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June 13, 2006

Podcasting and MPEG4 video -- the PSP problem

My prior post on the travails of podcasting, MPEG4, and supporting multiple devices detailed the differences between MPEG4 as it's supported by three of the most popular portable digital media devices: the iPod, the Creative Zen Vision, and the Sony PSP.  After further exploration, I've learned a few new things.

MPEG4 Woes
The MPEG4 format supported by the PSP is structurally the same as the iPod format: MPEG4 H.264 (AVC) w/ AAC audio.  For some reason that escapes me, Sony employs a customized header within the file that makes it look different -- and incompatible.  To get an iPod-format MPEG4 to play on a PSP, you have to either convert the file using software like the free PSP Video 9 or Sony's own PSP Media Manager; or use a utility that is supposed to flip the header bits: AtomChanger.  I didn't have any luck making AtomChanger work, but truthfully, I didn't spend a lot of time working at it.  
For podcasts, PSP Media Manager software is excellent and makes it easy for the user.  Although Sony sells it separately, it should be included with the device, in my opinion.  It handles RSS subscriptions, automatically does any file format conversions necessary for the PSP, also manages photos, music and games on the device, and makes the process seamless for the user.  Alternatively, PSP Video 9 combined with Videora provides a no-cost, although less seamless, solution for podcasting and file conversions.

For those of us producing podcast content for these devices,  I think the best answer is still to encode for the iPod.  Audio, of course, should be MP3 - then you support everyone. For video, software like PSP Video 9 and PSP Media Manager mean that PSP users can use the same media that iPod users can.  But if you're looking to deliver video content directly online to PSP Web surfers (see the next paragraph), you'll need to provide MPEG4  files in the PSP format.

PSP for Browsing the Web

The Sony PSP is a fine wireless Web device in its own right.  It took me about ten minutes to get it up and running on my home WiFi network (802.11g), complete with WEP authentication.  The internal Web browser is adequate, although the way you "type" text  (a URL, for example) on the device is clunky.  You can surf the Web, and download audio and video files directly to the device.

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