Dragon Burn 4.0.15, by NTI
Posted: 15-Sep-2004

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: NTI Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Thomas Tempelmann Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Product Description
Dragon Burn enables Mac desktop and PowerBook notebook computer users to quickly and easily begin producing audio, data and mixed-mode CDs and DVDs without poring over the software's user's guide. The new Dragon Burn multi-burning engine allows users to simultaneously write multiple CDs or DVDs. It also fully supports new 4x DVD-R internal and external drives as well as advanced CD writes including recently released 52x CD-R and 24x CD-RW drives.

Using Dragon Burn, Mac and PowerBook users can easily produce their own audio and data CD and DVD discs as well as mixed-mode and CD extra discs as well as VCD and SVCD video discs. Users can mix and match AIFF, CDDA, MP3 or wave files to produce custom audio CDs. For CD and DVD data mastering applications, Dragon Burn fully supports ISO 9660 MS-DOS and Joliet, HFS (Mac OS) and HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) file systems. For Hybrid CDs and DVDs, users can select Mac OS and ISO 9660 file system combinations including data from previous ISO 9660 sessions.

For complete data protection and recovery, users can burn layouts to a disc or save them as complete disc image files. Using similar creation techniques, users can quickly and easily produce a backup copy of any CD or non-copy protected DVD. To ensure that users always produce quality discs, Dragon Burn supports BurnProof and other buffer-underrun protection technologies. For maximum throughput performance, the mastering software also supports USB 2.0 and FireWire CD and DVD burners.

Overview
The maker, NTI (
www.ntius.com), apparently has many years of experience with CD recording techniques, but has not played a significant role on the Macintosh market until recently when they released Dragon Burn for Mac OS X.

If you want to create CDs or DVDs with your data on it, you can choose to use Apple's built-in CD recording software, which provides basic features, with hardly any control over the recording process and the way the data is creating on the recordable discs. Until recently, the only solution that offered more control was Toast, which used to be the undisputed leader in CD recording software on the Mac ever since CD recorders became available. Toast, sold by Roxio (
www.roxio.com), is a retail product, and so is Dragon Burn. Both attempt to offer all the extended features that are possible with recordable discs and which Apple's software does not offer.

In this review, I'll not go into explaining why one might want to choose Toast or similar programs over Apple's, because that has been done in a recent Toast review on this web site already. Instead, I will attempt to show how Dragon Burn compares to Toast, because Toast is, in my opinion, still the reference implementation of a near-perfect recording application on the Mac and beyond.

In short, Dragon Burn appears to offer all possible recording options. Reading its checklist of features it sounds to be on the same level as Toast is. Dragon Burn's suggested retail price is about half of what Toast costs. Sounds like a good aternative, but let's take a closer look at the product.

I won't review the detailed features of the product here, because you can easily read up on them from NTI's website. What I will attempt to do instead is to show you what you can't tell from their descriptions.

The User Interface
The user interface seems relatively easy to use at first glance, but it is not without its annoyances. The most annoying thing is that if you started to burn a disc, you can rather easily cancel the burn process by accident. The problem is that if you click on the Cancel button of the progress window, Dragon Burn will immediately cancel the burn, without asking you if you are sure. The real danger comes in two flavors: (a) This Cancel button is the default button, and a simple pressing of the Return or Enter key can activate it already, stopping your recording. (b) Suppose the Dragon Burn window with the Cancel button is in the background and you want to bring the Dragon Burn window to the front so that you can see how far the progress has come. If you are used to bringing a window to the front by clicking in it, you might accidentaly click into the window's area where the Cancel button is located. If you should do this, the Cancel button, even though it was in a background window, will be activated again, and the burning process will be aborted. I point this out because this is exactly what happened to me while I was recording a DVD: I wanted to bring the Dragon Burn window to the front and Dragon Burn stopped recording the DVD, making the DVD an unnecessary piece of waste.

Another slightly dangerous UI glitch is that Dragon Burn does not precisely follow the requirements for naming and arranging of buttons in dialogs. When I closed a Dragon Burn window in which I had prepared a disc for recording (adding files, naming the disc, setting recording options and so on), it would present to me the common "Save changes?" dialog, but not with the usual three buttons, only two: "Save" and "Cancel" (the "Don't Save" button is glaringly absent). The way the Cancel button should work is to close the "Save Changes" dialog, and leave the main window open so that I can go back to it, make changes or start the burn (basically canceling the operation of closing the window). However, if you choose the Cancel button in this dialog, it performs, instead, the action of the missing third button, "Don't Save". It discards your changes and closes the window. This also happened to me during my review. I might expect to see this behavior in a quick-and-dirty freeware program, but not in a professional retail product. There are very precise rules for these things, and every experienced Mac has come to expect that from a Mac product.

There are several more problems with handling buttons properly: Sometimes a button would pulse to show that it's the default button, but pressing the Return key would not activate it as it should. Similarly, often pressing the Esc key does not activate the Cancel key. When I drag audio files into a recording window where Dragon Burn needs to do a conversion into a WAV file, I cannot cancel the process even though there is a Cancel button shown. This once let me wait for about 20 minutes until the disk was full so that it would finally stop after I had dragged in a folder with too many such files.

When preparing a collection of files for burning, Dragon Burn does show the amount of data it will occupy on the disc. However, instead of showing the amount in MB (Mega Bytes), it shows the number of sectors it will use. But who wants to know this? I know that I can fit about 700 MB on my 80 minute CDs, but I never count the sectors. Of course, I can use a calculator knowing that a sector takes up 2048 bytes, and that 1 MB equals 1024*1024 bytes, but why doesn't Dragon Burn just do this conversion for me? Most people don't know how much a sector takes up.

When starting a burn, Toast, and even Apple's software, can automatically open the disc tray (not applicable to Macs with slot-loading drives, of course), and also detect when you have closed the tray again. Dragon Burn, on the other hand, is not capable of this: If you try to start a burn without having a recordable disc inserted, it will only show you a note saying that you have to insert it. Then you have to confirm this note with a click and then make another click or keypress to start the burn again. It even happened to me that inserting the disc without clicking away the note window first would make Dragon Burn not even recognize the inserted disc at all - I had to eject and re-insert it to make this work.

When a burn is in progress, a window with a progress bar is shown, indicating the percent of the total time that has passed already. But what it does not show is what interests me most: How many more minutes will it take? The fact that I can use the Preferences to choose the colors of the progress bar does not make this any better. Finally, when the burn has finished, there is no audible signal to let me know either.

I'm a Mac developer, so I understand the principles of the Mac GUI. I am also a German engineer; hence, I decided to try the software with German localization. Due to the nature of my first language, direct translations from English to German usually take up more letters and thus more space. Dragon Burn has not accounted for this, unfortunately, leading to the effect that text is cut off and becomes partially unreadable. I suspect that the same is the case with some other languages that use more space than English does.

The Functionality

Verification features
When using Toast, I always let it verify the written disc to make sure that the data on the disc reads back the same as the original. My personal experience shows that about one in ten CDs has writing errors (often caused by dust on the disc). Thus, I am glad of having the verify feature to be sure I have a perfect copy. Dragon Burn can do verification, too, but more limited than in Toast. While Toast can verify everything but Audio CDs, Dragon Burn cannot verify many of the standard data formats, such as when the source is a disk image file, or when creating a Video-DVD.

On the plus side, Dragon Burn has a nice feature that Toast does not offer. It can verify the written disc by just reading back every disc block without comparing it to the original. This is useful when you are writing files that may be altered while the recording takes place. A comparison would always fail, but the simple reading of the written sectors will still ensure that the disc was written correctly because each sector has a checksum. If there should be a writing error due to a piece of dust on the recordable disc, it would be detected by this simpler read test.

Disk image support
On the topic of disk images, there are a few more problems I ran into. I had a few disc images created by Toast in CD-XA format which use 2056 bytes per sector. When burning a CD from this image file using Dragon Burn, it would not detect the XA format and generate a CD that I could not use because of this. Another problem was that while Dragon Burn would accept even .cue/.bin files, which are common on Windows systems, I could not drag a simple .img file into Dragon Burn to make a CD from it. Renaming the .img file to a .iso file solved it, though. Another problem is that Dragon Burn cannot mount image files. Toast can, and I use that feature quite often to see what is stored inside an image file. Although some .img formats can be mounted by Apple's Disk Utility, there are some that Dragon Burn can burn but that were not mountable without the help of Toast.

Joliet (Windows & Linux interchange)
The Joliet format, which is the most common format on Windows systems, has a few restrictions over the Mac's preferred HFS+ format. One is that names are limited to a length of 63 characters, and another is that some characters may not be used in a name, such as the colon and the backslash. If you want to create a CD that you want to hand over to Windows or Linux users, you would usually choose this Joliet format. Due to these limitations, some of the file names you attempt to store on the disc may need to be renamed or shortened. While Toast will warn you in this case and allow you to view the list of to-be-renamed items, even allowing you to modify them manually, Dragon Burn will just silently rename them, without giving you any information that it did. This may be a problem if you tried to copy a set of html files that have links referring to other files. Some of the links would then not work. If you're not told in advance by your recording software, you might not notice until it's too late.

Audio support
iTunes, as a free software, offers a simple way to burn your songs to CDs. Dragon Burn can do that, too, giving you more control over the burn process. For example, while CDs created by iTunes would not play in my cheap car CD/MP3 player, those created by Dragon Burn (as well as by Toast) would play just fine. But once again, while I could just drag songs from iTunes into Toast and burn them away, Dragon Burn made this more complicated. For one, I cannot drag songs from the iTunes window into Dragon Burn at all. Instead, I have to either find the files on the disk and drag them over, or export a playlist from iTunes and import it into Dragon Burn. And when I do the latter, Dragon Burn only offers to burn the CD as an Audio CD, not as a MP3 CD.

One advantage of Dragon Burn over Toast is that it can convert AAC into MP3 songs on-the-fly. With that feature, I could create an MP3 CD and add AAC songs to it. Toast cannot do that. However, there are problems with Dragon Burn's automatic conversion. It is quite slow - I estimate it's about five times slower than the conversion inside iTunes. Worse is that it will lose all the AAC's song information, such as full title, artist, genre, and so on. iTunes would preserve these information tags.

Another neat feature is that you can use file extension based filters when dragging files or folders into a audio recording window, so that even if you drag your entire hard disk over, it'll only add files ending with .mp3 (or whatever you like).

Video support
Both Toast and Dragon Burn claim to be able to create Video-CDs (VCD), Super-Video-CDs (SVCD) and DVD-Video discs. While VCDs use a MPEG-1 file, SVCDs and Video-DVDs use the higher-quality MPEG-2 video file format. With Dragon Burn, if you have a MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 file, you can burn either a VCD or SVCDs, respectively. However, you cannot simply create a Video-DVD from these formats, nor can you create a VCD or SVCD from a Quicktime movie directly. You would have to use an external program that convert the files into the proper format first. Toast 6, on the contrary, has MPEG-encoders as well as DVD-authoring software already included, so that no matter what source of video format you have, you can choose to create any of the three CD/DVD-formats without any extra efforts.


Summary
NTI Dragon Burn is CD/DVD burning software for Mac OS X. While it is poised to be a less expensive alternative to Toast, I see Dragon Burn as a still unpolished product that has a few annoyances and a lot of missing functionality. Most of the interface issues can be fixed rather easily by NTI. I hope that the details provided in my review will give them some ideas on what needs to be done to make it a more enjoyable and useful product. All of the shortcomings I found in Dragon Burn are apparent to me because of my experience and understanding of Toast. Those who use Toast will be unlikely to switch to Dragon Burn in its current state.

What Dragon Burn can do, it does mostly well, though. It has no major problems, but it's not exceptionally outstanding, either. I found it to be an adequate performing application at a fair price. Dragon Burn does have some features that Toast does not have, so there is definitely some potential with this product.

Pros

  • Relatively low price compared to competitor Toast
  • Drag & Drop filters provide for quick collecting of files of a certain type
  • Can verify by using checksums, which enables a verify even over files that constantly change
  • Can write discs on several recorders at the same time (e.g. for creating multiple copies)

Cons

  • Many user interface glitches
  • Overall functionality is inferior to Toast (especially regarding Video support)
  • Does not provide Verify for all possible formats
  • Incomplete Joliet format support
  • Documentation is weak egarding the supported volume formats
  • Cannot mount image files


Overall Rating:

3 out of 5 Mice