There are dangerous signs of a shift in audience or focus with this successor to Easy Media Creator 9 and 10, as if Roxio feels that two of the biggest selling points of its media suite – ease of use and a rigorous approach to organising and working with your digital media – were no longer as cool or interesting as the creative aspects. There’s no need to worry. Creator 2009 still features all the burning, ripping, converting, transfer and editing facilities we’ve come to expect from Easy Media Creator, and it’s still very easy to use. For the average user who wants an all-in-one package with which to master their growing library of audio, video and photo content, it’s currently the best option out there.
Easy Media Creator 9 was a hit with us at TrustedReviews, but while we also had good things to say about version 10, it wasn’t quite the follow-up it could have been. Creator 2009 sorts out its biggest weaknesses in style. First, a revamped interface gives it a more coherent and intuitive look and feel across all the components – and believe me, there are plenty – in the suite. A central Home screen gives you instant access to the program’s most powerful and useful features, while sub-screens for Data, Video, Music, Photo and Online take you to a series of tasks relevant to each category. This approach, based more on what you need to do than the tools you’ll need to do it, has worked well for Roxio in the last few versions and it works well here too, but where Easy Media Creator 9 and 10 sometimes felt like a selection of separate applications that had been linked together by task screens and a central interface, Creator 2009 feels much more like a single package. You’re still working with a range of programs, but – with the odd exception – they follow similar conventions and a similar approach.
The second major issue was Vista support. It’s fair to say that Easy Media Creator 10 had a few glitches when it came to Vista, with installation problems, certain components that wouldn’t run and occasional hangs commonly reported. Creator 2009 is a big improvement. Running on Vista Ultimate x64 I’ve only had to suffer one crash, and I’d give Roxio the benefit of the doubt on that one given that the video file involved has similar effects with other programs. In fact, technically speaking I only had two issues, the first being a painfully protracted installation that took upwards of forty minutes, the second being that – despite this – the package still seems to need to access the installation discs on a semi-regular basis to add support for certain file formats or features. Keep yours handy would be my advice.
As before, the core of the package – and the bits you’ll be using most often – are the media management and CD/DVD burning functions. Note that Creator 2009 can also support Blu-ray, but Roxio is rather stingily charging a £15 upgrade fee for a pack that enables Blu-ray record and playback. Still, if you want to burn audio CDs or data or video DVDs then Roxio’s expertise in the area makes for a pretty flawless experience. As the owner of a rather temperamental USB DVD burner I have more than my share of shiny coasters laying around where free or built-in solutions have botched the job halfway through. Creator 2009 has yet to spit out a single duff disc.
For those of us engaged in creating a working media archive, Creator 2009 is a bit of a godsend thanks to strong format support and some efficient file conversion systems. Being able to rip CDs straight to FLAC then convert those files to MP3, WMA or OGG VORBIS for mobile use from a single package is a boon, and it’s simple to setup large batch conversions or even just set the tracks to transfer direct to your MP3 player of choice. The Audio Convertor component will handle the conversion for you, and you can choose the format and settings as it does so.
On top of this, we get drag-and-drop conversion utilities where you can transfer single files or whole folders simply by dragging them over to a handy applet on the corner of your desktop and (you guessed it) dropping them there. It’s a great way of getting a big batch done while you’re busy doing something more interesting, and on a dual or quad-core system with 2GB or more of memory, the resource hit isn’t enough to stop you Web browsing or word processing (in fact, I have a few folders going through as I write this).
Creator 2009 adds two new facilities for music fans, and while neither is exactly flawless, they’re still worth experimenting with. First, an auto playlist generator – which works a little like Apple’s much-hyped Genius or the EmoDio software bundled with some Samsung PMPs – can produce custom playlists for your every mood. Just pick a track or three and the applet scurries away through your collection looking for songs of a similar temp and mood. In all honesty, in two out of three times I tried it the results are odd and even plain useless, but the third time was a charm, mainly because I fed it a selection of mid-tempo rock and there’s probably a fair amount of that lurking on my hard drive (more than I’d care to admit, in fact).
Secondly, it’s now possible to create party playlists and let the package sync the beats between tracks for a proper, club-style flow of music. Again, the results are better if you give it a lot of the same stuff (e.g. straight dance tracks) than a mix (e.g. a selection of cheesy eighties hits), but it’s not a bad idea, and one that – with a bit of work – could be a winner.
The good work continues when it comes to video. The Video Copy and Convert component will work with video on the hard disk or direct from DVD and output it to a DVD or ISO, a new file or a portable format without any fuss. Presets for the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry 8800 series and PSP are included, and the options hit a nice balance between giving you a solid choice of file formats and quality settings and overloading you with highly technical adjustments/enhancements as some popular freeware converters/encoders are prone to. Basically, it works and puts out a decent end result, and the only thing you really need to watch is whether any subtitles are being placed on your output file by default (if they have been and you forget to switch them off in the Language Options, you’ll have text splashed over half of your lovely new iPod-friendly movie).
Of course, there is one issue with all this easy file conversion loveliness, and that’s copy protection. If a file or disc is copy protected or DRM-enabled, Creator 2009 won’t touch it. By now, most of us who want to make personal copies of our legitimately purchased content for mobile use will have found ways around this, but if anyone is expecting Creator 2009 to be an all-in-one solution for getting films from DVD to iPod, then they need to be aware that this is the case (and will be with most consumer packages until Hollywood wakes up and smells the coffee).
If you’re more into making movies than just watching them, Creator 2009 still has you covered. As before, video editing facilities are split between one program, Cinemagic, which creates a movie automatically from a selection of clips, photos and background music, and a more fully-featured editing package, VideoWave, which gives you a greater level of control, a choice between clip and proper timeline views, and a full range of effects and transitions for you to use (or abuse) as you will.
CineMagic efforts can be a bit cheesy – the preset themes seem to have been designed with a US family audience in mind – but if you just want a collage of clips and photos of the kids to send to older family members, it’s fine. VideoWave, meanwhile, is only a little better than the free Windows Movie Maker in terms of features and general usability, and is certainly no match for either Adobe’s Premiere Elements or Corel’s VideoStudio Pro when it comes to real editing power, but again, if you just want a solid, working tool with which to put together short movies, then it handles all the basics very well. Plus, this is the first edition of the package to support HD footage from AVCHD camcorders.
This last feature might seem of little use when you bear in mind that – without the Blu-ray plug-in – there’s no way to author proper HD discs. However, Creator 2009 includes a handy little feature that allows you to burn up to 60 minutes of HD footage onto a DVD that can then be read on a PS3 or Blu-ray player. Otherwise, DVD authoring features are what you’d expect from a consumer-level package these days; simple and slightly gruesome family and business templates in a semi-automated program, and a more comprehensive authoring app that gives you more freedom over the placement and styling of titles, clips and menu items. Again, if you want professional looking results you’re better off with a dedicated video app, but if you just want something to share with family or friends you’ll be fine.
I’m not so sure that the same is true on the photographic side of things. As before, Creator 2009 includes a strong selection of features, including a simple image enhancement tool for dealing with multiple images, a slideshow creator and an effective applet for creating panoramas from multiple shots. However, the Photosuite photo-editing app now feels rather basic and a little dated even in comparison to free alternatives like Paint.Net, while its auto-adjustment options had a nasty tendency to boost contrast and saturation at the expense of natural colour. On the plus side, it offers a decent effects gallery and a nice hand-holding approach for those who just want to make basic enhancements to their digital snaps, but anyone serious about digital photography could find a better solution elsewhere.
Still, throw in a perfectly usable backup program (though Vista has this pretty well covered these days) and, whatever deficiencies you’ll find in the individual components, you certainly can’t fault Creator 2009 for value. Sure, you can do 90 per cent of what it does with a combination of freeware applications and the tools built into Windows, but these applications won’t be so easy to use for the average user, or as well integrated with each other. Frankly, there are times when I wonder whether Roxio would be better to trim away some of the more gimmicky features and concentrate on making the core features even stronger and more usable.
To be honest, I’d also personally ignore the video editing and photographic apps in favour of something more advanced. However, even given that I’d still want Creator 2009 for its confident and efficient handling and conversion of my digital media, and its rock-solid DVD burning capabilities. Plus, there are plenty of people out there who just want a simple way of turning photos into slideshows and camcorder footage into watchable video, and they probably won’t be so fussy. The most conclusive thing that I can say is this: in the week or so I’ve been using it Creator 2009 has already saved me time, effort and a reasonable amount of hassle. That’s enough to earn my recommendation.
Not all the components are equally good, and more expert users may want to look at more advanced or free alternatives. However, given the amount of media handling and creative power on offer, Creator 2009 is a bit of a bargain.