Reading eBooks on Your PSP

The Sony PlayStation Portable is an amazing mobile device that has uses well beyond it’s gaming roots. With the inclusion of a version of the Mozilla Firefox browser in recent firmware updates, the PSP has now become a very convenient eBook reader with a nice high-resolution screen.

The problem is, though, that using the browser in this way is not exactly "supported" in the sense of having an easy and automated process by which to get the eBooks on the PSP and navigate to the files without some tinkering. But, because I am a geek and I actually enjoy figuring things like this out, I have come up with some relatively easy step-by-step instructions for you to do this yourself.

First, a word about eBooks in general. Digital versions of many books are available for purchase or free download from many sources. It is beyond the scope of this article to outline the many sources, both legal and illicit for eBooks on the Internet. I will use one source, though, for some of the examples I use here: Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org) Project Gutenberg currently has 17,000 free eBooks available for download. All of these books are free because they are in the Public Domain in the United States. You can even download an ISO DVD image of the collection for offline access to the texts. The texts are available in two formats: plain text (txt) and a zip archive version for faster download (the same txt file is compressed inside the zip archive). So, there is a tremendous number of public domain eBooks available for free online in plain text format. These books are readable in plain text format in the PSP browser, but you will find that they are difficult to read this way on the PSP because you will need to scroll from right to left to see all of the text, something totally unacceptable for easy reading. Therefore, you will need to convert these files into HTML format for easy reading. Below, I will give you step-by-step instruction on doing this yourself, without learning how to write HTML or undertaking the tedious task of adding tags.

In addition to plain text, there are a few other formats you might run into for eBooks. There are several proprietary formats that require specialized reader software for display. In this group, I include Adobe Acrobat format, though depending on the supplier of the eBook, it may be possible to convert an Acrobat PDF eBook into HTML for access on the PSP. I will not include instructions for converting these proprietary formats, though there are tools available on the Internet to convert them, for lack of space here and copyright concerns. (Don’t get me started….) I will address a few other formats that are common, though. These formats include, Rich Text Format (rtf), Microsoft Word (doc), and Windows Help File (chm) formats.

Let me begin by telling you the best way to get an eBook on your PSP (besides reading one online). It took a bit of experimentation before I figured out where to put files to make them easily accessible to the browser. It turns out I was really over-thinking the issue, looking for a folder that would be the root for the browser so I wouldn’t have to type in a long path with the crappy PSP text entry controls. All you need to do is drop the file or files right in the root directory of your Memory Stick – it doesn’t even have to be inside your PSP folder. Of course, you can put it anywhere inside the PSP folder, but you’d have to enter a nasty path for the browser to find it – and that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? So if you have an HTML file or even a group of linked files (this is a browser we’re dealing with, remember), all you have to do is copy it over to the PSP’s Memory Stick. I won’t go into details here about how to do that for lack of space, but I got myself a nice little SanDisk MobileMate MS+ USB Memory Stick adapter to accomplish this. And, it goes without saying that you have to have a big enough memory stick to fit the files you are copying over. Mine is a 1 GB stick so I have lots of room (even when I have a ton of video on it); remember HTML files are comparatively small.

One note on linked files, you can create your own index of books on your PSP with some really simple HTML, especially if you use a simple web page editor, such as Netscape Composer (free download). Just make links to the eBooks on a single page and call it ebooks.html; then drop that file with the eBook files onto the PSP and make a bookmark to that file in the PSP’s browser. That way you won’t have to type in the file name in the address bar to read your books. You could even make that index your homepage. Anything to keep from using that damn PSP text input control! In addition to files you create and link yourself, you can download a web site spider application (there is a great Firefox plugin for this called Spiderzilla – http://spiderzilla.mozdev.org/). That way you can suck down a copy of a website you would like to read on your PSP offline. When you are waiting in line somewhere or taking a trip (preferably not when you are behind the wheel) you can browse the site without having to have an Internet connection.

Ok. So now that you have the file or files on your Memory Stick in your PSP, fire up that browser! One of the things I appreciate about the browser on the PSP is that Sony did not make the PSP establish a WiFi connection just to run the browser. This is very good news for us, because we can browse offline files without using the extra battery power that the WiFi radio requires. Thanks, Sony. Those are two words you’ll rarely hear me utter without scathing sarcasm.

  1. Once your browser is started, use the directional buttons on the left of the PSP to navigate to the File menu item on the far left at the bottom of the browser. It looks like a white box with a row of three clear circles and a clear bar at the top of the box.
  2. Click the X button and the File dropdown menu appears.
  3. Click X again to select "Address Entry." The much hated PSP browser text entry screen appears.
  4. Use the directional buttons to move to the "http://" key.
  5. Press the X button on your PSP five times until you see the file:/ protocol displayed. The file protocol tells the browser to look for the page on the local file system instead of on the network.
  6. Next, just use the text entry controls to enter the file name of the eBook or index file you would like to access. Remember to include the .html or .htm extension when entering the file name.
  7. Finally move the cursor to the Enter key and press X. You should see the page load into the browser.

If you are having trouble seeing the text, you can navigate over to the View menu item (it looks like an "A" in a white box) and select it. You will see a popup menu with "Text Size" as one of the options. If you select it you can set the text size to one of three presets: small, normal, or large. Alternatively, you can use an HTML editor to adjust the text size in the file so that it is easier for you to read. Experiment with different sizes to suit your taste. To read your eBook, press the triangle button to make the browser fullscreen. The simplest navigational method is to use the Down Directional Button on the left side of the PSP while in fullscreen mode to move down approximately one screen at a time.

Converting Between eBook Formats

So now that you have the basics of getting eBooks onto your PSP and accessing them with the PSP’s browser, let’s consider how to get eBooks in other common "open" formats to display properly in the PSP browser. First, let’s take a look at converting plain text (txt) files into HTML. There are several applications available for accomplishing this conversion, but I am going to give you a step-by-step walk-through of a free application called Text2HTML from CyberMatrix Corporation, Inc. (http://www.cyber-matrix.com/t2downloads.html). Here I’ll use a text I downloaded from Project Gutenberg: "Ebooks: Neither E, Nor Books," by Cory Doctorow:

View the Flash Tutorial

You can preview the new HTML file in a browser to ensure all is well. I would recommend Firefox, since that is the base browser used on the PSP (and there are many, many more reasons to be using Firefox over IE, as well).

Next, we’ll consider Word documents and that format will give us an easy transition to RTF. Because the PSP browser will not read a Word .doc file natively, you will need to convert the document into HTML. Unfortunately, Word is notoriously terrible at creating HTML for the consumption of anything other than Internet Explorer. And since we are working with a version of Mozilla Firefox here, we will need to use another method of conversion. Although there are tools for converting Word files to HTML without the junk code Word puts into it, I am going to recommend an interim format, RTF, and a single free application, RTFtoHTML, that will handle all files of that format. If you have a Word document and you use Word to access those files, just use the "Save As" option under the file menu and change the type to RTF. If you use OpenOffice or Corel WordPerfect Suite, you can save the file directly to HTML format, since those applications create nice standards-compliant HTML.

Once you have an RTF file, check out the freeware application RTFtoHTML from IrekSoftware.com (http://www.ireksoftware.com/RTFtoHTML). Take a look at the linked tutorial below for a step-by-step walk-through of the conversion process:

View the Flash Tutorial

You might want to change the name of the file to something short and descriptive (remember, doing this plays to our PSP Text Entry Avoidance Strategy). If you will be creating an index page for your eBooks, a nice name is less important.

Finally, you might run across some eBooks (especially technical manuals) in Windows Compiled Help format, .chm. This format is basically a compressed version of HTML specially created for Help Documentation on the Windows platform. Unfortunately, it is unsupported on the PSP currently (and I suspect for the future, as well). It is possible to extract the HTML files that make up the CHM file using an open source tool called chmdeco by Paul Wise, available from http://savannah.nongnu.org/projects/chmdeco

Once you install chmdeco in Windows, you will have a couple of new menu options when you right click .chm files in a file system window. Here’s a step-by-step for conversion using chmdeco:

  1. In Windows Explorer navigate to the folder containing the .chm eBook you wish to convert to HTML files.
  2. Right click the file name and choose the option "Unpack with istorage."
  3. When you select that option a Command window will open and you will see the application making the conversion.
  4. When the Command window closes, look inside the folder where the file you selected for conversion is located. You will see a new folder with the same name as the file you converted. Inside this folder you will see html files and some other folders and files. What you see here depends on how the original .chm was constructed. Therefore, you will need to look around and see exactly what you will need to copy to view the new mini-website on the PSP.
  5. You should find an HTML file with "main" in its filename. This is the start file for the book. You could rename that file to something easier to enter using that terrible PSP text entry tool (again with our strategy), or if you are making an index page for your books you can just add a link to the file there.
  6. Finally, rename the folder to something short and just copy the whole folder over to your PSP. Some of the files that chmdeco/istorage creates are not really necessary for reading the book in a browser. Experiment with leaving files out if you have any issues with space on your memory card.

There are several nice benefits to the exported CHM structure for a book. First, you might run into memory issues on your PSP if you try to load a giant HTML book file. In which case, you can easily split the file into smaller files using Netscape Composer or another HTML editor. But in the case with the converted CHM file, you already have a site with a table of contents and a series of smaller files. Very nice – all the work is done for you already.

I hope this guide will give you one more use for the versatile and fun little device that the Sony PlayStation Portable is. Feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions. I think devices like the PSP, the iPod, and Smart Phones will open new delivery methodologies for education and communication within communities of inquiry. I hope we can help faculty at Tulane take advantage of these new modes of communication effectively.

5 Comments so far

  1. Paul Dames on April 1st, 2007

    Thanks! A very helpful tutorial. You rock!

    Nice tips for .chm files….

  2. Mark on August 2nd, 2008

    Hi there! i’m trying to read a .txt file on the PSP and it shows ” this content cannot be displayed. ”

    I followed your instructions…maybe the file is too big?

  3. Criptych on August 10th, 2008

    There’s also a tool called “psp ebook creator” (http://parablax.co.uk/) that converts text files to JPGs for viewing in the PSP Photo viewer. The “books” end up about 50x their original size, but it comes out looking pretty nice. 🙂 Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to support HTML. By the way, I believe you can decompile CHM files with the HTML Help Workshop (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=00535334-c8a6-452f-9aa0-d597d16580cc)

    On a less related note, I wonder if there are any readers out (or in development) that support PalmDoc books?

  4. LenN on September 25th, 2008

    any spaces have to be either omitted from the filename or you must place a instead so a name like “the Ring” would either have to be renetered as “thering” or you must type in using the horrible PSP typing thingy like this “the ring”

  5. Rob on February 1st, 2009

    Thanks for the ebook tool and all the useful comments. Tried this tool and the books do look really good. Appreciate the good info.