Liberate the Sony Librie E-ink reader
by Phillip Torrone
November 21, 2005
The Sony Librie is a stunning e-ink ebook device with the most print-like book reading experience you can have onscreen at this time (the display works by moving microscopic black and white particles held within spherical microcapsules). The Librie's display looks so "real" that it seems as if it's a sticker, or that the screen has been printed on. You won't forget the first time you see one of these displays, and you can happily read from one for hours, under varying light conditions, without eye fatigue.
For the most part, the Librie hasn't been a success in the market; Sony crippled it with DRM (digital rights management) and only released in it Japan. But the hackers and tinkerers of the world have taken this device and modded its firmware, freeing its potential. We're going to show you how to English-ize the device, since its interface is in Japanese, and make non-DRMed, Librie-readable ebooks for free.
Ingredients for this How-To:
- Sony Librie
- PC (Virtual PC on a Mac also works, sorta). There are also other tools (see Resources at end of this article)
- Memory Stick and Reader - not strictly needed, but helpful
- Ebooks (txt files, pdfs, etc.)
- Librie English GUI Firmware Patch - converts Librie to English-language GUI
- Librie Text Assistant v 0.1 (download from here after joining Librie Yahoo! Group) - cleans up text before conversion to Sony's e-book format, LRF
- MakeLRFGUI(download from here after joining Librie Yahoo! Group) - converts plain text files to Librie-compatible LRF format
- LIBRIé for Windows (download from here after joining Librie Yahoo! Group) - English version of Librie software, shuttles LRF files between PC and Librie or memory stick
The Sony Librie
What is the Sony Librie? You may have never heard of this device before. Here's what it looks like, along with its specs:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The 1000EP possesses the following specifications:
- 6-inch diagonal display using E Ink's electronic paper technology
- Super Video Graphics Array (600 by 800 dots)
- 170 dots per inch
- 300 grams (10.6 oz) with case and batteries (190 grams / 6.7 oz without)
- 126 millimeters (5 in) by 190 millimeters (7.5 in) by 13 millimeters (0.5 in)
- Motorola Dragonball central processing unit
- Sony Linux OS
- 10MB storage
- Memory Stick slot (Memory Stick Pro compatible)
- USB 2.0 port
- Headphones jack
- Monaural speaker
The unit was designed to be about the same weight as the average book on the Japanese market. The E Ink technology is a monochrome (4 level greyscale) display device which changes reflectivity by moving microscopic black and white particles held within spherical microcapsules.
There is a tiny qwerty keyboard at the bottom of the display, permiting a limited form of marginalia, as well as a small roller wheel. Content will be available on a subscription basis only, and the price of the unit is comparable to that of some PDAs. Battery life is also comparable to that of many PDAs because while the electronic ink display does not require any power once it is set to show a specific page, the Motorola Dragonball CPU requires constant power, and read and write operations between the storage and the memory stick also require power.
The Librie can currently only display contents in the Broad Band eBook (BBeB) format. The primary BBeB content provider is Publishing Link, a joint venture between Sony and a number of large Japanese publishers and printers. Using the digital rights management functions of BBeB and the Librie, content from Publishing Link is set to expire and be unreadable after 60 days.
That's right: 60 days. And then your reading material expires and disappears. Furthermore, the tools that were originally available (in Japanese) to make ebooks for the Librie weren't exactly encouraged or widely distributed. (Now there is an abundance of them, but not from Sony, and not for ebooks that self-destruct.)
Where to get a Librie
You can get a Librie in Japan, either new or refurbished, for 34,000+ Japanese yen. But there is at least one importer that also has them in stock, and I can personally say that they're great (it's where I got mine). It's Dynamism; they have the Librie for $479, and they ship them with the English OS. If you get one from Japan or elsewhere overseas, you'll probably have to change the firmware yourself (which we show you how to do, below). If you get one from Dynamism, it's ready to go in English, and their Fedex Warranty Rescue Service and Dynamism Technical support are included.
Install English-Language Firmware
The replacement firmware that lets you to domesticate a Librie is the Librie English GUI Firmware Patch. The previous and latest version(s) of this software (I used version FW 1.0.00.06160) includes a HOWTO TXT file. Here's the original How-To document text, annotated with my screenshots and comments. After that, I'll explain how to create DRM-free ebooks you can read on the Librie.
--- Begin file HOWTO_FW06160R2EN.txt ---
HOWTO - Librie English GUI Firmware Patch (FW 1.0.00.06160)
This HOWTO describes the patching of the japanese firmware for Sony's ebook EBR-1000EP. After following steps the user interface will be in English.
The upgrade should possible with following original firmware versions: 1.0.00.04081 1.0.00.04201 1.0.00.06160 1.2.00.04120
Hardware requirements: - PC with Windows 2000/XP - Sony Librie EBR-1000EP - Sony Librie USB cable - Sony Librie AC adapter
Software requirements: - Original Sony firmware package file "UPLIBRIE_06160.EXE" - Patch program "bspatch.exe" (BSD and Linux versions available) - Compress program "bzip2.exe" (BSD and Linux versions available) - Firmware patch file "FW06160_RxEN.bspatch"
Programs/Patch at: http://developer.berlios.de/projects/librietrans/
Orginal firmware package at: http://www.aii.co.jp/contents/smojsdmk/LIBRIE/UPLIBRIE_06160.EXE--------------------------------------------------------------- Note: You make any changes to the firmware at your own risk and without any warranty! ---------------------------------------------------------------
To patch the firmware, follow these steps:
1. Run "UPLIBRIE_06160.EXE", this will extract three files "UPLIBRIE.EXE", "EBRCTR.dll" and "data.bin".
2. Rename "data.bin" to "data.bin.orig" (this file will be patched).
3. Copy "FW06160_RxEN.bspatch", "bspatch.exe" and "bzip2.exe" to the directory where "data.bin.orig" is stored.
4. Run "bspatch.exe data.bin.orig data.bin FW06160_RxEN.bspatch" in a command box/shell. This command will patch the "data.bin.orig" and stores the result to "data.bin". It is recommended that you check the MD5 sum of the new (patched) "data.bin" (see below) with "md5sum.exe".
5. Connect the USB cable and AC adapter to Librie.
6. Remove the Memory Stick.
7. Reboot Librie and wait for the japanese USB message box.
The next steps are the same as in Sony's flash procedure.
8. Run "UPLIBRIE.EXE"
9. Start the flash procedure.
Hint: If the flash seems to be interrupted before the end is reached. Then wait five minutes, abort "UPLIBRIE.EXE", start "UPLIBRIE.EXE" again and restart the flash procedure. Do not disconnect the USB cable or the AC adapter!
10. At the end of the flash procedure, disconnect the USB cable and AC adapter.
11. Librie should now have the English user interface.
MD5 Hash: f46a9ed289d8ba9223490762b85ff1b4 FW06160_R2EN.bspatch 7bd7e3a18c654584efc8b3a7fd2f7a29 data.bin (patched firmware)
Please send hints, suggestions, bad formatting/translations and bug reports to: http://developer.berlios.de/projects/librietrans/
--- End of file HOWTO_FW06160R2EN.txt ---
Create an Ebook
Now that your Librie has an English-language GUI, we're going to use a PC (Windows XP) to convert text files into Sony's ebook format, which they call BBeB, for "BroadBand eBook." Within the BBeB format, there are two types of files: LRX and LRM. LRX files are in the encrypted, DRM format that can be set to expire and become unreadable. If you really want to, you can buy some of these DRM'ed ebooks here. LRF files, in contrast, can be kept and read for as long as you want. We'll be creating LRF files, thanks.
Here are some pictures of LRF reading material I've created and put onto my Librie:
1. Find source material, preferably plain text
Theoretically, you can convert any document in Windows to Librie-compatible LRF format with "Printer Librie" print driver software. Then, from within Word, Acrobat Reader, or wherever else you see the document, you can do a standard "Print...," select "Printer Librie" as your (virtual) printer, and then the software will generate an LRF file instead of driving a printing device. Unfortunately the results of this are usually pretty crappy. Like with PDF files, it just generates flat images, and you can't zoom in, zoom out, search, or enjoy all the other benefits of e-ink. I'll do another How-To specifically about converting PDFs, but for now, the best results always come from text files, so I really suggest you use those.
Luckily, there are tons of sources for free, plain-text electronic books. Project Gutenberg has over 16,000 free electronic books, for example. Of course, you can cut and paste text from any website, and you can also use this great tool from Adobe, which will convert any PDF, either online or emailed as an attachment, to plain text (or HTML).
What I did was, convert a book from MAKE pal and Science Fiction author Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, a contemporary fantasy about wireless networking, revenge, and secrets. You can download a text file of the whole novel here. Download it to a folder on your PC.
(Note that you can also get a version of the book already converted to LRF here, thanks to Scotty Turner.)
2. Clean up the text with Librie Text Assistant
Now that we have our text file, we're going to run it through a program called the "Librie Text Assistant," to clean up the text. You can download and install this utility from here, after joining the Librie Yahoo! Group. The file you want is LibrieTextAssistant_win_01.zip.
The Librie Text Assistant opens text files, opens URLs (web sites) as text, and can process text files to automatically strip out returns and Project Gutenberg-style headers.
Here's the top-level interface, showing all the options and commands:
To use Librie Text Assistant, click "Open" and locate your source text file.
Click process to remove the extra returns.
Click Save and save the file out. Now we have a nice, clean text file.
3. Generate the ebook file with makelrf
Next up, we're going to use a tool called makelrf, that makes the ebooks for the Librie. Actually, we'll use MakeLRFGUI, a version of makelrf with a simple graphic user interface wrapper (you can use the original command-line version straight up, but you'll need to do a lot of typing).
Download MakeLRFGUI from here. The file you want is MakeLRFGUI.zip. Double-click LRFMaker to start the GUI application.
Here's the top-level UI:
Click "Add File" and then open the text file you just cleaned up with Librie Text Assistant. You can add several files in series, and makelrf will combine them in sequence, into one LRF ebook file.
You can edit the title, author, description, etc. on the right, and also add a thumbnail for the cover.
Click Create LRF to make the book and save it to your local file system.
You may have noticed that makelrf lets you add GIF image files as well as text files to your ebook. The ebook you will create this way will show the images in order, in between the text files. So if you want to include illustrations inline for an illustrated ebook, you'll need to make separate, numbered text files for all the blocks of text in between the illustrations. The process is the same as adding text, just select the images and text files. Just make sure your images are GIF files.
I've found converting the images to 800 x 600 pixels works the best (anything larger will scale down and not look as good). The images can only be in four-color grayscale, here's a four-color grayscale palette for Photoshop that you can convert images into.
4. Load the ebook onto the Librie
Once you get the LRF file saved, it's time to transfer it to the Librie, either via Memory Stick or directly through the Librie's USB cable, depending on how you set up the included Librie software. For this, you'll use another piece of software, the English-language version of the Librie's PC-side software, LIBRIé for Windows. You can download it here, signed into the Librie Yahoo! group. The file you want is english LIBRIe v2.zip.
If you have a Memory stick reader in or attached to your PC, you can transfer the LRF onto the stick by simply dragging it onto the LIBRIé for Windows application.
The application will list the ebooks you have loaded in.
I have a memory stick reader on my PC, so I set the application to detect it, under the Tools menu.
Drag the LRF file you created onto the LIBRIé for Windows application's main panel. It will appear in the list. If you have a memory stick in a reader, drag the file from the list to the memory stick. Otherwise, plug the Librie in using its USB cable, and drag the file from the list onto the Librie.
On the memory stick, you should transfer the LRF file into the subdirectory EBOOK\BEEB\BOOK.
If you double-click the book's listing in the PC application, it will display the book the way it will appear on the Librie.
If you've written the LRF to memory stick, pop it out, pop it into the Librie, and choose the book.
Ebook on the Librie!
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