Sunday, October 12, 2008

Modern CD burners test their boundaries

Hanover - Ten years ago, a computer with a built-in CD burner was a big deal. Owners could be sure to broader their circle of friends and music collection. A few technological leaps later meant it only took half an hour to burn a CD. Another few leaps have brought us to where we are now: an age where it only takes minutes to burn a CD. Multiformat disc burners for CDs and DVDs are standard issue, even in laptops, with the required software usually bundled in. "A burner and the necessary software are included with nearly every computer," says Jaroslav Smycek of the Lower Saxony Consumer's Central in Hanover. "Most people don't need to buy extra programs.

The average person planning to burn some discs should be fine with the pre-packed material."OEM versions of the software can copy CDs, burn music, archive photos and save personal data onto CD easily. But video storage can sometimes lead to problems.

But a lot of burning programs available for between 10 and 100 euros (14 to 140 dollars) can handle that kind of work. "These are all-around programs that usually fall into a completely different category than basic burning programs," says Martin Gollwitzer of the Munich-based Chip magazine. But there are drawbacks meaning the commercial software shouldn't necessarily be a customer's first choice. "The customer gets huge disc burning packages and never use many of the functions."It makes more sense for most people to stick with the basic burning software and buy a special program, if needed. Anyone who wants to edit video is better off with a video editing program, not with the accessories of some disc burning software."But even then, consumers don't necessarily need to buy expensive software.

"There's amazing freeware. It"s astounding what it can do."The freeware might not be able to compete with top-of-the-line software. "But the pre-installed OEM softwares can keep pace with and sometimes surpass the rest." Even market leader Nero finds itself outdone in some areas. "ImgBurn, RescueAgent or IsoBuster come out ahead of Nero, which is good, but expensive, in some areas," says Gollwitzer.

Jenny Menhart of Nero does not agree fully. "There are some features that freeware and the OEM versions just can't perform. Additionally, with purchased software, you can be sure that there will be support for problems and that everything is legally sound."On top of that, today's disc burning software does far more than just burn. "It secures data, it helps with manipulating audio and video, it restores data, it makes slide shows and lets you watch TV. The newest version of Nero has 21 applications."So, what are you allowed to burn? "As a general rule, you are allowed to copy for your own personal use, but not for commercial use," explains Thomas Lapp, a lawyer from Frankfurt am Main who specializes in information technology. "Anyone who wants to make a backup of their music or software is legally fine.

Even people who burn music for a partner or their parents are in the clear."But that's as far as those rights go. Burning copies for friends is not considered fair. "You cannot upload music to exchanges, not to mention selling burned CDs."There's another limitation. If you need to get around a copy protection to burn a copy, that's banned also. Smyzek says legal questions have been a problem for years. "No one knows for certain what 'personal use' means. It's especially dangerous with programs where you can get around a simple copy protection fairly easily, sometimes without the user even noticing."Technically, it's not a problem.

But legally it is. There is one upside: "A lot of music labels are doing away with copy protection because they realize they are driving away their customers."Nevertheless, CD and DVD burning is now commonplace, says Smycek. "Hardware and programs have matured. Blank discs have also gotten better."And what about the new Blu-ray format? 2There's already good software that's good at burning those new discs," says Gollwitzer. "

But, as a rule, we are at the stage with Blu-ray where we were a few years ago: stuff is happening, but none of it has matured. I would wait."Additionally, expensive blank Blu-ray discs for backups or transporting data might never take off. "You can get an 8 GB USB stick for 10 euros. Who's going to burn a disc?"

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