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Small Screen Epic: Making video for the PSP using Sony Vegas
It?s a small world after all. . .
By Mike Jones

For decades it was the search for the ever larger movie screen. The cinema theater grew through evolutionary stages; wide-screen, VistaVision, Cinemascope and IMAX, then charged into the home with bigger, wider plasma and LCD TV's that dominate our living rooms with 'home-theater' setups. Now the moving image is making another turn in a direction that opens up an amazing new medium for video-makers; the movie in the palm of your hand.

Every day the technology gets smaller and more powerful. A processor inside a common PDA today, that fits in your shirt pocket, has a faster clock speed than a full-size desktop computer of just 5 years ago. 3G mobile phones can deliver much more than an incoming call and one of the latest players on the field, Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP), has set a new benchmark for video and sound quality for the 'small-screen'.

With the Internet serving as a direct and incomparably cheap means of distributing a video project to a potentially enormous audience and devices such as the PSP multiplying like computer viruses, becoming standard accessories for the average Mary and Joe, the only question that remains is, how to get your video project onto your PSP? Or someone else's for that matter...

The answer is not really a simple one sentence response; obviously there are the usual technical issues of digital format, file-type, frame size and codec; but also aesthetic questions to be asked about what type of videos work best on small screens? What type of content is most engaging in the small screen format?

These later questions don't yet have definitive answers and are still to be pondered, explored and experimented with. But, for the first part, the common stumbling block that is the technical end of the spectrum, Sony has made the process significantly simpler with its Vegas professional editing system, providing direct export from the Vegas Timeline to your USB-connected PSP.

Essentially the method of getting video from Vegas to your PSP is a basic two or three click process. But to make the most of the medium it's important to understand the format and its particular constraints. Just like any delivery format - DVD, TV, VHS, CD, the Web - video for PSP has to conform to a particular set of criteria, and first amongst these is the frame size. So, to start with, we'll set up the project properties in Vegas to match the PSP's output.

The PSP's gloriously clear and bright wide-screen has an effective resolution of 420x272 but the MemoryStick video format isn't able to use all these pixels. Instead video for PSP needs to be at the slightly smaller 320x240 which the PSP will then scale in a variety of selected ways to fit the screen area and suit your tastes -

Full Screen (which stretches the pixels horizontally and vertically to fit), Original (which keeps the original 320x240 centered on the screen with a black border), Normal (which expands the image to fill the screen vertically but maintaining aspect ratio horizontally) and Zoom (which fills the frame with a uniform expansion of the dimensions but as a result crops the top and bottom of the frame, due to the fact that 420x297 is a wider aspect ratio - 1.41:1 - than 320x240 anamorphic 1.33:1 (the same PAR as HDV).

To set your project to the right dimensions, go to the Project Properties of Vegas and select Multimedia 320x240 from the Template drop-down list. This template will automatically give your video a frame rate of 15 frames per second but you can change this to your liking in the Frame Rate options. Fifteen frames per second is a perfectly acceptable frame rate and will save some degree of file size by comparison to PAL standard 25fps or NTSC 30fps. But if you want optimum smoothness, and file size isn't an issue, then go for 25 or 30fps. You'll also need to set the PAR to 1.33:1 to take advantage of the widescreen aspect. Vegas does a superb job of auto-scaling media content, so with these project settings you can throw DV, DV Widescreen, HDV or any other media you can think of onto the timeline and it will be scaled in proportion to match the project settings for the PSP.

Now that you've set your project up to match the properties of the PSP display you can layout your project on the Vegas timeline just as you would with any other editing project. Bear in mind that you'll be working with a screen size less than half the size of PAL DV/TV size, so still-images should be rescaled to fit. There's no need to use a 6 megapixel digital photo for just a 340x240 screen, so resize your images appropriately in an application such as Photoshop, allow a bit of over res if you plan on pan&scan or still image zooming. 

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