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This week's How-To is only going to apply to the lucky six or seven of you who've managed to already get your hands on a PlayStation Portable, the rest of you will just have keep this one in mind and come back to it when the PSP comes out here in the States in March. We're going to show you step-by-step how to get video clips on to your PSP without having to spring for any additional software.

When you format a Memory Stick Duo or Pro Duo stick in your Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), you will get a new PSP folder, with sub-folders for "game", "music", "photos", and "savedata". But nothing for videos? What's up with that? Well, it turns out that you need to put MPEG-4 video files in their own special folder, one that's not in the PSP directory, but in the main root directory of the Memory Stick.

Just create a new folder in the root directory named MP_ROOT, and then make a folder called 100MNV01 in there. So your .MP4 files should go into E:\MP_ROOT\100MNV01, where E:\ is the drive letter of your Memory Stick. You also need a PC, as the converter software does not work with Macs. This MP_ROOT directory structure is directly cribbed from Sony's UX/VZ Clie PDA series, which also plays MPEG-4 videos. Sony does offer up Image Converter 2.1, but they charge 1000 yen (around $10) for it. We're going to show you how to do it for free.

First, we need to download 3GP Converter, currently in version 0.22 (2.7MB).

http://www.nurs.or.jp/~calcium/3gpp/
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Unzip the 3GPC .ZIP file into a directory of your choice, and run setup.exe. You may see a bunch of weird characters, but don't worry, it's set to Japanese by default. Scroll down to the bottom of the 3GP Converter Setup window and select the English radio button, select Customized: MP4, for PSP (Direct, renamed) the then press Apply. This is the setting for conversion of video files to MPEG-4 format that can be played by the PSP, and renamed so your PSP recognizes it (such as M4V31337.MP4). Unfortunately, the PSP currently won't recognize file names such as TheUsualSuspects.MP4 or TheOCSeason2Episode4.MP4.

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Now, the 3GP Converter program window is open (if not, you can double-click the 3GP_Converter.exe program to run it). Click the Select button to choose where you want your converted PSP MP4 video files to reside. We just chose C:\3GP_Converter.

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The program may ask you to install QuickTime Authoring before being able to convert your video files. A simple click of the Do It Now button will suffice.

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The drop down box is what level quality setting you want your MP4 video to have. All outputted videos will have QVGA (320x240) resolution. You can choose from 15 or 29.97 frames per second, with 29.97 fps being a lot smoother. The third item listed in the quality settings is the video bitrate, the higher the bitrate, the better quality your video will turn out, with the highest quality being 1500kbps. The QB# settings appear to be variable bit rate (VBR) settings, where the converter will use a higher bitrate when necessary. The QB4 setting is the lowest quality VBR option, and QB10 the highest quality VBR. Next is the options for audio, choose between Mono or Stereo. The last bitrate is for your audio quality, you can choose from 32kbps (lower quality) to 128kbps (highest quality). The higher quality setting you choose, the slower it will be to convert.

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Now drag whatever file you want to convert into MPEG-4 format into the blank area of the program window. Here we chose a Shark Tale trailer, originally in DivX Pro HD format, to convert with the 'QVGA/29.97fps/1500kbps Stereo/128kbps' setting, the highest quality setting that 3GP supports. When the program is finished converting the video into MP4 format, the program will rename the file to something like M4V04895.MP4.

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Now setup the USB connection (or take out your Memory Stick Pro Duo and stick in a reader) on your PSP to copy the video files over. The correct folder name for videos is E:\MP_ROOT\100MNV01 (where E: is the drive letter of your PSP). Copy your .MP4 video(s) over (the .THM files that 3GP Converter creates are not necessary for playback), and then disconnect the PSP USB connection by pressing the X button.

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Scroll over to Video in your PSP menu and select it by pressing the O button. It should list your converted MP4, with title, date, and length of video. Press O again and it will start playing.

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There are four screen display modes, which you can choose from by pressing the triangle button. Scroll up to Screen Mode (2nd from left on the top row) and use the O button to scroll between Normal, Zoom, Full Screen, and Original modes. Normal is fine for regular 4:3 show viewing, Zoom gives you a closer view of the center of the video, Full Screen is perfect for 16:9 widescreen videos, and Original looks like it displays the video in a 320x240 pixel format.

With the codec and video expertise of our favorite geek friend, Craig, we tried to convert a video into MPEG-4 format with a 480x272 resolution, which is the native resolution of the PSP LCD. A 480x272 video file should be of higher quality than a stretched 320x240 pixel picture, but unfortunately, all of our attempts failed, no matter what we tried. We would always end up with Incompatible Data or Corrupted Data displayed on our PSP, though it played perfectly on a Windows box.

We came up with the theory that as the PSP uses the same video format as their Clies, and since those play videos just fine Sony didn't want to put in the extra work involved to get native 480x272 resolution MPEG-4 support. We also guessed that any potential UMD movie titles would be shown in the full 480x272 resolution (just as games are in shown in the native screen resolution), but that Sony didn't want to have videos from Memory Sticks (potentially copyright infringing) to be competing with the UMD discs which they would be making money from. In effect, they crippled the video playback capability from Memory Sticks. This is of course, just speculation, but this is Sony that we're talking about here.

Using a Dell Inspiron 8600 laptop with a 2 GHz Intel Pentium M processor with 2GB of RAM, we processed a few video files for fun. It took 3GP Converter 1:40 for a 18.5MB .WMV (of the Pistons/Pacers fight) to be converted into .MP4 format, with an output file size of 19.8MB for QVGA/29.97fps/1500kbps Stereo/128kbps, the highest quality available. It took just 48 seconds when we dropped down the quality level to QVGA/15fps/216kbps Mono/32kbps, with a resulting filesize of 3.2MB. There is a noticabe difference in quality, with the lower video bitrate resulting in annoying pixilation (which we hate). If you can spare the space, definitely go for the higher quality.

We still think the holy grail of a portable video player is drag and drop support for all major video formats without any transcoding necessary. Converting video (just like converting MP3s to ATRAC in previous Sony music offerings) is just a pain and should be avoided if at all possible. This current way to put videos on the PSP is also a somewhat of a burden, as the process is more for the hacker type (and we mean hacker as in tinkerer).

Sony has released Image Converter 2.1 (available for 1000yen), which has an iTunes-like drag and drop functionality, converting videos, renaming it, and putting it in the correct directory. We have heard a few reports of the software bloating a video file on conversion (turning a 20MB file into 30MB or bigger for no reason). We have no first-hand experience yet with the Sony software, but the 3GP Converter is quite adequate in its own right, with a host of encoding quality options.

The converted videos using the QVGA/29.97fps/QB10 Stereo/64kbps mode (we assume QB10 is the highest quality variable bitrate mode, as QB4 video was loads worse) looks good in terms of video, but since the audio bitrate is half of the highest quality video's 128kbps, you do notice the difference in audio quality, with the 64kbps audio being more hollow sounding and tinny. The filesize of the QB10 setting was 14.2MB, offering a bit of filesize saving over the 19.8MB of the 1500kbps video quality setting.

We successfully converted Windows Media Player (WMV), MPEG-1/2, DivX, and XviD formats into PSP-capable MP4. Of the various formats we tried, only a Quicktime MOV file failed to be converted by 3GP Converter.

Here's a quick guide to convert parts of a DVD into MPEG-4. You can convert movies into MP4 format, but unfortunately, you will not be able to get a full movie to fit onto a 512MB Memory Stick unless you are willing to take a serious hit on video quality. What can work well is converting TV or anime episodes (30 minute or hour shows) from DVD, but any converting of clips 30 minutes or more will take quite a bit of time. First, decide what part of the DVD you want converted by previewing it in a standalone player or in a Windows DVD player. Write down the corresponding chapters which contain the episode or section you want.

You will need DVD Decrypter. After installing the program and running it, we will need to set the program to IFO Mode, select Mode, then IFO Mode.

http://www.dvddecrypter.com

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You will now see the Input window with VTS and PGC sections. Below that is a checklist of Chapters on the DVD. Check off the chapters you wrote down earlier and then click on Stream Processing. For simplicity, we checked the video stream, one audio stream, and one subtitle stream. Now that we have selected all that we want to rip from the DVD, click on the DVD disc to Hard Drive icon. The time for the ripping process will depend on the speed of your DVD-ROM, but in the meantime, grab Auto Gordian Knot.

http://www.free-codecs.com/download/AutoGK.htm

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We will need Auto Gordian Knot (AG Knot) to convert DVD Decrypter's VOB file into AVI format. After installing the program and some associated programs, we can load it up. In Step 1, select file input, for Input File, put in the VOB file from DVD Decrypter. For output file, choose a filename and location to place it. Select the audio track from the drop down box, and choose subtitle if need. For the output size, choose Custom Size. We got a 166MB VOB file in our 4 minute, 30 second clip from Ali G's Indahouse from DVD Decrypter. So to be safe, we put in a 83MB output filesize, half the size of the original VOB, just to be safe. Then we clicked Advanced Settings and changed the Fixed Width to 320, as the PSP MPEG-4 video format is 320 pixels wide. Now click the Add Job button and the Start button (below Step 4). After conversion, use the above 3GP Converter guide to convert the AVI file from AG Knot into MP4.

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Auto Gordian Knot turned the 4.5 minute clip into an 43.8MB AVI file. Using 3GP Converter, we converted the AVI file into a MPEG-4 file with a filesize of 54.7MB using the highest quality setting (QVGA/29.97fps/1500kbps Stereo/128kbps). Thus, if you had a 90 minute movie, and used the the same settings we did to convert to to AVI then to MP4, you would have the whole movie in 1100MB, which, unfortunately, is larger than the largest Memory Stick Duo currently available.

Using the lowest quality video setting (QVGA/15fps/216kbps Stereo/64kbps) produced a MP4 file of just 9.6MB, meaning 90 minutes of it would fit in around 192MB. Unfortunately, we can't stand the choppiness nor graininess. So we need to find a middle ground, the 29.97fps/768kbps mode produces a 30.2MB video (around 600MB for a 90 min movie). It's pretty good and the lowest quality that we would accept with our discerning eyes, but still too big to fit in a whole movie onto a 512MB stick, though it would fit fine for an hour long TV episode.

So we stepped it down a notch and tried 15fps and 384kbps, the highest video bitrate for 15fps. The converted MP4 was just 15MB, which would make a 90 minute movie 300MB, and thus fit on our 512MB Sandisk Duo card. The video is expectedly a bit choppy, but it's okay if you're not as nitpicky about video as we are. The audio quality (64kbps) is acceptable as well.

Depending on your video tastes and Memory Stick Duo capacity, you can squeeze an excellent hour of video (at 29.97fps) into a size under 512MB, or up to two hours using 15fps. Even though the conversion program converts files to 320x240 (a 4:3 screen size format), the PSP's screen modes can stretch that size out to a full widescreen while still looking good. We would have preferred a native 480x272 resolution support (which would have meant bigger MPEG-4 filesizes), the PSP still performs video brilliantly.

[Thanks, foomfoom for the link to the software]

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HOW-TO: Get videos and DVDs onto your Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) for free