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GBA SP Movie Player Review
GBA(SP) Movie Player Adapter.buy yours from
Japanese company, AM3, were the first to announce a licensed movie
player adapter for the GBA. When plugged into a GBA/SP, the adapter, known as
the 'Advanced Movie Player' or 'AM3 Player', allows the GBA/SP to display multimedia
content like movies, music and e-books that are recorded on Smart Media Cards
(SMC). AM3 has already released some pre-recorded movies for their player and
will in future, also make available content that can be downloaded on-line and
recorded onto blank SMCs.
This is all well and good, but unfortunately for
the consumer, the 'AM3 Player' will only play licensed content that must be purchased.
Although I might be wrong, it's doubtful that AM3 will ever release their encoder
to the public. Without this program, users will not be able to encode or convert
their own personal movies and music for the 'AM3 Player'.
for us, however, a third party manufacturer has just released their own unlicensed
movie player adapter for the GBA/SP. This adapter, known as the 'GBA(SP) Movie
Player' is just like the 'AM3 Player'. The only difference is that it uses Compact
Flash Cards (CF) instead of SMCs. More importantly, the adapter also comes with
its own encoder software which gives the user free reign to encode any movie or
music he wants.
Features of the GBA(SP) Movie Player
Below is the feature
list for GBA(SP) Movie Player:
- Comes with its own software to convert
any 'Windows Media Player' compatible video and music files to the GBA format
used by the adapter. Current list of supported files are: AC3, WAV, MP2, MP3,
RA, RM, RAM, RMVB, Mpeg, Mpg, M2V, AVI, ASF, WMA, WMV, DAT.
- Uses any size
Compact Flash Cards as storage medium. Once a file has been converted on your
PC, simply copy it to the CF card and the adapter will play it on the GBA. The
adapter also supports folders which allows easy sorting of multimedia content.
Depending on the compression setting used, approximately 60 minutes of video with
audio can be stored on a 128MB CF card.
- Able to display E-Books in standard
text (*.txt) format.
What's In The Box
The only thing you'll get with
this adapter is the adapter itself and the encoding software on CD. As such, you'll
need to buy two things if you want to use it.
Things To Have Or Buy
is a CF card of course, and secondly, a CF card reader. If you've got the cash,
go for the highest capacity CF card that you can afford. CF cards are quite cheap,
but since I'm broke, I could only afford to buy a Kingston 128MB capacity CF card
CF card readers are also cheap and I managed to get one that
could read 8 different types of flash cards for about USD$24. If you don't know,
the reader is used to transfer files from your computer to the CF card.
Flash Card & Card Reader.
Using The Encoding Software
got your CF card reader installed and ready to use on your PC, then you're all
set to start encoding some video and audio for your GBA. As I've mentioned, the
encoding software comes on a CD, so you'll need to install it on your PC first.
I'm using Windows XP Pro, and the program installed without a hitch. The encoder
is actually two separate programs - one for video files and another for audio
The movie encoding program.
For the novice,
the video encoding software will appear initially overwhelming. There are no wizards
to help you, although there is a 'guide info' box that displays basic instructions
on how to encode your first movie. Since I am novice, I decided to read all the
instructions first. After reading it, I realised that it was quite easy to encode
a file just by using all the basic defaults. The software actually has a lot of
options to tweak your video, but it's always best to start with the default settings
when you're just starting out.
Fast Compress Mode, Stereo Sound
to the guide, using the 'Fast' compress mode together with '8:1' stereo option
will result in high quality video and stereo sound. For testing, I decided to
encode a 1:06 minute high quality Mpeg movie.
On this setting, it took my
old but trusty Pentium 3, 550Mhz computer exactly 5:30 minutes to encode the movie.
As you can see, the encoding isn't in real time, but with a faster computer, I'm
sure that the encoding times will be reduced.
After the encoding was done,
I discovered two files in my save directory. One is a video file, which has a
GBM (M for movie) extension and the other an audio file, which has a GBS (S for
sound) extension. Unlike standard movie files, movies encoded for the adapter
are split into their respective video and audio streams, as such, you must copy
both these files to the CF card.
In 'Fast' compress mode, the GBM file was
a whopping 17.9MB while the GBS file was 1.41MB. In comparison, the actual Mpeg
file was only 11.1MB. 'Fast' compress mode uses less compression which results
in a bigger file but shorter encoding time.
Normal Compress Mode, Mono Sound
the same Mpeg movie, I next used 'Normal' compress mode. According to the guide,
using the 'Normal' compress mode together with the '11:1' mono option will result
in standard quality video and mono sound.
On this setting, it took my computer
longer at 16:27 minutes to encode the file. This time, the GBM file was a lot
smaller at 4.97MB while the GBS file was 1.05MB.
As you can see from the
results, 'Normal' compress mode uses more compression which results in a smaller
file size but at the expense of a much longer encoding time.
music encoding program has a much simpler interface and anyone will be able to
figure it out since there aren't that many options.
The music encoder
For my music test, I ripped a song from a music CD in PCM WAV format.
I chose the '8:1' stereo option and converted it. The music encoding was really
fast and it took less than 5 seconds to convert the file to the GBS format. The
original WAV file was 58.6MB in size, while the converted file was only 7.38MB.
This isn't too bad, although not as good as MP3 compression.
The adapter also supports E-Books in standard TXT format, so no converting
is necessary. E-Books in RTF or Microsoft DOC extensions are not supported, so
remember to convert them first to the standard text format without any special
formatting before copying them to the CF card.
Sending The Files To The
Once you've got all your files ready, you can now copy them to your
CF Card. The adapter supports folders, so you can easily sort all your files in
folders and separate them according to music, movies and E-Books.
The GBA(SP) Movie Player Adapter
Using the adapter itself is easy. There are
two slots in the adapter. One slot is where you insert the GBA cartridge and the
other slot is where you insert the CF card. The adapter will not boot without
a game cartridge installed since it uses the boot-up code from the game cartridge.
Once you've inserted the game cartridge and CF card into the adapter, you can
then insert the adapter into the GBA/SP. There is also a switch at the side of
the adapter that allows you to conveniently toggle between game and movie mode.
GBA(SP) Movie Player Adapter.
The adapter plugged into a SP.
Player Menu - Watching Movies
When you turn on the SP with adapter switch
set to movie mode, you'll soon see the menu for the movie player. It's a nice,
colorful interface with five self-explanatory icons. The icons are: Movie, Music,
Book, About and Help. You can scroll through the icons using the direction pad
and pressing the 'A' button to select your choice.
The Player menu icons.
chose to see my movies first and so I selected the Movie icon. Immediately, I
was taken to the next screen where all my folders were displayed.
the player doesn't support long file names and will truncate whatever you named
your files to just 8 characters. I chose the folder where my music videos were
stored. I selected the file I wanted to watch and pressed the 'A' button and suddenly
my video appeared on the small but clear and sharp SP screen. I tell you, it was
a wonderful surprise to actually see full motion video with sound playing on the
GBA. In movie mode, you can use the direction pad to jump either one minute forward
and backward as well as pause by hitting the 'A' button. I fiddled with the controls
a while and read through the help file on the various controls in video mode.
video playing on SP.
The Player Menu - Listening To Music
Next, I jumped
to the Music icon and selected the folder where my music files were stored. Again,
I chose the song I wanted and pressed the 'A' button and immediately music started
blaring from the SP's small speaker. I plugged in my headphone and was happy to
hear music that sounded crystal clear. As you can see from the screen shot below,
when you play a music file, the menu will display information like the title of
the song, compression mode used, total time of the song and time elapsed. You
can also pause, reverse and forward your song using the direction pad.
The Player Menu - Reading E-Books
Next, I chose the E-Book icon
and selected the folder where my text files were stored and selected the title
I wanted to read. The text file displayed in full landscape with 10 lines a page.
The text displayed was sharp and legible. The player automatically numbers the
pages and you can flip to the next page by pressing the 'A' button or 10 pages
at a time by pressing 'right' on the direction pad. You can even listen to music
at the same time while reading an E-Book by activating a music file first.
on the player.
Movies On The Player - The Good And Bad
The Good: As I
mentioned before, I encoded two videos from the same movie clip. One used 'Fast'
compress mode for high quality videos and the other, 'Normal' compress mode for
The high quality video looked simply stunning on the SP
screen. The colors were rich and vibrant, and thanks to the lower compression
rate and the SP's high resolution screen, artifacting and pixelation was almost
non-existent. The frame rate was also impressive and although it definitely wasn't
full frames, it was fluid and quite smooth. Sound was also good, particularly
with earphones. It's a pity that there isn't a way to show the actual high quality
The standard video using the 'Normal' compress mode was also quite
good. The colors were obviously down sampled and there was also noticeable artifacts
and pixelation, but it was still clear and vibrant on the SP screen. Frame rate
was still fluid but the sound wasn't as good because of the mono stream.
Bad: Strangely, when playing the high quality video, none of the controls for
pause, reverse and forward worked. Worse of all, audio synch was totally out of
whack and always played faster than the video. According to the built-in help
guide, this is a normal occurrence and you can supposedly synch the sound with
the video again by pressing the 'left' and 'right' shoulder buttons. Doing this
will either forward the sound 1/5 of a second forward or backward to match the
video. But like I said, none of the controls worked and so I couldn't synch the
sound at all. The Standard quality video, however, didn't have this synching problem.
not an expert, but I would guess that high quality video uses most of the SP's
processing power to decode, and since the video and audio streams are separate,
video decoding will ultimately drag behind the audio decoding thus causing the
out of synch problems. Standard video quality, however, wouldn't take as much
processing power to decode, and so I guess will have less synching problems.
On The Player - The Good And Bad
The Good: Music ripped directly from CD and
encoded for the player sounds really good, especially with earphones. I have no
complaints about the sound quality.
The Bad: When I encoded an MP3 file,
however, and used it in the player, the music sounded terrible with lots of background
noise and audible hiss. From this, I gather that it's a bad idea to encode MP3
files since they are already in a compressed format. The additional conversion
to the GBS format for the player only makes it sound terrible and doesn't decrease
the file size at all. In fact, when encoding MP3 files to the GBS format, most
of the time the file was either the same size or even bigger.
The Player - The Good And Bad
The Good: Reading text files on the player was
really quite good. The wide landscape mode of the screen and the sharp and clear
font used made reading very easy. The fact that you could also listen to music
while reading is also a cool feature.
The Bad: Although the reader was good
it has one crucial flaw - there is no option to bookmark a page which makes reading
large tomes almost useless, unless of course you care to remember the page each
time you stopped and jump to it when you want to read again. This is really a
bad oversight on the part of the developer.
using the player for a few days now, I find that it is indeed one hell of a gadget
and really does well to extend the multimedia capabilities of the GBA/SP. I've
also discovered that this is one gadget that not everyone can buy. To make my
review simpler, please read my recommendations below to see if you have what it
takes to really enjoy the GBA(SP) Movie Player Adapter.
1. If you suck at
computers and are severely IT challenged and don't want to learn, then don't get
2. If you don't already have one or are too cash strapped to
buy a high capacity CF card and reader, then don't get the adapter.
you're impatient and don't have a fast computer that's at least a Pentium 4, 2.0GHz
and above, then don't get the adapter. Encoding video files is very processor
intensive especially for full length movies. On my slow Pentium 3, 550MHz computer,
it takes approximately 16 hours to convert a 1 hour video.
4. If you really
can't be bothered to actually test every setting in the encoder software to get
the best quality movie at the best compression rate and file size, then don't
get the adapter. Like I said, the encoder software is quite confusing for the
novice. There are so many options and no wizards at all, so everything you attempt
initially will be by trial and error.
5. If you primarily want to read E-Books
then don't get the adapter. The reader function doesn't have a bookmark option
which makes reading a book extremely difficult.
6. If you don't like anything
sticking out from your GBA/SP, then don't get the adapter. Also, if you only have
a GBA, you should forget about the adapter since without a built-in frontlight,
watching movies will not be as enjoyable.
These are just a few points to
note if you're considering buying the adapter. The adapter can do three things,
but it's only very good in one - and that is playing movies. As a music player,
the software is sorely lacking in a lot of functions that a cheap MP3 player has.
As an E-Book reader, it's even worse, since it doesn't have a bookmark option.
On Encoding Movies And Music
As I've said the adapter is very good at playing
movies, although I should add that like the 'AM3 Player', most of the video processing
is actually done by the GBA/SP's processor itself. To get good quality video you
should always remember this saying, "Garbage in, Garbage out". What
this means is that you should always strive to get the best quality video as your
source before encoding it for the player. If you use a bad quality video source,
then you'll definitely get a bad quality video on the SP. Whenever possible, try
to encode a source file that is in a non-compressed AVI format and at high resolutions.
same goes for music files. Converting a compressed format like MP3, RM or WMA
results in music that sounds really bad on the GBA/SP. Use music files in raw
PCM WAV format for the best sound quality.
Also, try to experiment with
all the different settings in the encoder software. I haven't tried it yet, but
according to some reports, cartoons and anime look really good on the player.
Since the software doesn't as yet support or save profiles, write down and keep
all the settings you've used that produce the kind of quality video and audio
Personally, I like the GBA(SP) Movie Player
Adapter. Despite the lack of an in-depth help file in understandable English,
the encoding software can produce some pretty good quality videos at acceptable
file sizes. Sadly, the music and E-Book functions are rudimentary at best, and
there is no doubting the fact than they are sorely lacking in a lot of functions.
Still, nothing beats that wow! factor when you see your first movie playing on
the GBA/SP. Aside from movies and music videos, watching home videos or even photographs
in the form of a movie slide show is something that never wears off in novelty.
Yes, there is a steep learning curve, but with patience and the right hardware,
making movies for the player will soon be as easy as ABC. I'm not sure as to the
legality of the software, but I really hope that the developers will release further
upgrades to make it easier to use. There is a lot that needs to be done to make
the player really good, but unfortunately, in its present state, I can only give
it 3 out of 5 stars, mainly because it isn't easy to use out of the box and also
because of some of the control problems I've encountered when playing video files
in 'Fast' compress mode.
Last Minute Additions
I've just learned from
the manufacturer's web site that the adapter firmware is upgradeable and that
they are already working on improving the encoder software. As soon as a new firmware
or software upgrade is available, I will re-test the adapter to see if any of
the bugs have been rectified.
Heres a rundown
of who supplies