Mac Media On the Go

psp
As the gadget freak that I am, I had to pick up the Sony PSP on it’s arrival. While I am totally interested in the games portion, it was the mobile media access that really pushed me over the edge. As I’ve spent time considering my Mac Home Theater needs, I’ve definitely spent some time looking at the possible portable options as well. In past professional roles, I’ve spent a good portion of my time in planes and trains and having more than an iPod or my powerbook (to work!) would certainly help pass the time. The PSP is really the right balance for me. While it has some limitations, it nails it’s strong points and I am quite pleased with my new purchase.

The PSP can do music (MP3 and ATRAC3), photos, video (MPEG-4) and of course games. I’ve played with photos and music, but have spent the bulk of my time with games and video and in this post I’ll talk about transferring video content to the PSP from your Mac. The PSP uses a new disc format called UMD which is a compact 1.8GB disc mainly for games, though there are a handful of titles (Spiderman 2 comes in the box) available for purchase. I won’t cover this aspect of things either…

The main limitation of the PSP is the lack of a hard drive. It would certainly be nice to have video out, but for me that’s far from a deal breaker since I am encoding content I can watch on my theater when at home. The PSP as video player is purely for on the go access and in that regard, I don’t think I’d see myself really looking to connect it to a TV in a hotel… if I really wanted to do that I’d probably have a laptop handy or could simply watch on it’s larger screen. The other limitation is that while the PSP supports MPEG-4 video, the files are somewhat unique to the PSP and have to be encoded separately in most cases in order to play and be recognized from your memory stick.

Ah yes, memory stick… The PSP uses a newer more expensive and harder to find memory stick called memory stick duo (there are also pro and high speed varieties). In general, the cost of a memory stick is about twice what an SD/MMC card costs and they are roughly the same size. At this time it is basically impossible to get a 1GB or greater size card. 2GB cards are due out late sprint early summer in Japan and will hopefully make it stateside soon thereafter. My current rig has the 32MB stick from the initial box and a 512MB stick I was able to locate – though even that was hard to track down.

I’ve found quite a few ways to put the video on the PSP but only one that I like for managing my content and that’s PSPWare. There is also iPSP, though it would not run on two of my computers, PSP Movie Loader and the old manual copy method. Both PSPWare and iPSP will sync movies, photos and music as well as backup your game save files which is quite handy and a good thing to do regularly. PSP Movie Loader seems to only work with special files from 29 Guide, which are mainly movie trailers and short clips of some action motor sports. You download a file which PSPML uses to then download and add the video directly to your PSP. They have recently added the ability to download .zip versions of their stuff which allow you to manually add things to the PSP rather than use the download tool.

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This brings me finally to real heart of what I wanted to share. How do you get video to the PSP?? Well, as you might have seen elsewhere you can mount either the Memory Stick in a card reader or the PSP itself from within Settings menu (USB Connection – Hit X with a cable connected) and it should just mount on your system. A properly formated Memory Stick will actually be without the appropriate Video folder – thanks Sony! – but it’s easy to add and Sony actually posted a Tutorial on the topic. Manual is fine for the occasional file or for the mega-file that is going to take up all your space, but it’s not going to enable any sort of file management once you’ve converted your content to the appropriate PSP MPEG-4 format.

Enter the Tools

Pspware

I’ve tried the various Sync / Backup tools for the PSP and they for the most part can deal with your content whether it’s photos music or video. For me, the almost ideal solution is PSPWare. It can convert almost all the media I’ve thrown its way, with the occasional and rare miss. When that’s happened I’ve used a combination of FFMPEGX and altShiva to create the .THM file which tells the PSP what the call the file (an actual name, not just the file name) and can create a nice preview image so when you browse what’s available for playback you get a richer experience. The .THM file is not necessary – it only adds a bit of flavor and is a great way to impress your friends if you are showing off the new toy.

Ffmpegx

In my case, I’ve got a pretty handy selection of archived DVDs sitting on my mini waiting for Matinee to queue them up for DVD playback and this makes for a terrific source for conversion since all I need to start are the unencrypted VOB files. As you will most likely notice in your Video_TS folder there is more than just a single .VOB to potentially utilize for the process… yade X to the rescue! Yade X (Yet Another DVD Extractor) allows you to select multiple .vob files from your hard drive or directly from the DVD and create a single .vob file… quite handy for what we need.

It’s possible to convert VOBs directly in PSPWare, though large (GB plus) tend to take a seriously long time and the current release (1.5) does not yet give you a sense of status on the process. I’ve been testing the 2.0 release of PSPWare and while it remedies the status issue, it still takes way too long. Instead I just drag the VOB to FFMPEGX and create a DivX ffmpegx file. I’ve tried going straight the the PSP MPEG-4, but I’ve found the files to be considerably smaller with the interim step. Once you have the DivX file you can either convert it back in FFMPEGX again this time using the PSP output format, or drag it over to the Movies pane within PSPWare. I’ve been mainly choosing the latter for a few simple reasons. The first is that I have been using my mini, not my primary computer for the conversion and file management so it’s much easier to off-load the task elsewhere. At times over the past week or so, I’ve been ripping and converting video files on several machines and queueing up the batch conversion within PSPWare. PSPWare easily takes a variety of files at a time which lets you in the immortal words of Ron Popeil… set it and forget it! You can leave it running overnight and find a nice selection of video for your PSP in the morning just in time for your commute or simply to watch over a nice espresso at breakfast.

File Management (and two more tools)

I was using two systems to convert files up until today. This has worked great to get a good head-start creating or converting content for the PSP. It also created a system of files named sequentially on both systems, which was making it more difficult than I wanted to manage a single collection. PSPWare stores video by default in /Documents/PSPWare/Movies. Within this folder is a set of folders named sequentially : M4V00001, M4V00002 etc. You can add a layer underneath that is the name of the file (Toy Story) and within that folder you can drop your .MP4 and .THM files which have to have the same naming as the parent folder (M4V00001). If you refresh the Movies tab within PSPWare, you’ll see your newly added files. I was doing this and manually naming my files as I went from FFMPEGX directly to the PSP. PSPWare does not like to import the PSP .MP4 files… but this manual drag and rename works just fine. There is a drop folder system in 2.0 of PSPWare that can put files on your device, but does not move them into the main PSPWare library for now.

In any case, my two system conversion was creating 2 sets of folders with identical names and I was looking at a pretty intense mess of manual renaming… something I was trying to avoid at all costs, given the time required. I was led to an amazing utility called conveniently A Better Finder Rename, (thanks Sandro!) which you can launch once you’ve selected your files (including files within sub-folders) to rename. It took a bit of figuring out, but once I got the gist, I was able to change all the numbering of my files by simply adding onto their ending sequence (in my case by 43) which got the right sequence created for the main library I am now using on the mini.

I have been connecting my PSP to my Powerbook mostly since it is right in front of my at the desk and I remotely connect to the mini’s library using a Symbolic Link rather than an alias which did not work. It takes a bit longer to transfer the video across my home network and pass down the USB cable to the PSP, but it’s simple enough now that it’s all configured. As I create or get files I want to convert for use on the PSP now, I just FTP them over to the mini and drag them into the PSPWare conversion queue.

A few final words…

FFMPEGX is an excellent tool and one you might enjoy using for non-PSP related tasks. The main feature I would like to see added is the ability for batch conversion. On the PSP side it would be great if the .THM was created at the same time.

Still with me? As you might have guessed by now, this is not a small task given the number of processes you noticed I’ve been running in order to get all this working. It’s actually simple though – I promise. The main issue is really just time. It takes time to convert and compress video files and you just have to wait while that happens. At least you have your PSP with you to distract you during the process. You could be enjoying any of the features of your MacHTPC that we’ve covered previously. The conversion process works just fine in the background.

— Jonathan Greene

Buy Your PSP today!




3 Responses to “Mac Media On the Go”

  1. Abraham Says:

    Hey guys – to make a .THM image preview for your video clips give this a try: Open

    1) Photoshop and create a new 160×120 pixel image
    2) Be creative in said new image
    3) Save as a JPG but instead of “.jpg” use “.THM”

    Make sure the name of the cloaked JPG file matches the name of the movie you want it to pair up with. Why use a combination of programs when you can use an app you already have?

    PSPWare does (for the most part) rock. I must say I am holding out for version 2.0 though as this was has some issues (like no being able to read your iPhoto albums if they are on a 2nd drive).

  2. Jonathan Greene Says:

    Try using a Symbolic LInk to refered the location of your iPhoto library file… I have not tested that yet, but it just might do the trick since it works with Movies on network drives.

    The nice thing about the .THM that gets created with altShiva is that it’s a still from the movie itself. You could use quicktime I suppose to extract a frame and then resize and rename as you suggest above…

  3. psp go Says:

    really nice blog and design, ill add this to my twitter later this evening now.

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