Still the best pun of any software product name, Nero Burning ROM 11 is available standalone for £39.99 (with an upgrade from the previous version costing £6.99). Alternatively, it’s packaged within the Nero 11 suite, and indeed Burning ROM was updated with Nero 11.
New for this version of Burning ROM is its SecurDisc feature, which can protect your burned discs from scratches and deterioration. The software includes DVD and Blu-ray movie project authoring, the latter of which you won't find in its closest competitor, CyberLink Power2Go.
Nero Burning ROM 11 is also available in the form of a free, feature-complete 15 day trial download. The reasonable 122MB download lets you choose whether to install an updater, the ancillary RescueAgent utility, and help files, and then goes through multiple support file installations, including control centre and runtimes. A reboot is required, and the installation process tries to install a browser toolbar and settings, but thankfully you can uncheck those options in the installation wizard.
Upon first running Nero, you'll see a Welcome dialog box, which succinctly summarises all of the program's capabilities in four categories – burn & copy, disc images, audio & video, and Tools & Specials.
When you close the info dialog box, the New Compilation dialog covers the main program window. From here, you can start a data, music, or video burning project destined for any of the three optical disc types: CD, DVD, or Blu-ray.
You also get the choice of mixed-mode CD, in which one disc can act as both an audio CD and a data disc. Each project type offers several tabs with very detailed options, such as multisession, spanning multiple discs, file system, and write speed. The interface had a habit of opening new main program windows regularly when I chose a new activity or a disc was inserted in a drive, even popping up the Welcome screen again.
To rip an audio CD with Burning ROM, you head to the Extras menu and choose Save Audio Tracks. The program helpfully looked up the album and track names, and even showed the album cover art in the ensuing Match dialog, where the program asks you to verify that the correct album was found.
Ripping the 60 minute Buena Vista Social Club CD to 192kbps MP3 files took 2 minutes and 20 seconds, compared with 2 minutes and 3 seconds for CyberLink Power2Go, and 2 minutes and 2 seconds for Ashampoo Burning Studio. The default output was Nero AAC (mp4), which took 2 minutes and 25 seconds. There was no indication of time remaining, though progress bars for each track made the process clear.
Burning the same music to a blank CD (using Nero's "Ultra Buffer") took a swift 2 minutes and 25 seconds, the same time it took Power2Go, and much faster than Ashampoo's 4 minutes. But the program didn't offer to burn a new disc with the music CD contents I'd just ripped. Also, when I chose the Copy option, the program didn't detect the music CD in the drive. Once I selected the song files to burn, Burning ROM displayed a useful thermometer-style bar across the bottom, representing how much of the target disc's space would be taken up.
Burning ROM 11 let me choose from DVD-Video, AVCHD, BDMV (Blu-ray movie disc), but there was no specific help for creating a VCD (video CD) or SVCD (super-video CD – playable on some DVD players), as there is with the CyberLink and Ashampoo products. Although the program can set up the proper folder structures for DVD and Blu-ray movie discs, it offers no help with creating the movie, and none of my files were transcoded to the required format, as with Ashampoo and Power2Go. Burning my four test video clips took just 1 minute and 12 seconds, but it was just writing the files to disc, not creating menus the way the other programs could, so the timings aren’t really comparable.
Burning ROM can burn Blu-ray data and movie discs (if you get your media in the right format), but as with DVDs, it offers no help with authoring or transcoding video files to the necessary format. For that, look to competitors like Ashampoo Burning Studio. However, Burning ROM can burn multisession Blu-rays, and can burn this type of media from ISO disc images (and supports AVCHD). Nero can also erase rewritable Blu-ray media. A test burn of my four movie files of 137MB took just 36 seconds. When I tried to rip a copy-protected Hollywood Blu-ray, the program told me that no appropriate disc was in the drive. This was better than letting me go through the whole ripping process to create an unusable image, but not quite as useful as reporting that the disc was copy protected.
Nero's unique feature is SecurDisc. This burning choice not only lets you password protect and digitally sign the disc, but can help protect it from wear and tear by writing redundant data. By default, the setting for this is 3.5 (very good), but you can go all the way up to unlimited. A higher number means more redundant writing of the data, and unlimited means you'll use all the remaining space on the disc for the extra data writes.
SecurDisc also lets you scan the surface of a disc to make sure it will play back properly. I created a SecurDisc-enhanced DVD with photos and videos, plus music. The burn dialog indicated that my data weighed in at 779MB, while the 1947MB of redundancy would also be burned at my setting of 3.5. This burn took 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
I then scratched the resulting disc to test all this protection. Not just any software or player will support SecurDisc features, however, and you need to download file viewer software from Nero. When you pop a SecurDisc into the drive, this utility opens, showing all the contained files. It lets you copy and check the integrity of any of these. For my first test, I brutally scratched the innermost rings of data, and this made the disk unreadable. Next I did another burn of the same disc, only scratching the middle. Bingo! Nothing was lost. SecurDisc isn’t going to be appropriate for every disc you burn, but it's definitely a useful and impressive piece of technology.
In burning my test image file to DVD, the Windows 8 Release Preview setup disc, Nero fared well in the speed contest with its Ultra Buffer, taking 4 minutes and 59 seconds, close to Ashampoo’s time of 4 minutes and 54 seconds, and quicker than the 5 minutes and 10 seconds Power2Go recorded. The burned image, when popped into another drive, started up with the Windows 8 installation as desired.
Nero Burning ROM 11 is certainly a capable piece of software for creating optical disc media, and its SecurDisc support makes it very worthy of consideration if you’re security-minded. The program also did a decent job of ripping music CDs. However, there are free alternatives out there just for pure burning and free CD ripping (Windows Media Player and iTunes for starters, when it comes to the latter).
In the end, Burning ROM 11's outdated interface and lack of menu authoring for DVD or Blu-ray movies leave it behind more modern tools such as Ashampoo Burning Studio 11, which recently received our Best Buy award.