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HOW-TO: PSPcasting on your Mac


PSPCasting on the Windows side is fairly well documented, achieved by combining Videora and PSP Video 9 to pull down videos via BitTorrent and convert them to MP4 format for transfer to the PSP. There isn't a single solution yet for achieving the same on the Mac side, but with some very minimal manual intervention we can automagically download and prepare a bunch of new video content for our PlayStation Portables using the ANT RSS video aggregator in combination with the PSPWare syncing application.

What you'll need for this how-to:

  • Mac running OS X
  • ANT RSS video aggregator (free)
  • PSPWare Mac to PSP syncing software ($15 reminderware)
  • Sony PlayStation Portable with USB cable
  • Memory Stick Duo of some significant size (the 32MB stock stick won't last you long)

Getting started

Automated videocatching to the Sony PlayStation Portable on your Mac is not completely trouble-free, but with a little bit of tolerance for conversion errors you can get a nice selection of fresh content onto your PSP relatively easily. The ultimate bad news about getting video on your PSP is that nagging reality of limited storage on the receiving end. Most of you will have some flavor of Memory Stick Duo in the range of 128 to 512MB, and far fewer of you will have shelled out for (and been able to find in stock) a 1GB stick. For audio files, this limit isn't too crazy (great for podcasts) — but if you hope to cart around entire movies and TV shows, you're gonna kill your available storage right quick. However, videoblogging (the video equivalent of podcasting) offers a great solution to the storage problem by offering an almost unlimited supply of fresh daily short video clips for porting to your PSP. Most videos come in at a few minutes and less than 20MB. You can further squash them by settling for a lower quality conversion, and manage to load up with a decent selection of new short clips courtesy of some interesting folks from around the world.

Luckily, Mac users have an excellent existing tool to automagically download a slew of videoblog media files at once: ANT. ANT is a video RSS aggregator and player rolled into one, so you can subscribe to feeds with video enclosures, download a whole batch of video at once and watch the entire playlist in the built-in player. We'll use ANT to automatically restock our supply of short video clips, and PSPWare to automate converting the clips to the PSP-friendly MP4 format and transferring them to our portable.

First, download ANT and install it, if you haven't already. When you launch the program for the first time, you'll see a number of default feeds already loaded up for you.

PSPCasting Mac 1

The good news is, most of them are fantastic and you should watch them all at some point. The bad news is, not all of the feeds' enclosures do so well in the automagic translation via PSPWare (or iPSP, for that matter — we tried both, after downloading every possible video codec we could get our mitts on). For reasons we haven't had time to troubleshoot very atomically, certain videos throw errors on conversion to MP4 — likely having something to do with the veritable sea of codecs and formats out there for preparing video for the web. As it turns out, contrary to Gertrude Stein's philosophy, a .MOV is not a .MOV is not a .MOV, and your mileage may vary when converting some of these feeds. You might have to do a bit of trial and error to figure out which feeds are consistently easily convertible, but once you have your feed selection set up, the whole process should run fairly smoothly. On the flip side, there's no harm in unknowingly adding some error-throwing videos in your queue each time — PSPWare will just mark the failed conversions so as not to be transferred. Still — 50 bonus points to anyone who can figure out why this is happening, and if you can figure out how to make our favorite vlog, Rocketboom, easily convertible to MP4, we'll shower you with accolades.

Next, let's set up the default folder for ANT downloads. Click on the ANT menu and select Preferences:

PSPcasting Mac 2

You can set ANT to automagically check for new enclosures at a specific time each day. It can also move old files to the trash either right after playing or when the downloads folder reaches a certain threshold size; set this preferences in the middle preferences pane. At the bottom is where we set our default download spot for our enclosures. To change from the default location, click Change:

PSPcasting Mac 3

About the only interface complaint we have with this otherwise dead easy to use program is that this dialogue does not work exactly like other "select folder" dialogues. There is no "Choose" command, but only "Create Folder," even though there is the standard "New Folder" button on the left side of the dialogue box. Having set ANT up on several machines, I have messed this up each time by first creating the folder I want to save to using New Folder, and then having no way to select it. So — instead of using the New Folder button, you should navigate to the containing folder you want your downloads folder to live in, then type a name for your downloads folder into the "Folder" text-entry field at the top of the file browser dialogue, then hit "Create Folder" which will create the new download location.

Now that we've got our preferences all set, let's download some video content. You can start with the default set of feeds or some some subset thereof, or add your own if you're already a vlog fan. To remove a feed from the default list, just select it and hit the Delete key. To add a feed, click on that big ol' "Add Feed" button in the main application pane, and paste in the RSS URL of the feed you wish to add. Whenever you have a list of feeds you want to check, go the File menu and choose Refresh All Feeds:

PSPcasting Mac 4

ANT will check all the feeds for the three latest enclosures from each, and download them to the downloads folder we selected in the Preferences. It will automagically generate a playlist in the playlist tray that extends underneath the ANT viewer. You can of course view all of your video here as well, but today we're gathered to get some of this goodness on our PSPs, so let's get to it.

Now that we have some video waiting ever so patiently to be transferred over to our PSP, let's go download and install PSPWare. To be honest, there are things we don't like about this program — the fact that it automatically sets itself up to launch on startup without asking is particularly egregious, for example (you can change it in the preferences, but you have to find this out somehow after the fact). We also dislike that it runs as a service instead of as a straight-up application, because sometimes it has a tendency to disappear and becomes difficult to find in our virtual desktop setup. If we need to quit a program, we shouldn't have to hunt it down first. But we digress! The main necessary advantage PSPWare has over iPSP for our purposes is that with iPSP, there is no way to batch add video to your processing queue — you have to add clips to the queue and select their conversion settings one by one. It's nice to have more settings options (particularly when converting larger video clips), but this just isn't practical for our purposes, which is trying to dump as many short clips as possible onto the PSP without getting overly bogged down in the vicissitudes of the compression settings. Quick and dirty we want, and quick and dirty we shall have.

Go ahead and launch PSPWare.

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If this is the first time you're running it, you'll see in the Status pane "Last Synced: Never," reflecting the fact that your Mac and your PSP have never paired up for any conjugal syncing bliss. Here's another quirk about PSPWare you ought to know: when it says "sync," it ain't foolin' around. It's going to overwrite all of the data you have on your Memory Stick Duo. It may or may not warn you of this fact before you hook up your PSP. In a couple of installs, we received the warning, but curiously, on a couple of others, we didn't. Regardless of whether PSPWare notifies you or not, you'd better be aware that whatever is on your Memory Stick will go bye-bye after a sync. I suppose you could look at this as a "feature" that simplifies management of the whole process, but we usually prefer our syncing options to be a bit more granular. We get around this issue by having one Memory Stick devoted to just this entire process, and a couple of separate Memory Stick Duos for other file transfers. The other quirk to be aware of is there's no granularity within the sync mechanism to just sync Movies or just sync Music, etc. — it's one sync to rule them all, which syncs everything in one fell swoop. Be aware.

We can change a few of PSPWare's default settings if desired, the big ones being whether or not the service will launch at startup, and whether or not it will start the sync process automatically when you connect your PSP. Click the "Advanced" icon, which for some reason is the name they decided to give to the Preferences:

PSPCasting Mac 11

Now, we're all set to prepare our video for the PSP. Click on the PSPWare's Movies tab:

PSPcasting Mac 5

There is no intrinsic link between ANT and PSPWare, so we'll have to add a small bit of manual intervention at this stage. Click on the plus sign at the bottom left of the Movies pane to add video files to the conversion queue:

PSPcasting Mac 6

In the file browser dialogue that results, you'll want to navigate to the ANT downloads folder you created above. You'll see a number of new video files have appeared since we refreshed all our feeds. Let's invoke the beautiful time-saving technique of the "select all" command here to just load up a conversion queue with all of our latest sucked down videos. Hit command-a to select all the files. If you've got MP3 files in there from podcast feeds you've subscribed to via ANT (which handles podcasts as well as vlogs), they just won't be selected — this is a good thing. Hit Open to add all of your new video files to your PSP conversion queue. The queue will begin processing right away. As files complete, PSPWare will update their status: Green checks mean the video converted successfully to MP4, red minus signs means there was a conversion error, an orange squiggly indicates conversion is currently in process on that file, and yellow ellipsis means the file hasn't been touched yet:

PSPcasting Mac 7

Once the entire conversion process is complete, you'll have a bunch of converted videos ready to sync with your PSP, and a likely a handful of failed conversions. Don't worry too much that some of the videos didn't convert; they just won't be transferred to your PSP. You can still watch them on your computer from within ANT, and you still have a bunch of content that will successfully transfer to your PSP.

Speaking of which — let's finally hook up our PlayStation Portable, shall we? Hook up your USB cable and go to Settings > USB Connection. Hit the X button to make that connection live:

PSPcasting Mac 8

As soon as your PSP mounts on the desktop, PSPWare will recognize it (assuming you've left "Sync automatically when the PSP is connected" checked in the Preferences) and begin the syncing process:

PSPCasting Mac 12

You should see the orange "Memory Stick access" light on the lower left of the PSP blinking away during this process. Depending obviously on how much video you have, this will take a few minutes. When it's finished, you'll see the following "success" message:

PSPCasting Mac 13

If you've left "Eject the PSP after syncing" checked in the Preferences, your PSP will already be ejected from the desktop and ready to go; otherwise, eject it manually. That's it — you should now be able to navigate on over to the Video section on your PlayStation Portable and view your batch of new videos, which should be named according to the properly listed video title from the feed. When you're ready for a whole new batch, you'll have to go into the PSPWare's Movies tab and manually delete the old videos — otherwise they'll keep getting re-synced with the PSP. On the flip side, if there are any gems you want to keep around for repeat viewings, this makes it easier.

Going further

ANT supports audio enclosures as well as video enclosures. The trouble is, both PSPWare and iPSP handle synchronizing/transferring video and audio entirely separately, so even if I have ANT pull down my podcasts, I can't just throw the MP3 files into the same queue with the video. Right now I either handle this manually, or let iPodder do the work of pulling down podcasts — but it would be much nicer to be able to use ANT as the single enclosure-fetching solution, because I could use its media browser to play right through all of my watched vlogs and podcasts on my [media Mac][mediamac] as well as transfer them to my PSP for on the go playback. What would be really slick is if someone would write an AppleScript folder action to watch the ANT downloads folder, pull out the MP3 files to a different folder and automagically add them to an iTunes playlist, which could then be synced to your PSP via the normal Music sync feature in PSPWare. Any takers?

Also, if you're looking for a great way to find new feeds, look no further.

Happy viewing!

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