Nero 2014 Platinum review

Nero's suite has been updated for modern mobile uses, but still includes good old burning and more.
Photo of Nero 2014 Platinum

A lot of people probably think of Nero as a maker of disc-burning software. The present suite still includes utilities for burning CDs, DVDs, and now even Blu-rays with chapters and all the other formatting those media are capable of, but it’s evolved way beyond spinning optical media. Nero 2014 Platinum’s new strength is transcoding media for all your devices, from moving DVDs to your smart phone or playing your own video to a large HDTV. It does a lot, and mostly works well, but there are still a few minor kinks.

Getting and Installing the Program
Nero 2014 is available as a download form nero.com as well as in disc format purchasable at your local electronics store. In honor of Nero’s history, I decided to go the retro route of installing from a disc. It runs on any version of Windows from XP SP3 to Windows 8.1. Minimum requirements are a 2 GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, a DirectX 9 compliant graphics card, and 5GB hard drive space recommended.

When you first run the installer, it asks whether you want to install Nero 2014 or content packs like video effects, themes, and menu templates. I chose the basic suite install. I had to enter the long, long serial number on the disc sleeve, and then agree to a license agreement. I could have the setup create desktop shortcuts and designate it as the default app to open media files. This last was checked by default, which could mess up file associations you’ve already set up.

An Installation Settings dialog lets you choose which of the suite’s seven components (plus help and an auto-updater) you want installed. The process also installs Direct3D 10.1 Extensions, which seems odd on a Windows 8.1 system that comes equipped with DirectX 11.2. Installing took 4:45 minutes on my quad-core 3.4GHz Windows 8.1 system with 8GB DDR3 RAM and an Nvidia Quadro 2000 graphics card. The installed size of the program was a hefty 1.1GB. 

Interface
On first run, a message box asked me to check for updates, which makes sense, since the software could have been updated since the disc was pressed. And the first time you run a suite app, a dialog will ask you to register online, with an email address, name, and location. The startup interface sports that clean, simple look of tiles and bold colors inspired by Windows 8. Tiles for 10 apps appear above a line in the full-screen windows and tiles for ancillary functions like update, tools, tutorials, and product news appear at the bottom. Unlike previous versions, however, you can’t customize which software tools get tiles.

As you can see, the tiles are logically arranged in columns for Manage and Play, Edit and Convert, Rip and Burn, and Backup and Rescue. The first column features newer media apps in the suite—MediaHome, MediaBrowser, and Blu-ray Player. Each tile includes an “i” button that tells you what it does. I’ll discuss each of these in sections below.

MediaHome and MediaBrowser
MediaHome is Nero’s media manager for all your video, photo, and music files. MediaBrowser is a subset with a smaller window, that, as its name implies, is just for seeing what’s in your collection. It’s little more than a File Explorer window with the added ability to find content by faces and ratings. The more powerful MediaHome is actually available as a free download from Nero (it was formerly known as KwikMedia), with extra-cost add-ins like the ability to play and burn Blu-ray. From this home, you can open any of the suite’s other tools with a selected photo, video, or song.

MediaHome starts off by searching for media files automatically (after your OK). It can optionally search on external and network drives. When I connected a USB drive, a message popped up saying “You have connected an new device[sic]” and that I’d have to switch to USB Mass Storage Mode.

The left sidebar in MediaHome lets you select among Photos & Videos, Music, slideshows, and photo products. After the media scan, my photos and videos appeared grouped by dates. You can easily switch between showing just photos, just videos, or both, and a zoom slider resizes the thumbnails. A shuttle control (similar to that in Picasa) let me shuttle up and down among these groups, and helpful dots showed how much content each date contained:

The right panel shows metadata like the time the photo or video was shot, its resolution, location, and rating. I could expand this panel to show EXIF data like shutter speed and exposure settings. I could also apply keyword tags and face tags here. One thing missing here is any geo-tagging capability. Double-clicking a photo’s thumbnail opened it to near full window size, and hovering the mouse near the top displays a cool carousel-style navigator to move between other pictures. Another double-click showed the photo truly full-screen, with a black border.

Along the bottom, five buttons let me open a new file, name a person, edit the photo, share it via email, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, or KWICK!—Nero’s own online media community. As per usual, you have to go through a Facebook API approval to share to the social network, and I didn’t get the choice of which album or privacy setting to use.


Editing Photos
From Nero MediaHome, you can click the Edit Photo button for some basic image correction and enhancements. The editing is non-destructive, meaning you can revert to the original at any time. Keep in mind that this ain’t Photoshop, but there’s enough for most folks. You get auto-exposure, color, crop, straighten, and red-eye removal. A Brighten slider does what it says, and a “Backlight” adjustment seemed just to darken the image—there’s no contrast, but there are color temperature and saturation sliders. Eight Instagram-style retro effects round out Nero’s photo toolbox, and they’re not anywhere as powerful as the Instagram ones, frankly. The “Frames” button didn’t do anything for me, though the Help says it adds a white border.

Playing Video and Music
MediaHome plays video as well, and I was impressed that it had no trouble playing my 4K (aka Ultra HD) test video from a GoPro Hero III Black Edition[COMMERCE]. The app is also useful for when you plug USB storage: as well as importing the media, it can show you the devices’ used and available storage graphically, along with metadata for each individual file.

When it comes to music, MediaHome can display album art, play the songs, and even point you to downloads of more music from the same artist. In a similar way to photo viewing, the app shows info in the right side panel for the selected album or song—rating, play time, artist, genre, and so on.

An interesting option in MediaHome is entered through the button that looks like a TV—media streaming, you can turn this on to stream anything managed by the program to any DLNA-capable device. You can do this with Windows Media player, but MediaHome makes it much easier. MediaHome lets you set streaming quality and see which devices on your home network have access and remove them if you want. This worked easily with an Xbox in our labs, but playback was staggered, and when I set the video to repeat, it still only played once on the Xbox.

Nero Recode
Recode is a key selling point for the suite: it’s where you select your media and have it automatically reformatted to play on a different device. You can drag-and-drop files onto its large target area at the top of its own program window, or open it from MediaHome. Video is probably the most important content for this treatment, since most smartphones and tablets have no problem displaying photos of any resolution or playing audio.

When I right-clicked on a video in MediaHome and chose “Convert with Nero Recode” the app opened with my video on the right, and a list of target devices on the left. These included most popular smartphones and tablets, and consoles—iPhones, iPads, Samsung Galaxies, and Windows Phone 8 among them. A slider below the target options let me choose quality, from smallest file size to largest.

You can choose a bunch of files to be placed in a recoding in a queue for batch operation. I hit “Start encoding,” and after a few seconds for a relatively small video clip of less than a minute, I could play the file in MediaHome or see where it was saved on disk. It was then up to me to get the file on the device.

Mobile Devices
When I plugged in a Windows Phone or an Android phone to the PC, Nero MediaHome added an entry for it in the left source sidebar, and let me browse any photos and music. I could also switch to the Info tab to see its storage usage. I could right click or drag any content overseen by Nero onto the phone’s entry to copy it to that device. By default, the program converted music to standard MP3 and images to JPG, but didn’t convert video. All of that, however, is editable from a sprocket-shaped settings button.

Android users can get more out of suite’s tools by installing the Nero MediaHome WiFi Sync app. This is a very simple app: There’s just a big on-off slider and a sync button at the bottom. But I saw nothing in MediaHome when I enabled syncing on the app. (I tried with a few different Wi-Fi networks and routers, and am working with Nero staff to see what the problem is. I’ll update this with what I find out.) Users of the free MediaHome version will need to purchase a wireless sync add-on, but the Platinum suite includes it. Nero’s promotional site also says you’re supposed to be able to stream video to an Android phone, but I didn’t see this feature in the software.  

Popping a disc into the DVD tray opened Nero Disc-to-Device (not an option from the start screen), which offers to send the content to a connected device. The program installation also adds a “send to device” right-click option in File Explorer for this. Since iPhones don’t allow direct file access, one option in Disc-to-Device is iTunes, from which you can transfer media to Apple’s devices.

I chose to send my test DVD, Rooster Teeth, to my connected Nokia 1020, and I could choose which chapters to send and preview the video in a small window. The 1 hour 41 minute video took just over 10 minutes to transfer. It played fine on the phone, but the aspect ratio was a little off; I expect that the program got the wrong Windows Phone model, since it displayed Nokia 909 as the phone name.


Nero Video
I hadn’t looked at Nero’s video editor for years, but it’s now simpler to use. When I first ran it from MediaHome, I had to activate a patent agreement, which took just a few seconds. The video I’d chosen in MediaHome then appeared in Video’s timeline, but getting at any of the other photos or videos required another import, even if I’d already imported to MediaHome.

If you start Nero Video by itself (without coming from MediaHome), you’ll get a bare-bones looking page divided into three sections of choices, Capture & Import, Edit, and Create and Export. The last offers Blu-ray, AVCHD (for getting HD content on standard DVD media), DVD, and Video CD option. The editing choices range from the simple and automatic to Advanced Movie. The automatic theme applied pan and zoom to still, intro and outro, and an appealing background soundtrack.

When you start an advanced movie, you can actually choose up to 4K format—something not even possible in Adobe Premiere Elements. You can import from your MediaBrowser video and photo content, and then add from a very healthy selection of transitions and effects. One beef I had with the movie editor was there was no search box for effects or transitions; with so many choices, this can be a help.

Basic things like lighting and color adjustments are at your service, but you also get loads of artsy effects like crystallized and retro looks. Text and clip art are other options. A trimmer lets you set in and out points, even displaying frame numbers. There’s a green-screen effect (aka Chrome Key), but this doesn’t work as well as the one in Premiere Elements; Nero’s made it hard to mask out my green background. There’s even stabilization that does a decent job of smoothing shaky video.

I ran my standard video editor speed test, outputting four different-format video clips with transitions to MPEG4 at 30FPS and the highest bitrate available. Nero showed me the movie as it rendered, along with ETA. Nero uses Nvidia CUDA hardware acceleration and it shows—the test completed in 2:47, which puts it among the better of video editors I’ve tested:

Time   to Render 4:27 Mixed Clip and Transitions to MPEG-4 720p30 (min:sec—lower is better)
CyberLink   PowerDirector 12 1:28
Nero Video 2014 2:47
Adobe   Premiere Elements 11 4:46
Adobe   Premiere Elements 12 5:08
Corel   VideoStudio Pro X6 5:16
Magix   Movie Edit Pro 5:19
Sony Movie Studio Platinum 6:41
Pinnacle Studio 16 11:30

Nero Blu-ray
Windows 8 includes built-in Blu-ray burning, but it still can’t play Hollywood Blu-ray discs because of the DRM included in those. When I first popped in a BD of “The Big Year,” starring Steve Martin, I again had to send a Patent activation, as a one-time deal. An on-screen “remote control” lets you do all the things you’d do with a real one: skip forward and back and navigate the menus. Playback was excellent on my Samsung SyncMaster 2233rz 3D monitor. The software, by the way, can handle 3D content as well.

Nero RescueAgent and BackItUp
This utility hasn’t changed much in a few years, but it can come in handy, especially for external memory sources like camera memory cards and USB sticks. Of course it also works on your main hard drive, but you’ll likely get too massive an amount of deleted file results for it to be very useful. To test, I deleted a large folder of files from a USB stick. The program has you select the drive you want and then runs through a scan (with fast or thorough option). Once that’s done, you check boxes of deleted folders and files, and specify a destination folder. Clicking the Next button had my recovered files and folders back in the pink, with their original folder structure maintained.

The online backup service from Nero, BackItUp, also gets a tile on the suite’s start screen, but it’s really a separate service. It offers multi-target backups to local disks as well as cloud backup. Anyone can get a free online backup account with 5GB storage, but for automated backup or more storage you need a plan, which run from $19.99 a year to $49.99 a year for unlimited storage.

Nero Burning ROM and Nero Express
This is the original Nero product, and like RescueAgent, it hasn’t changed much in several years. Oodles of advanced settings like multisession discs, disc spanning, and mixed mode discs are available for tinkerers. You can read my full review of Nero Burning ROM for a detailed analysis. Nero Express is the “for dummies” product, making disc burning jobs a simple matter of choosing the type of content and disc you want to make, including everything from Data CDs to Blu-ray secure discs. It can even create labeled discs with LightScribe, should anyone still use that technology.

Wrapping it All Up
You can do pretty much everything in the Nero 2014 suite with separate applications—iTunes for music ripping and playing, ImgBurn for disc burning, Picasa for simple photo editing, Windows Movie Maker for simple video editing. But for those who like the idea of a single hub for all their media needs—photos, videos, music—Nero does a good job, letting you view, play, and even edit your media. The suite mostly did a nice job in a clear and pleasant interface, but there were some quirks along the way, leading to award Nero 2014 only a midrange rating of 3 stars.


Verdict
Nero's suite has been updated for modern mobile uses, but still includes good old burning and more.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc