One of the coolest features in the demo of the 2.00 update for PSP at Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation Meeting 2005 was its display of the new support for AVC video in downloadable movies. At the show, SCE downloaded a video from the new PortableTV website and, after downloading, played the video clip in full-frame mode to show off the video clarity of the newly-supported codec. It all looked quite nice, and the widescreen presentation gave a lot of hope that we'd finally be past the annoying limitations of current PSP video playback.
But don't count your videotapes of chickens before you've actually watched a clip and seen them hatch...
Evidence and recent findings are pointing to more reasons than ever to grumble over Sony's video support system on PSP. As can be seen in our PSP Browser & AVC Sample clip, the video sample shown at the event (and incidentally, NOT the video file actually played -- SCE's representative instead used a pre-downloaded AVC video) featured the filename "MAQ00004.mp4", and was downloaded to a special folder on the PSP. As some experienced with the PSP may have already noticed, that name and that "PSP_ROOT" folder are hauntingly similar to the limitation to awkward naming system used in the PSP's current MP4 standard.
According to Kai Cherry, a reader knowledgeable about video who wrote IGN about this issue, this new codec is still hindered by the same limits as the current one. Kai did some digging into Sony's integration of MP4 and AVC, and reports that the naming structure is this way for a reason -- it's another of Sony's video standards, made for PDAs and cellphones (just as the current PSP's format is), and unless SCE has added this standard as an extra cross-compatible feature for Memory Stick devices on top of open PSP support, our PSPs will be stuck with limited video once again designed for much less cool machines.
"This "standard" is called "Memory Stick Video Format" and AVC has been added to it. It is (sigh) QVGA aka 320x240. The video will have to live in MP_ROOT, like other Memory Stick Video Format compliant video, in 10xANV01 subdirectory. Contrast this with current 10xMNV01 scheme. Videos need to be named MAQxxxxx.MP4, and will have to have a Sony "Atom" to be recognized as valid video. I'm sure Sony is probably trying to hold off on this being known until the last second, but this info has been available to certain parties for awhile now. I know users are hoping for 480x272 video, but that is not in the spec...its not going to happen :)"
Essentially, if you have made a video for PSP before and have wondered, "Why can't I just make my movies full-size and put them in some 'Video' folder?", nothing has changed; only the picture quality has improved. We were not able to track down info about this AVC flavor of Sony's "Memory Stick Video Format" to contradict this information or give support for possible version of Sony's format that ignores QVGA standards (that's the basic term for 320x240 video made for pocket systems -- quarter video graphic array.) Given Sony's handling of the PSP video format so far and its apparent priority of compatibility across all corporate products rather than PSP-specific considerations (not to mention that only 4x3 video was mentioned in its PSP v2.00 outline ... it seemed a silly thing to mention at the time), we're not optimistic that there will be a bright side for PSP video watchers on this issue.
So, where does this leave the PSP's media capabilities? The AVC video format is obviously a tremendous inclusion, which should bring down PSP video file sizes and allow for better quality even at low bitrates. But at 320x240, we will still be only using less than 60% of the available pixels on that big, beautiful PSP screen -- even if you stretch your clips out to play widescreen, you still have a mess of doubled, blocky pixels. In experimenting with the previous format, programmers for applications such as PSPVideo9 and 3GPP Converter have been able to "trick" the PSP into playing video more close to the PSP's screen size, but it's still a kludge on a limited format. And now, this new video format might throw another monkey wrench into the works -- hopefully, the hacks on the Sony header (or "atom") will work again and allow independent developers to offer tools for making homemade PSP video, but we're not sure if the current tool ATOMChanger will be able to do the job again and open up the format (we are still researching this question -- the most recent Memory Stick Video Format was established this month and is not supported on many devices yet, so it doesn't seem to be that much experimentation has been done with it in the indie scene).
The release of the PSP's 2.00 firmware update is just a few days away, so expect many of these questions to be answered (and hopefully, many of these fears allayed) on July 27th when the update is made available.