The eighth version of this excellent disc-creation suite doesn't offer many surprises, yet it's exactly what we wanted. Roxio Easy Media Creator 8 (EMC 8) keeps up with the new formats of the day, adding DivX import and export and support for double-layer DVDs. It also throws in a few novelties, such as photo sharing, while wrapping those changes in an interface that's clear, easy to understand, and consistent across the various applications. While the recently released Nero 7 Ultra Edition offers more control over some tasks, most people will find Easy Media Creator 8 easier to use. It can handle nearly any media-related task you throw at it, and it's a pleasure to work with.
Installing Roxio Easy Media Creator 8 is a simple and fairly quick process for such a large program. If you want to control which of the included apps get installed, choose the Custom option. If not, you can take the express lane and select the default installation. The package comes with a second disc of content, such as templates, that you can use after you've installed the program and restarted your computer.
When you start Easy Media Creator 8, the redesigned launcher app (Media Creator Home) asks you to select from a list of tasks. We like how clean and intuitively designed this and the other EMC apps are. You get a list of main function groups (such as Audio and Backup) in the left column and a list of common tasks (Create Audio CD, Copy Disc) on the right. The clearly organized interface does a good job presenting EMC's multitude of features. With this release, EMC looks a bit more like Toast, Roxio's fantastically well-designed media suite for the Mac, which has a clean, white look and a simple control layout (but far less functionality). EMC definitely triumphs over Nero, its main competitor, in interface design. By maintaining a clear, approachable look across all its apps, Roxio has made the suite even easier to use. That's a lesson Nero has yet to learn. Even the audio editor, usually the most inelegant and user-unfriendly part of any suite, is simple here.
In addition to an improved interface, Easy Media Creator 8 offers support for the latest formats and tasks. It adds DVD-music disc creation with the new DVD Music Assistant (this version is full of assistants instead of wizards, which will please people who always thought wizard was a silly term in the first place). Like many tasks in EMC, creating a DVD-music disc is a simple process made clear by the three-step assistant. We're not sure who's burning these DVD music discs or where they're playing them, but Toast, Nero, and EMC now all support them.
Speaking of DVDs, we like that Easy Media Creator 8 now offers two different ways to build a DVD, depending on whether you want the process quick or customised. When you're pressed for time, the new MyDVD Express lets you quickly toss together a few videos and select a template for them. The more detailed MyDVD, redesigned for this release, captures video and gives you more menu options. We weren't crazy about how slowly both of them ran on our 2GHz Pentium 4 test system, though. The only other performance issue we experienced was that the video tools froze on start-up a few times (or perhaps we weren't patient enough with their very long launch times). You can use them to burn double-layer DVDs, which EMC now supports.
Easy Media Creator 8 has not followed Nero 7 in looking for new areas to conquer. Unlike EMC, Nero added a media-centre interface to its latest version so that those who don't have XP Media Center installed can still enjoy wirelessly accessing their content from the couch. But EMC has added some interesting tricks of its own. The most welcome is LiveShare, the peer-to-peer photo-sharing app built into Media Manager. Digital-camera users know that showing people their photos can be more difficult now than when we simply had prints to pass around. LiveShare aims to help. To use it, create an album and share it using the Sharing pull-down menu. The people you want to share with get an e-mail showing thumbnails of the first 10 photos in the album. Unfortunately, your computer needs to be on for your friends to access the album, which is a major drawback, especially when you could use free online photo-sharing services such as Sony ImageStation, Kodak EasyShare Gallery, and Flickr.
In another unexpected feature, Easy Media Creator 8 adds music tagging. The trouble with not tagging your songs is that you turn on your portable player and have to choose between several songs called Track 1. EMC helps solve this problem by comparing digital fingerprints of your songs to reference copies online. It's a slow process and not a foolproof one (it misidentified several of our test tracks), but we were impressed that it worked at all with songs captured from an analog source, such as an LP or a cassette.
Other new tricks for this old dog include DivX import and export and support for HD video. We're surprised that it doesn't offer full MPEG-4 video support, though. With its focus on new features, this review only scratches the surface of the suite's capabilities. EMC still handles all types of data, audio, and backup disc creation, and it can juggle a variety of media-related tasks. Some of its tools are more complicated than others, and we'd like to see the included VideoWave movie editor beefed up a lot, but on the whole, Roxio Easy Media Creator 8 is a true bargain at US$99.