Monday, March 31, 2008

Power of PSP

When I got PSP for my son I had no idea what it is capable of other than playing games and UMD movies. I bet over 95% of PSP owners still think the same of this beautiful powerful hand held and I was one of them until last weekend.

For a while I read a lot about the power you can bring to PSP by hacking and about the PSP Homebrew community. Hacking never interested me much as I had better things to do in life than to hack a hand held game console. So, I am not even going to discuss about the hacks but I can say they are amazing hacks out there.

Some basic feature like built-in Wi-Fi, internet browser, and availability of higher capacity memory sticks got me interested to look at what PSP can do.

Initially, I started using it to subscribe some fun RSS News Feeds, then browsed web at airports and malls, used it as Digital photo album, MP3 player, and most recently to download lot of free sample games from Playstation Network which are almost as good as a real games for someone who can't go past first few rounds. Those are just tip of the monstrous feature list PSP has as I am not even going to mention all the cool features that become available with PSP once you own PS3 or Sony LocationFree System which I happened to own.

While Googling about setting up my LocationFree with PSP to watch cricket from my home Dish Network from anywhere, I found interesting things like converting your DVD collection to PSP format. As an experiment, I converted my favorite movie Nuvvu Naaku Nachavu on to PSP and it was an instant hit with my kids, wife and myself. We all loved enjoying our PSP as if it's our new toy. That motivated me to convert few more favorites like Pokiri, Athadu, and Okkadu and they all look incredible on PSP's lovely screen.

All this new energy and excitement got me to do something I have kept pending for over 9 years - converting my home videos from MiniDV tapes to DVD. I thought once I convert them to DVDs, I can convert them to MPEG-4 format PSP supports and watch them on PSP. I used my Sony VRD-MC5 DVDDirect to convert all my MiniDV tapes to DVD. DVDDirect can covert MiniDV tapes to DVD at real-time speed. That is, one hour on DV tape will take one hour to be copied on DVD. Also, DVDDirect can also burn the new HiDef video format AVCHD used on all Sony and many Panasonic HiDef Camcorders to DVDs which can be played on most Blu-Ray players and PS3. This thing is so fast that I converted literally all my 30+ miniDV tapes to DVD in one weekend. Then I also converted all 30+ HomeVideo DVDs that weekend to MP4 format to play on our PSPs.

Why did I convert Home Videos to PSP format (MPEG_4)?
One can wonder why I need to convert them instead of just watching them on TV played from DVD player! Well, the answer is how many of us really take time to watch Home Video on TV except maybe once? Having them in MPEG-4 format makes the content very portable and can be easily uploaded to a website or can be used on several devices like iPhone, MP3 Players, iPod, smart phones, etc PLUS you can easily e-mail them to friends and family.

Advantages to having them on PSP
I think PSP is a more appropriate device to enjoy Family Videos as the screen is excellent and makes the videos look better and more fun to be watched anywhere and especially it brings lot of interest for kids to watch them. Depending on resolution and quality you select a 1-hour video takes about 200-350MB memory. I did convert it to the highest resolution PSP supports (720X480) and used 2-Pass encoding to get the best possible quality. The current 8GB Memory Stick Duo runs around in $80s and it can store over 25 hours of video at highest quality. It's about 10-15 years of video coverage any active dad with two kids can record.

Optimum Tools and Settings to convert your Family DVDs to PSP:
If you use your best friend - google to find the right tools to do this job - you will be overwhelmed with the amount of tools you will find. To make things simple I will recommend two groups of tools. One is FREE and the other one is free for 21 days and costs after that. I loved the later as I thought it is very simple to use, does perfect job and I was also able to covert some of the videos to 3gp format to use on my cell phone. I wanted to convert the content to highest resolution PSP supports as it will help if you ever want to connect your PSP to a TV and watch the video. So, I went with 720X480 resolution in MPEG-4 AVC format using 2-Pass encoding. You can get even better quality with 3-Pass but that means it will take 30% longer to convert.

Free Solution
Use DVD Decrypter to rip the DVD and use PSP Video 9 to convert the VOB files created by DVD DeCrypter to MP4 and them let PSP Video 9 copy to PSP as the files need to be in certain folder for PSP to recognize them as Vide (VIDEO folder with a jpg file to be used as Video's thumbnail which should be in 160X120 format)

Try and Buy Solution
Use CloneDVD mobile from SlySoft. I love this and is worth paying them for making such an easy and great product.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My W910i Review after 10-months of use

Bottomline: Love the phone!
Ever since the iPhone was released, I was looking forward to upgrading my phone as I wanted to have one perfect stylish, unique, and well built phone for listening to music which has some cool features to occasionally browse web to check out sports scores and maybe a little browsing. iPhone had everything I looked for and was so tempted to own it. But, I just couldn't accept the size of it and the fact that it can't be used freely with other carriers without hacking it. For me, it's too wide to be a comfortable phone PLUS I love to have keys to interact with the phone/Walkman. So, I was looking for candy-bar type slider phone with decent screen size.

Before I bought W910i, I considered Nokia's N-95 and N81, Sony's W580i, and W500i, and few Samsung's, Windows Mobile Phones, etc. I saw most of the phones I considered except N81. I've been a long time Nokia user including their 770 Tablet. I wanted to stay away from Nokia for now as I had screen problems with couple of their devices. After owning W580i for one day, I decided to go with SE phone as I loved the interface in W580i. It only lacked exceptional build quality which I was looking for. Especially, the slider mechanism had to be rigid unlike some Samsungs and even W580i that felt little loose(wobbling or rattling).

I decided to buy W910i based on the fact that it will be Sony's flag-ship Walkman slider phone. After using it for over 10-months, I am glad I have no buyer remorse for owning W910i without waiting for user reviews or price drops to happen. I happened to be one of the first owners among Howard Forums members. Which might as well mean one of the first in USA. I purchased mine from Hong Kong and it was shipped the day it was released by SE and I had it the next day.

I feel it's almost the perfect phone for people who are looking for Walkman based phone with huge screen, great build quality, and perfect slider mechanism. I am hoping it stays like that even after extensive use.

Build Quality
It's a solid feeling phone that is perfect fit in hand. It feels solid as the side casing is metal. Back side is a hard rubberized material which looks very stylish and at the same time is scratch resistant. Front top and middle slider top is hard plastic which is finished to look like metal. I am thinking this material might be better option for a silent operation of slider mechanism for long time to come. The keypad has a smoother plastic buttons and feels very smooth like human skin. The battery cover is very easy to open and close unlike W580i which was ridiculously designed.

This is going to be the highlight of this phone. It's of perfect size for basic browsing (scores, stocks), picture viewing, youtube videos, etc. Picture looks very sharp and colors are very vibrant and the themes the phone came with really help showing of the screen quality. Download Sony Ericsson Theme Maker to create your own themes.

Speaker & Headset
I am actually able to enjoy listening to music on phone speaker unlike few other phones I tried before. I can't say it's perfect as I prefer to have stereo feel to music I listen. So, I would just say, it stands up to its size. The clarity through Headset is as good as standalone MP3 players. I haven't tested to audiophile standards. I used Zen, iPOD, Sony VGF-AP1L before and I seem to have enjoyed it as much as I did on those. I didn't get to listen to them side by side as I no longer have any of those. I compared with Z300 and W910 is in a different league, both with built-in speaker and headset.

Walkman & Menu Interface
The basic Menu functionality is similar to other Walkman phones from SE but the screen makes it feel all different. The Walkman interface is all new to the phone. Phone comes with some Flast-Lite based themes which give PS3/PSP like interface to the phone menu. It comes with 5 great looking themes installed. The Shake Control and Screen Auto Orientation for Media applications is very cool. In some games you get to choose the orientation. Also with recent update to the phone the Picture viewer is pretty cool. You can flip through pictures with a pop feel. You feel like you are flipping through an album.

Accessibility & Functionality
All the features can be accessed without having to open slider. Except to enter data, I was able to manage every function just from the top and side buttons. I was able to turn off sound in games and listen to my own music and still play games. Also, when I am on call I was able to play games(sound will be disabled for the game). All buttons and keys are very well laid out and easily accessible while operating with one hand.

So far, I am very surprised at it's strength. I haven't used any of my previous phones for listening to music. So, I was expecting the battery to drain faster as I am listening to lot of music. But, it's holding the battery strength well. I played music for hours on speaker and the battery was holding very well. I am used to charging phone every night. I think I will be very happy with this phone battery even if I miss charging some nights.

Call clarity & Phone features
It is very clear and loud enough. It's much louder than my Nokia 6230. So, I am a happy about it. The phone features like logs, profiles, vibrate mode, etc all seem great. Various themes help enhance the look of these features.

It's still a camera phone. 2MP is history. Fortunately, I am not expecting to have a good camera in my phone. It still does a good job to handle some surprise and fun photography needs or to post to a blog. If anyone is looking for a serious camera in a phone, this is not for you. And I doubt if there is a great camera phone out there! The fact that the camera has no flash means, it's almost useless to take pictures in dark situations.

Things I didn't expect
1. Five very good themes included. Maybe the screen is making them look even better.
2. Three very nice games and motion control works with one Marble game.
3. Wii like motion sensor working in games and PSP like menus.
4. The easiness in making your own themes with free tools.
5. RSS ticker on Main Screen.
6. Availability of 100s of free themes, and games for download.
7. The ease with which you can Sync your Google, Outlook Calendars.

Things that could have made this even a cooler phone
1. A flash to use with camera
2. Standard headphone jack for people who prefer not to carry two cable sets to use their own headphone set
3. Auto Screen orientation at all times. The auto orientations works automatically only in Media applications like Walkman, Pictures, Video, etc. For browsing, and games you have to choose from Menu.
4. Didn't find Sleep mode clock which some of the older Ericsson phones have (Maybe, it's there but I didn't look hard enough.
5. Ability to tag a track I am listening to pre-defined mood (This again might be something that is already there but couldn't figure it out as it's not mentioned in manual).

Features I couldn't test
1. Video calls as the AT&T version of 3G is not supported by this phone.

Who should buy this phone?
Anyone looking to have a stylish, well built, candy bar type slider phone, with excellent Walkman features and a HUGE screen. I love the SenseMe Music Moods feature. I never thought about using that but now, that's the way I am listening to my music. I let the Media Manager do the moods recognition for my collection and it did a fair good job.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sobhan Babu: An Icon in my life... joins the immortals

In everyone's life there will be someone we admire for most part of the life who is not a part of the family. Someone who brought lot of joy into your childhood, someone, who made you look forward to tomorrow. For me, it was Sobhan Babu, the immortal telugu movie star who passed away on March 20th, 2008.

For someone who didn't belong to 70s & 80s, it will be hard to digest most his movies. In fact, most of the telugu movies older than few years will feel absurd if we watch them today. So, we need to accept the fact that the greatness of most of his movies pertained to those years. Of course, he has lot of ever green movies and most of them belong to B&W era. One gem of a movie in which his acting skills are at pinnacle of glory is Malle Puvvu which fortunately belonged to the colorful days. He is considered a trend-setter in telugu movies. Even to this day many family movies are described as Sobhan Babu Style movie if hero had to deal with two heroins.

I still have a memory of a scene from Minor Babu in which he wins a car race. I probably was around 5-6 years than. That movie instantly made him my favorite movie star. For rest of my life, I ended up looking forward to his movies.

When I see my 8-year old son collecting Pokemon Cards these days, I recollect my childhood when I used to collect his pictures from several Telugu magazines. While I was studying in Nallapadu - Loyola Public School, I sneaked out to his movie "Manavadu Mahaneeyyudu" to see first day morning show. Later, I was caught by my warden who smacked me in front of 300+ students. While I felt humiliated that night, it later ended up being one of the sweetest moments of my life. I loved the feeling that I crossed all lines to enjoy his movie the first day. I once wrote him a letter telling him how much I like to see his movies and asked him to send me a picture of his family. He promptly sent me a picture which was signed by him. Too bad I lost that picture.

When I came out of boarding school to do inter in Vijayawada Siddhartha College, I felt like a free bird to watch as many movies as I want. My life until then, was strictly limited to watching around 6-8 movies per year. Those 2 years in Vijayawada are not only Golden Years of my movie watching but also happened to be part of Golden Year's for Sobhan Babu which started for him right when I was in 8th standard with the movie Malle puvvu.

During those two years, I enjoyed some of his best movies like Devalayam, Illalu Priyaralu, Bava Maradhallu, Jackie, Illalu Korikalu, Mundhadugu, etc. I watched some of them around 10-times. In fact, my weekend destination always had to be Kalyan Chakravarthi Theater in Vijayawada which was main theater for Lakshmi Chitra Films which distributed lot of Sobhan Babu's movies in those days. I also happened to watch lot of his great old movies during those years in suburban theaters. I also happened to see him for the first and only time when he was shooting for Jagan movie. Later when I went to see that movie in theater, I enjoyed throwing money at the screen just before the interval scene in which he rocks.

I was one of the few Sobhan Babu fans to openly admire him as many were shy to admit their craze for him as he was considered more a family hero unlike NTR, and Krishna who were action hero's.

As recently as 3 years back when I went to India, my sister made an appointment to meet him in person. I had a lazy afternoon with jet lag and I canceled it. What a missed opportunity! I will always look back to that day for missing out a great chance to meet my icon who brought so much joy into my childhood. Again last year, my sister asked me if I want to meet him. Me and my aunt thought we will make appointment to meet him after we are done with shopping. I was so excited that I will capture him on my new Sony HD Camcorder and Sony Alpha DSLR. Unfortunately, I missed out on that chance again as I got lost in shopping. These two missed opportunities to be with my childhood icon will haunt me for rest of my life as no one else had brought so much excitement into my early years like he did. Sunil Gavaskar was a distant second in bringing excitement into my childhood with his cricketing skills.

I am going to indulge myself in his movies during my retirement years to remind myself of many nostalgic moments in my life.

If I have to pick one movie from his 100s of great movies for someone to see, it will be Malle Puvvu. Listen to some great lyrics here


Related Links:
A Complete Planned Life
All About his Soggadu
One of his last interviews to
Sobhan Babu Profile
Sobhan Babu - Hyderabad Box-office Moghul
Sobhan Babu - Sarada Combination

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Anushka Themes for Sony Ericsson 240X320 Phones (W910i)

My love with W910i made me to learn to make themes for Sony Ericsson Phones. I made quite a few and might interest anyone who like Anushka - the Tollywood Beauty. I also made few more for Bollywood stars while I was trying to learn inside out of making themes. I am planning on doing more cooler themes and if possible flash themes for Tollywood Beauties and Cricket stars when I get time.