Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Text to Speech Software

After you've picked out a text that you'd like to listen to, it's time to convert that document to MP3.

Now, if you've picked out a particularly long document, such as the aforementioned Ulysses by James Joyce, you will most likely need to break the text up into separate documents to be made into separate audio files for manageable listening. You could either follow the natural structure of the book, separating the document into individual chapter text files, or do something more arbitrary, like breaking the document into separate files every 3050 pages.

Once you have your documents ready to go, you need a tool to convert them to MP3 format. A quick search of VersionTracker (http://www.versiontracker.com) will turn up a variety of shareware and commercial titles for Windows that will convert text files to audio files. If you conduct the same search on the Mac OS X end of things, you'll find several freeware titles in the mix. This is because Mac OS X has integrated text-to-speech support built into the OS. Here's how you can convert text to speech under Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. Your end result will be an audio file that you can convert as described in the next section.

If you are on Windows, use a third-party text-to-audio program such as VoiceMX Studio (http://www.tanseon.com/products/voicemx.htm), load the text, and generate your output file (in the case of VoiceMX Studio, you'll get a .wav file). Next, convert the file to MP3 as described later in this hack, then take the resulting file and drop it in /PSP/MUSIC/ on your Memory Stick to listen.

Get the Text

Why buy audiobooks for your PSP when you can make your own?

You like books, but you don't particularly like the idea of reading your books on your PSP's screen. (If you do want to read books on your PSP, make sure you check out "Use Your PSP as an E-Book Reader" and "Create Your Own PSP E-Books".) You've been considering buying some audiobooks and listening to them on your PSP, but you'd rather spend those hard-earned dollars on games for your PSP. Why not simply make your own audiobooks for the PSP?

Don't worry. I'm not suggesting you sit down and read James Joyce's Ulysses out loud while recording it to MP3. Instead, just grab the text of Ulysses from Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/) for free and have your computer read the text to audio files.

You can get the text from any plain text file you have lying around, so don't be afraid to take that business report your boss wants you to review, convert it into plain text, and change it over to audio. Since the PSP is a recreational device, however, I am going to assume that you are looking for some actual reading entertainment.

If that's the case, a wide variety of options are readily available to you via the Internet. Both Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org) and the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/) freely offer a variety of literary titles that have fallen out of copyright and entered into the public domain. The text section of the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/details/texts) contains texts that have entered into the public domain and others that have been released under Creative Commons licenses or are free from any sort of copyright. The Creative Commons web site itself features a text section (http://creativecommons.org/text/) that regularly highlights texts that have been released under Creative Commons licenses.

In addition to these resources, you can easily copy and paste the text of any web document into a .txt file, or even use an online RSS feed reading tool like Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com) to display your daily dose of news items on one web page where you can select all, copy, and paste into a .txt file.

Additional Music Tips

If you are on a Mac running OS X 10.4, make sure you check out "Automate Mac OS X File Transfers" for instructions on writing an AppleScript to automate moving your tunes to your PSP. If you're savvy in other scripting languages, you may want to look over that hack, as well, for some ideas for your own automated script.

If you're running Version 2.0 of the firmware and you want to take full advantage of your networked music collection, you'll want to create a Music page that contains an index and links to all the files within your PSPMUSIC folder. This will allow for easy picking and choosing of songs you want to grab off of your network for on-the-go listening on your PSP. Why not build the same support system for a few videos, too?

Also, if you are homebrew savvy, make sure you check out some of the homebrew MP3 players available for the PSP.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Using PSP as MP3 Player

Once you have your music on your PSP, it's time to listen. Here's a quick overview of the PSP's controls and functionality as an MP3 player.

To keep your music organized into albums, all you need to do is keep a group of audio files in a single folder by the name of the album placed within /PSP/MUSIC/ on your Memory Stick. The preview image associated with the Album folder will be taken from the image associated with the first file in the list of tracks contained within the folder.

Unfortunately, the PSP can only see folders one level deep here, so you cannot do things like create a folder called The Beatles, which you then fill with separate folders for each of The Beatles' albums. So, if you want to categorize by artist, make sure you keep all the song files within that main artist folder, rather than embedding folders within folders.

Navigate to Music Memory Stick and hit the X button to see a list of all the songs and albums located inside your /PSP/MUSIC/ folder. The folders will be listed alphabetically, followed by an alphabetical listing of any lone files in this root Music folder. Select the album you want to listen to and hit the X button.

A list of songs will appear, as you scroll through the different songs, you will notice that certain bits of metadata associated with the song files will be displayed, including the name of the song, the artist, and any album artwork associated with the song file. As with all the other files on your PSP, if you select one of the tracks and hit the Triangle button, a menu will appear on the right side of the screen with options for Play, Delete, or Information. If you select Information and hit the X button, the full list of all metadata associated with the track will be displayed, including the title, artist, album, genre, size, date and time it was updated, Length, Sampling Frequency, and Codec at which the track was compressed.

Otherwise, simply hit the X button to play the song.

Once the song is playing, you have a variety of options. If you hit the Triangle button while the song is playing, the control panel will open, displaying all the available controls.

If you are running a previous version of the firmware, some of the controls discussed in this section will not be available to you, although many of them will be identical.

The controls available in the control panel of Version 2.0 of the firmware are Previous Group, Next Group, Previous Track, Next Track, Fast Reverse, Fast Forward, Play, Pause, Stop, Group Mode, A-B Repeat, Play Mode, Clear, Display, and Help. Selecting the Display option adds an overlay along the top of the screen with the name of the track in the upper-left corner and the number of the track next to how many tracks are in this group in the upper-right corner of the screen. Selecting the Help option (the question mark) will display the basic Music Help screen . This screen shows you all the basic controls on the PSP for navigating through your songs. The L trigger goes to the previous track or the beginning of the current track, the R trigger goes to the next track, the O button stops play, the X button plays, the Start button either plays or pauses the track, and the left and right buttons on the directional keypad rewind or fast forward the track.

The Group controls all have to do with different albums or folders you have placed inside /PSP/MUSIC/. A-B Mode lets you select first an A point in a track and then a B point in the track, which will continue looping until you choose Clear. The Play Mode control lets you choose either Repeat One, Repeat All, Shuffle, or Repeat Shuffle, and if you toggle the Group mode selection, all of these settings (with the exception of Repeat One) will use all the files in your MUSIC folder rather than just the songs in the current album folder. The other options available in the control panel are mostly self-explanatory.

Firmware Version 2.0 and Music Playing

If you are running a PSP with Version 2.0 of the firmware, then you can download music from the Internet directly to your PSP's Memory Stick. This is particularly useful for grabbing new music and podcasts from various web sites while you're on the go and connected to a wireless network.

To do this, simply launch the web browser by navigating to Network Browser on your PSP, and hit the X button. After your browser launches, navigate to a page that contains links to audio files in a PSP-compatible format. Unfortunately, the PSP cannot handle compressed files, BitTorrent, or WMA (Microsoft with DRM format)unless you are running Version 2.6 firmware or laterso the files will need to be in uncompressed and unprotected MP3 or AAC format. When you click on the link to the corresponding audio file, an overlay screen will pop up asking whether you want to download the linked file. Hit the X button, as shown in.

If, for some reason, the PSP doesn't recognize the file type and tries to open the file as a website, cancel the loading of the page (hit the Triangle button and then select Cancel) and then go back to the original page (by hitting the L trigger). This time, place your cursor over the linked file, but instead of hitting the X button, hit the Triangle button and navigate to File, then hit the X button. A menu will pop up. Select Save Link Target from this menu and hit the X button.

Another overlay will appear asking for confirmation of the location where you'd like to save the file and the name you would like to give the file. If the location did not default to /PSP/MUSIC/, select that field, and hit the X button to select this folder (or a subfolder inside the MUSIC folder). Feel free to change the name of the file to something you will recognize. Just remember to keep the proper extension at the end of the file. If the file you are downloading is an AAC file, go ahead and change the extension on the file to .MP4 so that your PSP will recognize it.
After downloading the files, hit the Home button on your PSP to exit out of the browser. If you hit the button by mistake, you can either hit it again or hit the X button to return to the browser. Navigate to Music, select Memory Stick, and hit the X button. You should see your freshly downloaded audio files in the list of available tracks.

This method of grabbing songs can be particularly useful for serving up songs from your networked music collection on your home network. All you need to do is set up a networked folder containing any music files you would like to have ready for your PSP, then direct your PSP's web browser to this folder. For example, if your computer has an IP address of on your local network, and you have a folder called PSPMUSIC that you have set up to be available to other computers on your network, you can launch the PSP's web browser and navigate to to download that song file. Consider building a music index page that links to all these files.

If you've installed Version 2.6 of the firmware, you now have an option called RSS Channel under Network. Now any RSS 2.0 feed containing embedded MP3s can be subscribed to through the PSP's browser, and all the songs on that feed can be streamed to your PSP over a live Internet connection through the RSS browser interface.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Automatic Music Synchronization

Both PSPWare (http://www.nullriver.com/index/products/pspware; $15 USD) and iPSP (http://ipsp.kaisakura.com/; $19.99 USD)two of the more popular media managers for the PSPoffer automatic syncing of music to the PSP, using a playlist of your choosing from your iTunes Music Library. This is great if you use iTunes, but if you prefer to use different music managing software on your computer, these two solutions may not be ideal.

Again, keep in mind: these tools will only be able to manage iTunes playlists containing MP3s or AAC files that are DRM-free and have had their file extensions changed to .MP4.

The Basics

While you can cram a few MP3s on the 32MB Memory Stick Duo card that came with the PSP, you are going to need to invest in a larger Memory Stick to really get the most out of the PSP as an MP3 player. I recommend keeping an eye on Memory Stick pricing at DealNews (http://www.dealnews.com) or their sister site DealRam (http://www.dealram.com), since they regularly have links to 1GB sticks for less than $100 USD.

Once you have the extra space, you need to know where to put your tunes. If you mount your PSP on your computer (attach the PSP via a USB cable, navigate to Settings USB Mode, then hit the X button) you can simply copy the songs from wherever they reside on your computer to the MUSIC folder inside the PSP folder at the root level of the Memory Stick.

If you have a PSP with Version 1.01.52 of the firmware, then your PSP will recognize any MP3s placed within this folder. If you have a PSP with Version 2.0 of the firmware, your PSP will recognize any MP3s, songs in Sony's ATRAC3plus file format (although these files need to be in /OMGAUDIO/), and even files you have encoded with Apple's AAC format (although DRM-protected tracks purchased from the iTunes Music Store will not play on your PSP, and you will need to change the file extension of the AAC files you have encoded to .MP4 for the PSP to recognize these files).

Are you looking for a quick way to convert your iTMS-purchased songs to DRM-free AAC tracks? Simply burn the tracks to audio CD and then rip them back to your computer, making sure that you have AAC selected under the encoding section of the Advanced menu in iTunes.

If you want, you can use this method to manually manage the songs on your PSP: mount your PSP, copy the songs over to the MUSIC folder inside the PSP folder, dismount your PSP and navigate to Music Memory Stick, hit the X button, then select the song you want to hear and again hit the X button. There are, fortunately, easier ways to do this, described next.

Enhance your Movie Experience

You can encode any video you've filmed yourself or downloaded off the Internet, but one of the things that really adds value to your portable PSP viewing is the ability to time-shift your favorite TV shows onto it for portable viewing.

If you have a newer model TiVo with TiVo-to-go or any ReplayTV with an Ethernet port, you can easily transfer video from your digital video recorder to your computer over a local network connection.

With a lot of time and a modicum of effort, you can copy the contents of your DVDs to your computer and recompress your favorite videos into MPEG4 for watching on your PSP.

Of course, for each DVD you want to convert to MPEG4, you can expect to spend a good 512 hours of intensive processing time on your computer (depending upon your processor's speed). If you have the patience and the time to spare, then go for it. If not, consider going out to your local media outlet and buying the movie on UMD to help support the growth of the PSP platform.

Most DVDs use DeCSS encryption as a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to prevent widespread piracy. The problem with this solution is that besides not really being an effective means of preventing piracy, the DRM also gets in the way of law-abiding consumers like you and me, who only wish to exercise our fair use rights with a product we've purchased and own. This is a particularly nasty catch-22, and I recommend that you get involved with trying to undo this bad law. See the web site for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://www.eff.org/) for more information about DRM, and current and proposed laws that essentially (or potentially) infringe on your rights. Examples of potential threats include the "broadcast flag," which involves use of encoded signals in the content that trigger anti-copying features inside your very own home devices. Although an FCC rule requiring manufacturers to implement broadcast flag technology was overturned in court, its supporters are committed to resurrecting it.
See Wikipedia for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadcast_flag.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Using ffmpeg

The magic key to all the video compression at work in iPSP, PSPWare, and PSP Video 9 is actually a little bit of open source goodness that is developed under Linux, but which can be downloaded and compiled for either Windows or Macintosh: ffmpeg (http://ffmpeg.sourceforge.net/index.php). There are a variety of options you can set for encoding files with ffmpeg, but the basic procedure for converting your videos to PSP-compatible MPEG4 files via ffmpeg is:

ffmpegi example.movb 300s 320x240vcodec xvid \
ab 32ar 24000acodec aac example.MP4

The file following is the source file, so replace example.mov with the location and name of the file you are converting. b 300 sets the bit rate to 300kbps. You can make this number higher if you want higher-quality video, but keep in mind that the higher quality the encoding, the larger the file size, and if you go over 768kbps, the file won't play on your PSP. s 320x240 sets the pixel size for the video, and vcodec xvid forces the codec to be used to xvid.

The next set of instructions contains the audio settings for the encoded file.ab 32 sets the audio bit rate to 32kbps, andar 24000 sets the frequency to 24000 Hz, whileacodec aac sets the codec to be used to aac. Finally, you need to specify the path to the new file (example.MP4).

If you're on Mac OS X and you don't like the idea of compiling ffmpeg, you can always use ffmpegX (http://homepage.mac.com/major4/; Shareware $15 USD), which provides a GUI front end for ffmpeg and automates all these settings for you. Its most recent version, shown in Figure 3-7, even includes a PSP MPEG4 preset to make things easier.

Using PSP Video 9

PSP Video 9 (http://www.pspvideo9.com/) is a free, Windows only program for converting videos into MPEG4 files properly formatted for the PSP. PSP Video 9 can also be used to automatically transfer converted videos from your PC to your PSP, and can be used in conjunction with Videora (http://www.videora.com/) to automatically download, convert, and transfer videoblogs (such as Rocketboom) to your PSP.

Using iPSP and PSPWare

Both PSPWare (http://www.nullriver.com/index/products/pspware; $15 USD) and iPSP (http://ipsp.kaisakura.com/; $19.99 USD) are available for both Mac OS X and Windows, and both programs do a very good job of automating the process of converting your movie files into a properly formatted MPEG4 format for your PSP and automatically transferring these files to your PSP. Both of these products offer a variety of options for encoding your video, so you can choose to either have a higher-quality video taking up a large footprint on your Memory Stick or to squeeze numerous lower-quality videos onto your Memory Stick.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The PSP Connect

The first place that you'll want to look for free video content is Sony's PSP Connect page (http://psp.connect.com/). This site features a video tutorial that autoloads when you visit; this video covers the basics of getting video onto your PSP. Since you already know these basics, just click the Stop Video link underneath the virtual PSP and scroll down to the next section on the web page. If you like the tutorial video and want to share it with friends, there is a PDF version of the tutorial available (http://psp.connect.com/tutorial/tutorial.pdf).

Here you will find an assortment of videos that have been prepared for the PSP by Sony. To the right of each video, there is a small graphic indicating the space that the video will take up on your Memory Stick, as well as what size Memory Stick is needed for each video. If you just opened up your brand new PlayStation Portable or simply haven't yet had the chance to grab a larger Memory Stick, you'll be pleased to find that a few of the provided sample videos are geared to fit on the included measly 32MB card. Download a few, drop them on your Memory Stick, and watch away. Here are some other sources of video for your PSP:

Atom Films
For a little more than a month's time after the North American release of the PSP, Atom Films (http://www.atomfilms.com) offered three of their short films preformatted for the PSP. Unfortunately, this trend was short-lived, and neither the films nor new ones like them are available from the site. Nevertheless, they could change their minds, so keep checking back. Even if they don't offer any content specifically geared for the PSP, there are several videos available in downloadable formats on their site, so it is a good place to check for files that you may want to download and convert into PSP-compatible MPEG4 files.

Creative Commons Video
The Creative Commons Video page (http://creativecommons.org/video/) is a good place where you can both share your videos freely with the world and find videos online that others have decided to share.

Internet Archive: Moving Image Archive
If you're not familiar with the Internet Archive, you should take a careful look at the entire site, but, for our purposes, make sure that you look at the Moving Image Archive (http://www.archive.org/details/movies). Here you will find a wide array of video content that is either in the public domain or released under a Creative Commons, License (http://creativecommons.org/) and that you may freely download. There's even a section of freely available feature films (http://www.archive.org/details/feature_films). Nearly all of the videos offered through the Internet Archive come encoded in both 64Kb and 256Kb MPEG4 variants. Unfortunately, although these files are MPEG4, they were encoded with 3ivx (http://www.3ivx.com/) at a setting that isn't readable by the PSP, so you'll still have to convert the files you find on this site.

PSP Hacking 101
PSP Hacking 101 (http://www.psphacking101.com/) is indicative of the kind of cool free content that the PSP is inspiring across the Internet. This site features a downloadable, preformatted-for-the-PSP videocast (think podcast and add video) that covers the basics of what's going on in the PSP homebrew scene. As of this writing, they've released four videocasts, so make sure you check them out.

Rocketboom (http://www.rocketboom.com/vlog/) with Amanda Congdon is one of the most widely known videoblogs (a weblog that consists of videocasts) on the Internet. There's a short, three-minute show released daily during the week, featuring a mix of parodies, interviews, and oddly mixed video fun, alongside snarky op-ed glances at current events. Even cooler, they now offer PSP-formatted ports of each show (http://www.rocketboom.com/port/). You can get the regular video of their shows delivered automatically via your RSS feed reader or via iTunes as a video podcast, but unfortunately, the ease of automatic download is only available for the QuickTime Movie file version of their show; if you choose to download the show this way, you're still going to need to convert it to MPEG4.

BitTorrent (http://www.bittorrent.com/) has clients for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. If you're not familiar with BitTorrent, it's a peer-to-peer file-sharing technology that distributes the load of downloading large files between all the people currently downloading the file. You can find a plethora of video content online via BitTorrent through various tracker sites. Few of these files will be preformatted for the PSP, but conversion, as you will see in the next section, is easy enough.

iPSP Movie Loader
iPSP Movie Loader (http://ipsp.kaisakura.com/ipspmovie.php) is a cool little free program that promises to allow you to download PSP compatible movie files directly to your PSP. Unfortunately, not many content providers have jumped onboard with this program. As of the writing of this tips, the only content provider linked to on the iPSP Movie Loader site is 29HD Networks (http://www.29hdnetwork.com/psp_guide.html).

Get Videos Online for Your PSP

Fortunately, a wide variety of videos are already available online, and some of them are even preformatted for the PSP. This is just a short list of places you should consider looking for free content for your PSP. Don't be afraid to jump on your favorite search engine and find some others. Some popular search engines have specialized video searches, such as http://video.search.yahoo.com/ and http://video.google.com/.

If you are running Version 2.0 of the firmware, then you can use the PSP's browser to navigate to video files, and if they are hosted online without any compression (.ZIP, for example), you can download the video directly to your /MP_ROOT/100MNV01/ or /MP_ROOT/101MNV01/ folder. To do this, select the link to the file, then hit the Triangle button, navigate to the File menu, hit the X button, select Save Link Target, and hit the X button again. Make sure you save the file in the correct video folder. After it finishes downloading, you can immediately navigate to the video and watch it on your PSP.

The Basics of Video Playing in PSP

In order to view video using your PSP's Memory Stick Duo card, you will need to set a few things up first. Either connect your PSP to your computer or mount your Memory Stick Duo card on your computer. Once the Memory Stick shows up on your computer, you will need to create a new folder in the root directory of the Memory Stick, called MP_ROOT. Inside the MP_ROOT folder, you will then need to create another folder and name it either 101MNV01 or 100MNV01. The manual that came with your PSP tells you to name the folder 100MNV01, but if you use iPSP or PSPware to automatically manage your videos, they will create a folder named 101MNV01. Both folders seem to work for watching video. Whichever name you go with, this folder is where all of your MPEG4 videos must go.

The PSP cannot play MPEG4 video encoded at anything higher than 768kbps, so certain high-quality MPEG4 files will need to be converted to a lower bit rate, and the PSP will not recognize the file unless it has a name in the format of M4V10001.MP4. The file needs to start with M4V followed by five numbers, and then it must end in .MP4.

For MPEG4 files that have been specially formatted for the PSP, there will usually be another file alongside it. If your movie file's name is M4V10001.MP4, this file will be named M4V10001.THM. The THM file is a simple 160 x 120 thumbnail saved in JPEG format at 72dpi that is associated with the video file. As long as the name of the THM file is the same as the MP4 file, this picture will be displayed alongside the video file in the PSP's Video interface.

Once you have the proper directories set up on your PSP's Memory Stick, drop some videos into either /MP_ROOT/100MNV01/ or /MP_ROOT/ 101MNV01/, disconnect from your computer, and navigate to Video on your PSP, select Memory Stick, hit the X button, select the video you want to watch, and hit the X button again. Sit back and enjoy. If you don't have any video yet, then read on to find some free content online and to learn how to convert your own videos to PSP-friendly MPEG4s.

Version 2.0 of the firmware added support for another video file format: AVC. These files follow a similar naming convention to the regular .MP4 files, as they are named MAQxxxxx.MP4, where xxxxx is five numbers. AVC edges out MP4 in the image quality department.

Get a Bigger Memory Stick for Movie Playing

Unfortunately, Sony only includes a 32MB Memory Stick Duo card with the PSP. This is fine for saving games, keeping a few pictures, and even storing a few MP3s. If you try to put your own video content on your PSP, however, you'll quickly find that 32MB is simply not enough.

I recommend that you get the largest Memory Stick that you can afford and that you settle for nothing smaller than 256MB. You can get Memory Stick Duo cards in sizes as large as 2GB, but those are still a bit pricey. Fortunately, since the introduction of the 2GB Memory Stick Duo cards, the 1GB cards have fallen drastically in price. You can easily find one available online in the $125-150 USD range, but if you are patient and watch sites like DealNews (http://www.dealnews.com), you can probably snag one for under $100 USD. If you sign up for a free account with DealNews, you can create an alert for Memory Stick Duo cards, and they will email you whenever any new deals are listed.

Once you have a larger Memory Stick with some room to spare, it's time to find out how and where to put your videos on the stick.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cutting Down on the Glare

The PlayStation Portable comes with a gorgeous screen, capable of displaying wonderful graphics while playing video games or DVD-quality video while watching a UMD movie. Unfortunately, this beautiful, shiny screen can also be the PSP's Achilles' heel in certain lighting situations, as it is highly reflective.

One good thing about the highly reflective nature of the PSP's screen is that it can be used as a makeshift mirror whenever the console is switched off.

Here's a short list of things you can do to help keep the reflective glare from being too much of a distraction while watching your UMD movies:

  • Hold the PSP at a slight angle, directed at something uniformly colored, such as the ceiling. If you are staring straight into your PSP's screen, you're going to see a reflection of your ugly mug every time a light hits your face or the movie features a particularly dark scene.
  • Keep the back of the PSP to the light. The less light hitting the PSP's screen, the less of a reflection that you'll see. However, keep the previous suggestion in mind: if you are facing the blaring sun and looking straight on at the PSP, that light is going to ricochet off of your face and onto its screen.
  • Try to watch movies in uniformly lit situations. If everything is lit equally in a room, there will be less distracting reflections on the PSP screen, should they occur. A bright lamp reflecting in a dark room can seriously impede your movie-watching fun.
  • Try to watch in the dark. There's a reason that movie theaters turn out all the lights before a movie.
  • Use the PSP's brightness control. There's a button with a slightly square icon immediately to the right of the PSP icon sitting under your gorgeous PSP screen. Hitting it a few times cycles through the different brightness settings for the screen. Switch as the occasion warrants.

This short list of five tips will get you started. For more advanced ways of avoiding the glare, you'll want to keep your PSP clean.

How to use control panel for watching the movie?

While you are watching a movie, hit the Triangle button to display the control panel. This control panel gives you immediate control over the movie you are watching without jumping back to the UMD's Menu. The control panel also allows you to change certain settings, such as UMD Video Volume that normally would only be accessible via the PSP's main control panel under Settings. Perhaps the best thing about the control panel is that it gives you access to extra features of your UMD movie that the movie's main menu doesn't provide.

I'm not going to go into every single feature of this control panel, as that would become tedious and is already covered in the manual to the PSP. However, I am going to cover a few bits of control panel goodness that I think can help you optimize your UMD movie-watching experience.

Use subtitles.
If you are on a PSP running Version 1.01.52 of the firmware, the fourth icon in the top row of the control panel controls your subtitles; if you are on a PSP running Version 2.0 of the firmware, the fifth icon in the top row of the control panel controls your subtitles. Highlighting it and hitting X will switch the subtitles. Continuing to hit X will cycle you through all the available subtitles, as well as the Off setting.

What I've discovered in a few of the UMD movie titles that I own is that there are sometimes more subtitles available via this control panel pane than are offered through the main menu to the movie.

For example, the House of Flying Daggers UMD disk features two English subtitle tracks, although only one is readily available from the Menu screen (the Menu screen also fails to provide access to the French subtitle track, which is also available via this control panel). The first English subtitle track is a basic track that provides you with a translation of the entire movie. The second English track, however, only provides subtitles for the songs in the movie, which remain untranslated when listening to the English audio track of the movie.

Since your PSP provides portable movie watching, you are often going to find yourself watching a movie in areas with different levels of noise.

I often keep the English subtitle track of any movie I am watching going, just in case the dialogue gets drowned out by the sound of the subway as a new train arrives or for watching in situations where I don't want to wear my headphones but can't hear everything clearly.

Knowing how to quickly access the subtitles is useful if you can't quite make out a bit of whispered dialogue. Simply rewind the movie a little bit by hitting the left arrow on the keypad, pause the movie by hitting the Start button, then pull up the control panel by hitting Triangle, navigate over to subtitles, hit X until you hit the track you need, and hit Start to resume play of the movie. Now you can quickly read the snippet of dialogue you missed, and then switch the subtitles back off and get rid of the control panel to continue viewing.

Frame Advance
In addition to the same controls that are available via the PSP's default controls, the control panel features a few more controls, including Frame Advance. This is the sixth icon in the second row and it simply does what it says, advancing frame by frame through the movie each time you hit X while it is highlighted.

A-B Repeat, Repeat, and Clear
The third row of icons in the control panel features the A-B Repeat (Version 2.0 firmware only), Repeat, and Clear controls. With A-B Repeat, you can mark the movie at point A and then again at point B, and the section between these two points will continually repeat until you either hit A-B Repeat again or hit Clear. With Repeat, you can select to repeat the entire movie or the current chapter. Clear simply clears whatever repeat setting you have selected and sets it back to normal play.

The next to the last icon on the top row, immediately next to the Help panel, is the Display control panel. Highlighting this control panel and hitting X will bring up the name of the movie you are currently watching in the top-left corner of the screen and a thin blue and white strip at the bottom-right corner of the screen that indicates your progression through the movie and the time remaining (see Figure 3-5).

Most notably, the Display option is useful if you want to keep track of your progress through a movie and how much of a movie remains. Once you activate it, you can leave it running after closing out the control panel. This is very nonintrusive in movies that are letterboxed and leave black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, but if you are watching a movie that takes full advantage of the PSP's screen, you may find the Display distracting or even annoying.

Nevertheless, since the PSP doesn't always remember where you last were in a movie (it usually does, but sometimes it doesn't), I recommend activating this feature whenever you know you are going to stop watching a movie for a while, or if you intend to switch out the UMD disk for a while. If you can remember that the blue progress bar was up to about the middle of the S in the PSP logo, it'll be easier to find where you left off when you come back to it later. Consider jotting this information down on a piece of paper you keep with your PSP.

This information is even more useful with Version 2.0 of the firmware, which includes chapter and timestamp displays for the UMD that are much easier to mark down.

Firmware 2.0 also adds the Go To command (the second item on the top row of the control panel), whereby you can select the exact chapter or timestamp location where you want to go.

How to Navigate the Movie in PSP?

The title screen for the UMD contains many of the usual options that you are most likely familiar with from watching DVDs. Through this interface, you can set up the audio options and subtitles, view any included bonus materials (like trailers, cut scenes, and sometimes even little behind-the-scenes documentaries), make scene or chapter selections to start watching a movie from a specific scene, or simply play the movie.

By default, the title screen is usually where you are taken on a UMD movie the first time it is inserted into your PSP. If, while watching the film, you would like to return to the title screen, hit the Square button on the PSP.

If you hit the Square button by accident while watching a film, select Play Movie and hit X to return to the same spot you were before mistakenly hitting the Square button.

Sony did a good job of designing a portable interface that lets you quickly get out of a game or movie, but which is also very forgiving should you accidentally hit the wrong button.

One of the cool things about the PSP is that nearly all of these options are available from anywhere within the movie without returning to the title screen. If you hit the Triangle button while a movie is playing, a control panel in the form of an overlay graphic with a variety of options will pop up onscreen. In this figure, I used the keypad to highlight the ? (or Help) option and am about to hit X to bring up the Help menu.

The movie will continue playing in the background (unless you paused it before pulling up this menu). Use the keypad to navigate through the different menu options available. I'll go over some of these in a moment, but first I want to take a look at the Help menu. Highlight the ? icon and hit the X button. The movie will pause, and a quick guide to the PSP's basic movie navigation functions will be displayed.

The Video Help screen displays all the basic navigational features for viewing a UMD movie on the PSP. Take some time to familiarize yourself with these basics. To return to the movie, hit O.

The only information about these basic controls that isn't covered by this screen involves the Fastforward and Fast Reverse controls. If you pause the movie by hitting the Start button and then hit the Forward button on the keypad once, the movie will play in slow motion frame by frame. If you hit Forward/Reverse on the keypad during regular play, the movie will begin fastforwarding/rewinding with a 1 next to the arrows. If you tap the button again, the speed will increase and a 2 will be displayed. A third tap will display a 3 and the movie will fastforward/rewind at its quickest viewable speed.

To jump forward or back to another section of the movie, simply use the L and R triggers on the PSP.

Let me repeat that: the L and R triggers take you back a chapter and forward a chapter in the movie, respectively.

This is quite possibly the most annoying part of watching a UMD movie on the PSP, because you will accidentally hit these buttons and skip ahead or back in the movie from time to time.

Since you know this, consider holding the PSP differently while watching a movie than you normally would hold it while playing games. Also, be hyper-aware of these buttons whenever you are moving around. I've become pretty good at avoiding them, but every once in a while, I'll be shifting in my chair or in bed and click! I'm suddenly out of the dramatic love scene and into an intense battle sequence.

How to Set up and Start Movie in PSP?

When you first insert a UMD Movie into the PSP, you simply have to navigate to Video UMD in the PSP's main interface. Keep the UMD icon selected for a moment, and the background of the PSP will change into a graphic for the movie, and a small preview window featuring a repeated video clip from the movie, most likely with some accompanying music, will replace the generic UMD icon.

Hitting the Start button or the X button on the PSP will take you to the menu screen for the movie, or it will immediately begin playing the movie. If after listening to some MP3s on your PSP or playing a game, you go back to a UMD movie, it will usually return you to the place where you left off.

This isn't always the case. For the most part, the PSP is effective at keeping track of where you were in a UMD movie the next time you go to watch it, but not always.

Because of this, it is a good idea to make a note of where you are in a movie before switching away to another activity on the PSP.

If you've been watching a movie, but you've not really been able to give it the attention it deserves, there's a quick trick here to start over from the beginning. Hitting the Triangle button on the PSP will bring up a small informational menu on the right-hand side of the screen with "Play," "Play from Beginning," and "Information" as options. Choose "Play" if you want to try to skip past the UMD disks menu and immediately begin playing the movie from the last point you left off (assuming you haven't removed the UMD disk), choose "Play from Beginning" to start over from the beginning of the film, and choose "Information" to see any metadata connected to the movie, including the parental settings.

Monday, January 7, 2008

How to downgrade PSP firmware?

If you have purchased a PSP running Version 2.0 of the firmware, complete with browser, you can downgrade to Version 1.5 with a few easy, albeit somewhat risky, steps. When you are done, the entire world of homebrew will be open to you.

Fortunately, some industrious hackers discovered a buffer overflow error that occurs when loading an appropriately created image file through the PSP's Photo menu. Then, someone realized that the buffer overflow allowed for a modicum of code to be run. Finally, the pieces fell in place when someone thought to overwrite the PSP's System Information during this error, so that a PSP running Version 2.0 of the firmware would be fooled into thinking that it was running Version 1.0. A simple substitution of a 1 for a 2, and suddenly you are able to run the 1.5 Software Update to replace the Version 2.0 firmware, effectively downgrading your system to a more hacker- and homebrew-friendly version of the firmware.

Keep in mind that working with firmware is always risky. Having the power supply cut in the middle of a regular Sony authorized firmware upgrade could very quickly turn your $250 PSP into a $250 doorstop. Such an error in a normal firmware upgrade, though, would be covered under Sony's warranty. Anything that goes wrong with this hacked downgrade won't be covered, so make sure you follow these steps carefully, and consider yourself warned. Proceed at your own risk. Also, be careful where you grab your copy of the downgrader and the 1.5 updater used in this tips; there have been reports of malicious packages posing as these two items that can actually destroy your PSP.

Everything in the Right Place
Download the MPHDowngrader from either http://www.chez.com/mph/, http://www.psp-hacks.com/downloads/MPHDowngrader.zip, or http://www.alden0186.freeserve.co.uk/MPHDowngrader.zip.
You will also need a copy of the original 1.5 firmware update. I found my copy via Shockzone (http://shockzone.free.fr/PSP/Tool/EBOOT_1.50.zip). Once you have downloaded the necessary files, unzip them. You will find a Read Me file included with the MPH downgrader that you can follow if you don't want to read through this entire tips; however, the Read Me is a little confusing. So unless you are fluent in "I'm a hacker too busy coding to write a Read Me" shorthand, I suggest you read on.

Connect your PSP to your computer via USB. On your Memory Stick, create a folder called UPDATE inside /PSP/GAME/ and place the EBOOT.PBP file from the 1.5 update inside this UPDATE folder.

MPHDowngrader pieces.
Drop the overflow.tif file that was included in the MPHDowngrader folder into your /PSP/PHOTO/ folder, as you would with any image that you wanted to view on your PSP.

Put both h.bin and index.dat in the root directory of your Memory Stick (in other words, just drop them straight into the Memory Stick without placing them inside any folders).

Trigger the Overflow
After you have all the files in the right places, disconnect your PSP from your computer and plug it into the AC adapter. Make sure that there is no UMD in your PSP and that you have wallpaper turned off before you begin.

On your PSP, navigate to Photo Memory Stick and hit the X button to start scrolling down through your photos until you reach the overflow.tif picture. You'll know you've hit it when everything freezes and you get a black screen with a bunch of white text output. This may happen before you even see the overflow.tif file name, but if not, simply select the image and hit the X button. The black screen with white text should appear. If your PSP freezes without going to this black text screen, hold the power button up for about 10 seconds until the PSP shuts down, then hit the power button again to start it back up. Repeat this step until you get that black screen.

If the black screen with white text doesn't appear to be showing up for you, try connecting your PSP to your computer again and check at the root level of your Memory Stick for a new file there called index.dat.bak. If that file is there, then the overflow worked, but you just didn't get the lovely black and white screen. Go ahead to the next step.

Don't panic. The frozen black screen with white text is what was supposed to happen. Hold the power button for about 10 seconds until the PSP powers off. Hit the power button again. Your PSP will start up, and if you navigate to your System Information (Settings System Settings, hit the X button, then scroll down to System Information and hit the X button again), you'll discover that your PSP thinks it is running Version 1.0 of the firmware. It isn't, and you cannot run homebrew (yet). The important thing is that the PSP thinks it is running 1.0, which means that it will allow you to run the 1.5 Firmware Update over your 2.0 firmware.

Run the 1.5 Updater
Navigate to Game Memory Stick, hit the X button, and navigate to the 1.5 Updater. Make sure that you have your PSP plugged in, or the upgrade won't work. Hit the X button and update as you normally would. At the end of the upgrade, the update will freeze at 99% completion, and you will receive an error saying that the upgrade failed and to contact Sony. Don't panic, and don't contact Sony. Ignore this warning and again force your PSP to power off and reboot.

After the PSP reboots, you will receive an error screen that is scary and confusing because it is in multiple languages. Don't panic. Find the language you can understand and read the corresponding line. It notes that your preferences are fragged and that you need only hit the O button to restore some default-ish settings. Hit the O button.

Some hackers have claimed that unplugging the AC adapter and pulling the battery when this warning appeared resulted in them having a PSP running 1.5 firmware capable of running homebrew, but retaining the 2.0 browser. However, you should never leave the PSP plugged in when you remove the battery (I fried one PSP this way), and a few people have reported that following those directions turned their PSPs swiftly into nonfunctional bricks.

Set up Your PSP
The PSP will start back up and you will go through the initial setup like the day you first bought your PSP. Do so, and then go to the system info pane again, where you will see that you are rocking Version 1.5 of the firmware (Settings System Settings, hit the X button, then scroll down to System Information and hit the X button again). Run homebrew at will .

If you really love your PSP's browser and don't really want to give it up, don't worry. Simply back up all the browser-related files from your Memory Stick before downgrading. I ran through this entire procedure, downloaded the 2.0 update and installed that again, and then went through the entire procedure again. It worked like a charm. It's a little time-consuming, but you can have the best of both worlds. Have fun! Just make sure that you don't install any firmware past 2.0, as I am sure Sony intends to plug this hole again as soon as possible. Even if they do, though, I'm confident that the PSP hackers out there will find a way around it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What to do with a dead PSP?

Here's a short, no-frills list:

  • Use your dead PSP as a stylish paperweight.

  • Or a stylish doorstop.

  • Gut the PSP, seal the case with a watertight adhesive like the silicone used in fish tanks, fill it with water, and add Sea Monkeys. Watch 'em grow!

  • Gut it and seal the case with a watertight adhesive. Cut the screen section out of the faceplate and leave the space where the screen was out and open. Drill small holes in the back of the PSP for drainage. Fill your deceased PSP with soil and the seeds of your favorite small flower or grass. Water and watch 'em grow! VoilĂ ! Your own stylish Manhattan apartmentsized garden!

  • Three words: PSP hockey puck.

  • Use the dead PSP to test the moral fiber of your friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Leave it lying around and watch to see whether anyone nicks it!

  • People repellant: sure, it may be broken, but nobody else has to know. Put those earphones in and walk around town ignoring people as you please, pretending that you are in your own little portable music world, impervious to their intrusive "Can I interest you in taking a brief survey?" types of questions. This is also a good way to listen in on unsuspecting suspects when you start up your own private detective agency.

  • Find a really small, portable color TV. Remove all of its insides. Gut the PSP. Squeeze the TV's innards into the gutted PSP's case. Cause a media storm with your announcement that you hacked the first TV tuner for the PSP!

Think of your dead PSP as a craft project waiting to happen. Be creative and have fun! The important thing is to make sure that you aren't focusing on your recent loss. Life goes on

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How to Use Your Dead PSP to Get a New PSP?

You're already in serious withdrawal from the games, the videos, the pictures, and the music you were used to enjoying via your little digital friend. You need to replace your PSP. Here are three ideas for ways to recuperate some of the money you invested in your dead PSP, either to help in the purchase of your next PSP or to simply pad the wallet:
  1. Repeat after me: eBay (http://www.ebay.com) is the seller's friend. If you have a broken PSP, chances are that there is some cocky technician obsessed with buying things on eBay who will be willing to spend some money on your PSP just to see whether he can resurrect it. A quick search on eBay for "broken PSP" will turn up lots of people just like this. If you filter your search results to include completed auctions, you can see what people were willing to pay for these.
  2. Mantra #2: people pay more for parts than they do for an entire PSP. If you as an individual decided to build your own PSP from scratch, you would quickly discover that all the necessary parts would cost you more than buying it from Sony. Why? Because Sony is a big corporation with the resources to buy in serious bulk, which helps drive the prices down on the materials. You are just you with a dead PSP. However, there are probably lots of other people in similar situations to yours who still think they can fix their broken PSP with that magic part. Pop open your PSP and carefully remove any parts that aren't broken. Sell the screen. Sell the control pad. Sell the earphones. Sell every bit you can. Make sure you say that you cannot guarantee that any of these items will actually work. It won't matter. Someone will buy them.
  3. When you're auctioning off all these items, make sure that you offer to sell and ship them internationally. PSPs may be more expensive outside your home country (and sometimes harder to come by), so if you are selling parts that may help repair some poor Brit's ailing PSP that she imported from Japan before the European release of the PSP, she will be likely to pay more than possible U.S. customers. Make sure you point out to them that the same high taxes for importing a fully functional PSP won't apply to the parts you are selling. Make sure your auction states that the buyer pays for the actual shipping cost.
  4. If you don't want to pay eBay's fees, you could try to barter or sell your dead PSP or its parts on Craigslist.org (http://www.craigslist.org/). If, on the other hand, you are a wealthy person who has five or more PSPs lying about and you don't want to soil yourself by using eBay or Craigslist, there are other things you can do with your dead PSP.