Despite its dominance, Nero has traditionally offered a slightly old-fashioned interface. With version 8, however, its look has been significantly cleaned up and its features streamlined. You still get 14 bundled apps and eight utilities, but the product feels a lot more focused than the previous few versions and nowhere near as bloated as Roxio's Easy Media Creator 10 Suite.
The primary change focuses on the new StartSmart interface. This provides direct access to basic tools for burning data and audio discs, ripping audio and disc copying using four icons down the left. Thanks to this, it's become much more than just an aggregating front end, especially as you don't need to load the individual apps as you did before.
Buttons along the top divide the full apps into five categories, and you can place your own custom selection in the Launch Applications pane on the Start Page. Rip and Burn contains the core apps for taking data to and from discs. Create and Edit includes audio and video encoding, photo editing and disc labelling. The Home Entertainment section houses playback features, including TV watching and PVR features (for which you'll need extra hardware). Finally, there's a tab housing Nero's backup facilities. Some of Nero's utilities aren't featured in StartSmart at all anymore, including the handy but niche DriveSpeed and BurnRights.
As with Roxio's suite, Nero has features aimed specifically at Windows Vista. The DiscCopy Sidebar Gadget lets you copy a disc in any format simply by inserting the disc in your drive and clicking on the Gadget. You can also drag and drop files to write them to disc. Although drag-and-drop utilities like this have existed for some time, at least now there's a tidy place to put them in the Windows Vista interface.
Many of Nero 8's new features revolve around Nero Vision 5, the video disc-authoring tool. A host of new menu transition effects have
been added, including 25 new SD and HD templates. Most of these are conventional 2D menus, but the three Smart 3D ones incorporate eye-catching 3D animations and menu layouts. Vision 5 also supports burning to HD DVD and Blu-ray, putting Nero Vision 5 ahead of MyDVD as bundled with Roxio Easy Media Creator 10 Suite.
Another feature that places Nero ahead of Roxio is importing AVCHD. We were easily able to load files from an HDV camcorder and author them into a DVD - you can also write them to Blu-ray to preserve the video quality. Vision also supports HD-Burn, the new system pioneered by Sanyo for burning up to 1.4GB to a standard 700MB CD-R.