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Sony PSP Survival Guide (The Facts, Links, How-TOs... What you need to know.)

22 Mar 2005  |  Tags: , , , , ,

The Sony PSP is coming out on Thursday. Here’s what you need to know. (props to Greg for sending me a PSP from Japan. Thanks dude!)

Software Links

For movie ripping:

  • Windows Users: Engadget tells how to rip movies to your PSP. (Mac Users: I have a blurb about this below.)
  • Win/Mac: iPSP syncs your Music/Photos/Video onto your PSP. However, the video feature didn’t work for me, and I though the overall program was lousy. It got my music onto my PSP but most of it was corrupted. (that might have been my fault, though) Also, the interface kept glitching out. (Shareware, $20)
  • Mac: PSPware is an AWESOME application for PSP-syncing on the Macintosh. It’s like iPSP, but half the price and actually works.

For other stuff:

  • Win/Mac: XLink Kai lets you daisy chain your PSP through your PC or Mac’s compatible wireless card and play online with others. Check it out. — UPDATE: Here’s a direct link to how to set this up on your Mac once you have it installed: http://www.teamxlink.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=9544
  • Windows: Here’s an article with information about how to transfer your ‘Tivo-To-Go’ files to your PSP. Check it out.
  • Engadget has some information on Web Browsing on your PSP. It seems the PSP OS (Firmware) has a built-in browser! Slick.

Lt.Ping also alerted me to his detailed WiFi Setup Guide for the PSP on the Playstation Forums. Check it out here.

Hardware

Battery Life. The Sony PSP is rumored to have terrible battery life. However, Sony has taken steps to remedy this problem in their software. First, Wi-Fi can be toggled on and off, and also has a power-save mode. The screen auto-dims and turns off after a period of inactivity, as well. Also, the PSP can be put to sleep by casually switching the system off and on using the power switch… and you’re brought right back to where you were before! (in a game, in the menus, etc.) To power the console off completely, hold the power switch for a second or two and the system should shut-off completely.

NOTE: All PSPs ship from the factory with an AC Adapter and rechargable battery, unless otherwise marked.

Memory Sticks. Since the system is ONLY being sold as a bundle right now, everybody gets a 32MB Memory Stick DUO Pro with their console. This is MORE than enough for Saved Games, and can even handle a few songs or pictures, but if you’re hoping to put Movies or a few albums on your portable, you’ll have to shop for a larger chip.

There’s a base-price you pay for each chip, and the upgrade to a larger chip is usually worth it. 512MB chips are usually $75 to $120, which hold a fair-amount of Music, but probably less than a full movie with a few songs on the side. 1GB chips are hard to find and very expensive, generally costing from $150 (Sandisk) to $220 (Sony). Sandisk.com reports that they’re backordered, as does SonyStyle.com. (however, my 1GB DUO Chip just shipped from SonyStyle so they must have gotten a shipment in recently. UPDATE: it just arrived!)

Controls. The buttons on this aren’t stiff or anything like that, and easy to press. The “analog-stick” is kind of lame, though. I assumed it was a mini-joystick… but it’s actually this little thing that slides around in only 2D. (left, right, up, and down… rather than at any angles as well) It’s awkward and difficult to move. I prefer the D-Pad even in racing games.

The Screen. The 16:9 wide-screen (480x272) of the PSP is super-crisp. The PSP OS takes full advantage of it with its weaving animations and bright colors, and the game graphics are very detailed in most cases.

Wi-Fi. (Wireless) The only internet connectivity so-far for Software Updates to the PSP OS and Online Play is via Wi-Fi. I had no issues using this with both my Linksys WAP and Airport Extreme base stations. The PSP also has an AdHoc system built-in for multiplayer without a local-area wireless network. There is a physical switch on the left of the unit to turn Wi-Fi on and off.

Music/Audio. The PSP audio player is excellent. I consider it blend between an iPod Photo and an iPod Shuffle… in that there is album artwork displayed, yet due to size constraints it only holds a portion of your library. It also has a shuffle feature, and supports Playlists. The sound quality is satisfactory. The PSP also has a few different EQ settings that can be activated by pressing the ‘Select’ button… including Heavy, Unique, and Pops. The EQ can also be turned off using the ‘Select’ button by cycling through to the ‘off’ setting.

I’m not sure if this is just me or not, but my PSP shows a “Corrupted Data” file for each MP3 I add to my PSP. However, if I scroll past these, my Music is safely listed below and plays just fine. Very strange. (Hopefully there will be a software update to fix this.) UPDATE: This problem has been fixed as of Version 1.5.0. This software update was offered to Japanese PSPs on the US release date.

The PSP supports both MP3 and ‘ATRAC3plus’… whatever that is. I haven’t had anything to do with ATRAC3 since I had a MINIDISC Player a few years ago.

USB. While in USB mode, the PSP acts as a Storage Interface to its inserted DUO Pro Memory Stick (if available). This mounts a drive on your Mac, or adds a new drive into ‘My Computer’ on Windows. Always remember to ‘disconnect hardware’ (Windows) or ‘eject’ (Mac) the device before unplugging it or your stored data will be corrupted.

The PSP file structure is like this:
* ‘/PSP/GAME’ — For games stored on your memory card. (perhaps for downloads in the future? Not sure about this.)
* ‘/PSP/MUSIC’ — For music.
* ‘/PSP/PHOTO’ — For your pictures.
* ‘/PSP/SAVEDATA’ — For your saved games.
* ‘/MP_ROOT/101MNV01’ — For movies and video. (MPEG-4)

If these folders do not exist on your PSP’s memory card, the easiest way to create them is to format the memory stick using the option in System Settings on the PSP itself. (with the card inserted) THIS WILL ERASE any saved games, music, movies, photos, software, etc., on the card (NOT your UMD discs), so if you don’t want to do that just create the folder
s by hand. Even after formatting the card, the MP_ROOT folder for movies, and/or others, may still not exist and need to be created manually.

You can place files directly into these folders, OR create new folders inside these to group content together. However, folders inside folders inside folders, (example: ‘/PSP/PHOTO/MYVACATION/DAY3’) will not be recognized.

The PSP does NOT come with a USB cable. I had an extra kickin’ around so I just used that. The PSP has a typical Mini-USB connector on it, and should work with any standard USB to Mini-USB cable that may have come with a digital camera, cellphone, MP3 player, etc. Or, you can buy one from a computer store for less than $20. (estimate) The device DOES support USB2.0 for high-speed transfers with compatible machines.

Photos / Video

Any JPEG images stored in the proper location (see above) can be viewed on the PSP. Unfortunately, it does not seem to support viewing photos fresh from digital cameras’ memory chips… which I would have liked. There is also a slideshow option with adjustable speed, and photos can be zoomed.

For videos, although Sony will soon offer various UMD movie titles for purchase and direct use with the PSP… who wants to PAY for UMD movies of DVDs you already own!? Not me… screw that. As I linked above, Engadget has an article for converting your DVDs to PSP-compatible MPEG-4 files, but what about us Mac users? I have the solution for you here.

IMPORTANT: Regardless of whether you use a Mac or PC, you have to remember something: The PSP only seems to support videos in 320x240 dimension, which is NOT widescreen. However, if you squish a 16:9 picture (for example, from a widescreen DVD) to 320x240, there IS an option to stretch the image back out on the PSP. The quality is far from DVD, but it’s not THAT bad. Anything that is not 320x240 will be recognized as “incompatible” by the PSP.

TIP: I generally like to sacrifice quality for more content, so setting the bitrate down as far as possible while still being able to see the picture will generally store about two megabytes for every minute of video (audio included). The setting varies from program to program, but with FFMpegX I just set the bitrate to 1kb/s and it seems to find the appropriate level automatically.

All PSP Videos must be named like M4VXXXXX.MP4 (replace the ‘X’s with random numbers)… and yes it has to be capitalized like that. The PSP will ignore all other files… including lowercase ones like ‘.mp4’, which is stupid… but the way it is.

The PSP uses some strange XviD/MPEG-4/3GP/AAC combination for its video format. On the Mac, there are two different tools we can use to convert DVD’s VOB files to these formats:
- FFMpegX
- and, altShiiva.

FFMpegX is harder to install, yet easier to use. altShiiva is very easy to install, yet its videos didn’t work on my PSP. However, since altShiiva can produce the thumbnail files (.THM) that show up next to the movies on the PSP… I use FFMpegX for the flicks and altShiiva for the Pics.

Visit FFMpegX’s PSP tutorial for more information:
http://homepage.mac.com/major4/psp.html

I’ll admit that I had a lot of problems getting FFMpegX to read some of my Movies, and also to produce files that would actually work on the PSP. However, the trick is to convert whatever movie you’re trying to use to DivX using Quicktime… THEN use FFMpegX to convert it to a PSP MP4. That worked great for me.

FFMpegX had no issues reading .VOB files I ripped from a DVD (with DVDBackup), and it converted them without issues. Remember, you HAVE to squish *all* video to 320x240 pixels… even if its 16:9. You can later choose to stretch the picture out on the PSP itself. (there’s a display option)

Games

Gran Turismo 4 PSP is coming out later this Spring, and Grand Theft Auto PSP in just a few weeks. The current launch titles are okay, but not great… as many are lousy, watered-down copies of PS2 titles like Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. Hopefully this won’t be the case for long. I’m satisfied with Need for Speed Underground ‘Rivals’ at the moment. The graphics are *excellent*.

UPDATE: Lumines is my new favorite game, and I don’t think that’s going to change. :) It’s very similar to Tetris, but with DJs doing the music, a new method of clearing blocks (colors), and other cool stuff. Definitely check it out… you might get sick of it if you play it too much, but it’d be pretty hard since every single time you play it’s a brand-new experience! Definitely worth buying… it’s only like $40. (one of the cheaper PSP games, heh)

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