD players (both HD DVD and Blu-ray formats are supported). Of course, a standard DVD can only hold about 2-30 minutes of HD footage versus a real HD disc, but this compromise at least lets us test out some HD burning without having to go out and buy expensive Blu-ray burners and media.


I am thoroughly smitten with Toast 9, but like any emotional relationship, there are some minor things you wish the other half would change about themselves to become perfect.

Aside from Roxio charging an extra $20 to burn HD discs, my main problem is with Streamer, which I also view as Toast 9’s best feature. I wish there were some way around having multiple copies of the same video files scattered all over my computer. For instance, I currently have around 600 TV shows and movies compressed for iPod (at the “high”, full-screen setting) organized neatly in iTunes for use on my iPods, iPhone, and Apple TV. These videos stream nicely to the Apple TV and to other computers in my house over our Wi-Fi connection (802.11 g, not “n”). I would love for Streamer to be able to stream these same recordings directly from my iTunes library without needing to be re-encoded. Currently Streamer will re-encode any videos you throw at it and save them in a new folder, thus taking up a extra space and giving you 2 copies of your videos. The nice thing about having a fast internet connection like FiOS is that I can upload videos almost as fast as some cable modem owners can download them. It would be great if there was a higher-quality streaming setting we could choose that would let Streamer accept these iPod videos’ stream rate and send them off without re-compression. I also think it odd that Streamer cannot see your iTunes videos via the Media Library. Toast can see your iTunes, iPhoto, Aperture, and iMovie folders and playlists, yet for some reason Streamer cannot.

It also seems like a no-brainer that Streamer should also be able to stream your iTunes music as well, but it is a video-only affair at the moment. Maybe in Toast 10.

Finally, Streamer should also allow for users to edit the titles, descriptions and thumbnail images of their videos from within the Streamer interface, just as they can in Toast. If you happen to be bringing in video from a Tivo all that info will be supplied for you, but if you bring in a Video_TS folder from a MacTheRipper rip, you’ll get cryptically named shows. You can actually edit all this info in the MovieList XML file Streamer saves in your Documents folder if you have a HTML editor, but obviously that is a pain.

One final quirk I noticed was that for some reason Toast 9 defaulted to the PAL video format in the video Preferences. This may have just been our reviewer’s copy of the software, but I would think that should default to NTSC, or somehow grab the right format based on the region of your computer’s DVD player.


Roxio’s Toast 9 is the main reason I will be waiting in line to buy a 3G iPhone later this year. Their new Streamer application is a study in simplicity and ease of use, taking almost all the guess work out of setting up your computer to stream content over the internet (assuming your router will cooperate, that is). I can’t wait to be able to watch streamed videos on a 3G network, not simply over Wi-fi. Toast 9’s new compression capabilities are also an amazing addition to the suite, and will eliminate the need for another 3rd party compression utility for most Mac users. A wealth of presets and the ability to customize settings mean you will be able to watch your videos on pretty much any device with playback capabilities. The ability to burn HD DVDs on standard DVD discs means all of us who have bought into the HD camcorder craze may finally be able to see what we shot as it was intended, although the extra $20 Roxio charges for the privilege seems a bit lame.

There are a ton of other small tweaks and thoughtful additions to Toast 9 which I could go on about, but suffice it to say if you are a previous Toast owner wondering if you should bother upgrading, the answer is “yes”. Toast 9 is the biggest overhaul the application has gotten in years, and well worth the price.

Toast 9 by Roxio

Price: $100 ($60 upgrade) ($20 for HD plug-in)

Pros: Well designed video streaming, revamped interface, audio recording, expanded compression support, expanded EyeTv and Tivo support, HD disc burning possible with extra $20 plug-in

Cons: Have to pay extra to burn HD discs, Streamer only streams video, not audio

6 Responses to “Review: Toast 9 – Video Streamer, Audio Recorder, Video compressor… oh, and it still burns stuff too”
  1. jeffu says:

    Meh! Too much hassle, I will just wait to get a 3G iPhone and iPhone SDK SlingPlayer. I am Slinging my AppleTV already, along with Comcast HD DVR with On-Demand, no need to re-rip files.

    Also have EyeTV Hybrid which also streams via WiFi or web. Like Streamer, EyeTV creates secondary copies of files, but at least they live in a special video iTunes playlist which is visible to my other Macs, two AppleTVs, iPod touch AND my PS3! Granted, getting the EyeTV remote web connection to work is a pain, especially through corporate firewalls.

    NOTE: According to Roxio’s website, Upgrade pricing from previous versions is $79.99 only AFTER pain-in-the-ass mail-in rebate (not $60 as stated) and the HD plugin is still $20 more. I may just use that money to get the ElGato Turbo h.264 instead.

  2. Brad says:

    Don’t know where you got that 60 buck upgrade price, but I wish it were true. I also find it hard to believe that you have to go through the hassle of a mail-in rebate for software that you can pay for online and download. For people on the fence, that might be a deal-breaker.

  3. KenC says:

    Yeah, the Elgato and Roxio upgrade taxes are rather high. I’ve been buying Toast since v3, and have a couple EyeTVs. Thanks, for the first writeup about the only part of the latest Toast that was interesting to me, Streamer. I’d like a comparison to EyeTV’s streaming solution. I was guessing they were one and the same, but it sounds from the first comment, that they are not.

    I recall a couple years ago, that the software guys at Elgato also wrote the Toast software under contract to Roxio, so that explains the close relationship those two pieces of software have had over the years.

    As to the comment about an iPhone Slingplayer, I am afraid, we may have to buy a new Slingbox. The current Slings compress to WMV and stream that. The iPhone does not like WMV. In order to get Sling to work on an iPhone would require H.264, and interestingly enough, Sling’s newest box, their $400 HD box is coming in Q3 and will be their first box to compress to H.264. I think we’ll all need to buy the newest Slingbox to get H.264 streaming for our iPhones.

  4. jeffu says:

    Oh, so that explains why EyeTV and Streamer are so similar! Well, you may be right about having to upgrade Slingbox, but that may be necessary anyway after February DTV switchover. I don’t believe the current gen SlingBox will accept digital ClearQAM signals like the new EyeTV hybrid can.

    As for the WMV to iPhone issue, perhaps Flip4Mac can come to the rescue with a Quicktime plugins?

  5. LJ says:

    Will toast convert a Quciktime movie and burn to play on standard dvd players?

  6. Mattheus says:

    OK, i have toast 8 and we just got a DVR.. How exactly are you getting your movies from your DVR to your mac?!?!?! i would really love to know so i could start putting my fav. shows an movies onto my iPhone…

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