Sony eReader format (LRF) viewer for the Mac, Linux and Windows


Thanks to Kovid Goyal, the Sony Reader’s very own terrible software (iTunes wannabe) can very soon be decommissioned from my software collection. The libprs500 project, multi-platform solution written in Python works very well and allows to move data between Sony and your Mac / Linux / Windows. The UI is actually pretty decent, considering that it is not native Cocoa app:


You can also edit metadata, which is very important because of the limited screen space on PRS500. As added benefit, the application gives you a reader for LRF file format that allows reading unprotected LRF books on the Mac/Linux as well in addition to Windows. Here is a snapshot:


And best for the end: the libprs500 can do format conversion from TXT, HTML, RTF and LIT (haleluja !) as well as PDF – as long as it does not contain too many images. Seems like Christmas arrived twice this winter – and we have still Macworld ahead 🙂

Huge thanks to Kovid who wrote this thing and to Peter who made aware of it …

BOTD: The Reader


Today’s Blog of the Day is “The Reader”.

Everything about ebooks and readers – all the stuff I like. See at

Here I discovered that Sony is assumably preparing new version of reader – PRS 505. From the changes that should be included, none is IMHO really so important. The memory capacity of the reader with SD cards (which are reaching 8GB these days) is much bigger than you ever will need. If I should pick some enhancements hat would make a huge difference, it would be:

1) price. Make it accessible, meaning ~ 150 USD (which is about 145 CAD 🙂 – just kidding)

2) content – price and availability of books. The fair price for eBook should not be more than 30-40% of the paperback. Without DRM, of course. Who would want any DRM from the company with 2 rootkit fiasco’s in last 2 years (first and second) ?

3) Software – Sony please stop trying to create these terrible slow knock-off of iTunes, and outsource it to somebody that will write decent client, preferably in Java, so that it runs everywhere. Considering Sony’s software history, making it opensource would help to restore the trust …

Speaking of software, it should provide an easy way how to download and format RSS feed and web pages for offline reading, ideally again something in the way how iTunes handles podcasts.

I do not think that adding WiFi (what many people call for) will work on the eInk device – speed and lack of interactivity would allow to read only very static Web pages, and user input handling would be a big challenge.

Experiment with Sony Reader battery life


After returning from holidays with completely drained PRS 500 (see field test blog entry), I have decided to test what is the battery life of the fully charged reader without any usage at all. It was easy as I was pretty busy after being away 3 weeks.

The reader was fully charged on 29th of August (24 hrs with wall charger). After that, I did not use it at all, only checked every 2-3 days the status (the reader was switched off except this brief check). As of Wednesday morning, September 19th the battery was drained and the reader switched itself off right away (it is being charged as I type this). This gives us about 3 weeks of available standby time, without any use from page turning, until the fully charged battery is completely drained.

This result allows new angle in looking into the “7500 pageturns story”. Let’s assume that the battery indeed lasts for 7500 turns and let’s factor in the consumption of standby. When the reader is off, every week will take away about one third of the charge – or in other words you will loose battery capacity equivalent to 2500 page turns a week regardless whether you switch it on or not.

If you would turn page every 2 secs, 30 pages a minute, 1800 pages an hour, chances are that you might get closer to the ideal capacity. But if you read a book with a speed of 200 pages per hour (these are small pages) and have have time to read 2 hours a day, during you will “spend” about 7 x 2 x 200 = 2800 page turns – plus the weekly standby tax of 2500 page turns. With this, you will have available about 2200 turns – or less than a week in standby and if you will continue to read, you will have to recharge in about 9-10 days. Which is quite consistent with what I have seen o vacation: the reader died after two and half week (~ 6000 turns) plus about 1500 real pages.

So, the 7500 turns may not be such an impossible number – if you can read 1000+ pages an hour :-).

With the size of the screen, depending on the font and real page count books are anywhere between 500 and 1500 turns long. That means, one full charge is realistically good for 3-4 books.

Field test of Sony eReader


One of the many gadgets I have packed for the summer vacation was of course Sony Reader and SD card with nice selection of texts. It was fresh and fully charged, so I assumed that I will be well prepared for the gaps in program during the following three weeks ahead of us and for the long flights over Atlantic.

Obviously, the flight was first moment where Reader was used. During the 7 hours, I spent about 3-4 hours reading. We flew through the night, but the overhead spotlight in airplane was more than sufficient and the letters were very well readable. I also enjoyed the almost non-reflexive surface of the screen.

As we were traveling, I did not read much during first week – maybe 4-5 hours in total. Where I really had some leisure time and used it again was Siena (by the swimming pool) and a bit on beach in Tirrenia and Lido di Ostia. For these light conditions, the Reader is probably only electronic device usable – it is perfectly readable in direct sunlight. Few years ago I tried to read during vacation outdoors on Pocket PC – with very dismal results.

As the trip was coming towards the end, so was the battery indicator on the PRS 500. No way I have made 7500 page turns – altogether, it could have been 1000-1500 pages, with some menu searching certainly not more than 2000 turns. The reader was on for about 20 hours (which should not count as it is not supposed to consume any energy in on state). During the two and half weeks and less than 2000 turns the battery was on single bar of four.

Foolishly enough, I have not packed the charger, relying on 3000-4000 pages capacity. What a mistake. I had plan B – using USB cable and charging through computer. I had with me Macbook – without Sony Connect software (which is available in Sony’s tradition for Windows only) – but I assumed that to charge all I need is powered USB port. Mistake number two – it did not work.

What happened was quite weird – the power indicator actually jumped to full after connecting, and stayed there while connected, but it looked like the computer actually drained the battery. After few hours I disconnected the reader, turned it on – and screen went blank. After reconnecting it to USB, it showed the cable indicator, but did not really charge – even when left attached overnight. As result, I was flying back without access to my ebooks. At home, after full recharge from the adapter, it behaved perfectly OK.

I am not sure whether this means that Reader really must be charged only by the wall charger – or whether the USB ports in Macbook did not have enough power for charge. I think I saw the charging via USB work before – but it was my Fujitsu Lifebook, which has the Connect installed. More experiments pending 🙂

Fortunately, we were well equipped and bringing back one suitcase full of boks purchased in my favorite Bratislava bookstore – so I survived :-).

Lessons learned:

1) do not trust Sony’s marketing. The 7500 page turns is an urban legend. I have reader for 8 months now and NEVER came even close to half of that number.
2) Always bring the charger – the battery will discharge even with very light use during 2-3 weeks.

3) Reader is best thing to have for outdoor, bright environments. Reading in limited, artificial light conditions is not so great – but workable. Overhead spotlight in airplane works fine.

4) Reader is good for about 20-25 hours and around 1500-2000 page turns without charge.

It is still not bad – I have no other device running for more than 4-5 hours without needing a recharge – but quite  a disappointment with respect to the high expectations.

Sony eReader – charging problem fixed ?


With the latest software update (I am now on 1.0.3), one of the issues to be fixed was the “charging indicator behaviour”. Looks like it was indeed the software bug. After upgrade, the indicator jumped to full 4 bars and stayed there. Beforehand, I had usually only 3 bars regardless how long it was charged.

Time will tell – I am taking the reader with me to Italy to get some mileage out of it, during transatlantic flight …

Strange charging behaviour of Sony Reader


Despite pretty impressive battery life – which is btw *nowhere* in the range of advertised 7500 page turns – over period of few months I have noted that the charging of the reader behaves kind of funny. Sometimes, even after being plugged-in for 24 hours, the battery indicator stubbornly stays on two squares out of four. Other times, right after connecting, it jumps right to full charge.

It is hard to really measure these things as the battery depletion is very slow on reading and I do not really listen to music on this device (that’s what iPods are for). I am not the only person who noticed this behaviour – Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte, who enhanced my favorite podcast Security Now!  to be an unofficial eBook Sony Reader news exchange 🙂 have seen the same thing (search for Sony). Btw, Steve and Leo – thanks for doing the eBooks plugs – I appreciate that a lot …

One possible explanation is that the problem is more in indication, not in charging. The software running the Reader (Linux) may get confused about what is the actual state of the battery – because even if the charge shows one half, it does not seem like the battery was indeed half empty.

Maybe what would help is to create few charge-discharge cycles by running the MP3 player which should use the battery in matter of hours, not days. I will try it out when I get to it – unless the next software update fixes the flaw (if it indeed is a software problem).

Converting eBooks to Sony Reader format


Since yesterday, I made nice progress in solving my issues with content creation for PRS500 and it’s readability. There are several ways how to proceed:

The simplest is to download Book Designer. It is free for non-commercial use and current version 5.0 Alpha does the job very well. It allows you to load source in text, HTML, Lit, PDF, PalmDoc (prd/prc), rb and few other formats and process them into native LRF format – plus few others I do not really care about. The result is nice, readable LRF file with three sizes, nicely formatted, with metada. As added benefit, because the author is Russian, the program does not assume that English alphabet is the only one in existence and allows to select encoding. The result is quite good – most of the extended characters from Czech/Slovak are there, some are missing and displayed as space (namely ř,ě,ľ …) but it is readable. What is maybe better option is that with English as language and default encoding, the software “downscales” the extended characters to closest English pairs: ř -> r,ě -> e – which results in familiar computer Czech/Slovak. I am very comfortable with option 2, and will work on getting correct font for #1.

If you want to read more about the program go here and here – as long as you can read Russian. I found out that even after 22 years of not using Russian, I can still reasonably well read and understand it …

The program is useful for creating Palmbooks as well as Microsoft Reader Lit book. I did not try that yet. User interface of Book Designer is not exactly Apple-made – extremely technical,  geekish – looking like designed  by engineer for engineers 🙂  – here is how it looks like.  But it is the functionality that counts. Thank you – whoever made this possible :-).

If you want actually understand how the LRF format works and how the book is formatted on very low level, read the format spec and then download the BBeBinder from Google Code. It is C# 2.0 project, which aims to create something similar that BookDesigner – but as opensource, GPL-ed application. It is very early version (0.2) but in the true spirit of opensource, it actually (mostly) works. I have downloaded it and looked inside the code. The solution contains BBeB encoding/decoding library and main program, which was nicely designed with extensibility in mind. Using plugins, it allows to add additional input data formats (currently works well for text files, some HTML and I had mixed results with others).

If both of my projects were not in C# space (which is causing me being slightly over-see-sharped at the moment), I would not mind volunteering few hours into this – to make sure that Central European encoding is handled OK :-).