Craft & Design
Questions for Sony regarding the Reader (PRS-500) ebook reading device

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Sony’s PR folks sent us a note, Bennett from Goodman Media International writes – “I am part of the PR team working with Sony on the launch of the Reader (PRS-500) ebook reading device. As I am sure you are aware, a great deal of information and misinformation has been floating around the internet about the product since its announcement at CES in January 2006. To help clear up some of the confusion, we would like to offer you and your readers an opportunity to speak with Sony directly about the Reader to dispel some of the myth that has surrounded its rollout. As a first step, we would like to suggest compiling questions from your readers about the device. I will then share them directly with a senior member of Sony’s product team for response. Hopefully, if all works well, we can work together to separate fact from fiction about the Reader.”

This is a smart move, good work Sony. So Makers – here are my questions – post yours!

  • What formats are supported? In other words, can you create a document from a text file, Word doc, PDF, etc and still take advantage of all the e-ink features?
  • Are all purchased books DRM’ed? Can I share a book with someone else? Other computers? etc…?
  • Are the books purchased via Sony Connect? Can they be purchased from a Mac? Linux? If only PC, is special software or specific browser needed? Non-PC, non-IE customers cannot access Sony connect now.
  • Please describe the publishing / creation tools that ship with the device.
  • Can authors and publishers put their content for sale in the Sony Connect store? Can we sell MAKE Magazine?
  • Can authors and publishers create free content for others to download and view without restrictions?
  • Can the reader view / sync RSS feeds?
  • Is the reader Linux based (Like the Japanese version).
  • Besides the language, how is the english version of the reader different than the Japanese version (Librie)
  • Why was the Librie discontinued in Japan?
  • Will there be time-expiring DRM/protected content on the new reader? We’re fans of e-Ink (have a Librie here) but worry about the restrictions that seem to have doomed the previous version(s) of ebook readers.
  • Is Sony aware of the hacking/modding community that still keeps the Librie alive and kicking? What does Sony think of it?
  • Can we review the device?

88 thoughts on “Questions for Sony regarding the Reader (PRS-500) ebook reading device

  1. oh, a few more..
    >>LONG BATTERY LIFE – The rechargeable battery allows you to turn up to 7,500 continuous pages on a single charge (when not providing audio).

    what format is the audio…
    the librie had aaa’s – why the switch?

  2. My big question regards something I’ve heard complaints about on other eBooks: screen refresh.

    How long does it take to refresh a screen?

    I saw a note about another eBook that had a very slow screen refresh. So when you turned a page, there was a slight noticeable delay. While this may not seem that bad, they said it quickly became annoying when using the device’s menus because the screen would have to be refreshed so often.

    So when needed, how fast can the screen refresh?

  3. Phillip Torrone- (from sony.us)

    “It also displays Adobe(R) PDFs, personal documents, blogs, newsfeeds, and JPEGs with the same amazing readability.

    “When you’re done reading you can even listen to your favorite MP3-format audio clips.”

    Since the battery life quote is in page turns, I am assuming that the memory access electronics components largly go to sleep after setting the display for the next page. Is that correct? If so, is there a delay for the turning on of the electronics after they go to sleep? (I am assuming that there is a delay for the memory access circuts turning off, to account for rapid page ‘turning’).

    Is the internal page memory seperate from the bookmark feature of the ebook? Meaning….can I bookmark page 200 and then view page 312 without messing with my bookmark?

    The website states the ‘color’ is ‘4-level grey-scale’. Isn’t that going to butcher a JPEG? Is there a place on the product website that we can view a picture of the Reader displaying a picture?

  4. I echo all the questions posted so far. My big one that many may not think of is this: if there are TWO devices in one household (myself and the hubby) must we purchase TWO full cost titles or may we share one title, at a time, on two different devices?

    I feel strongly about this as it was not possible with our Rocket eBooks from Gemstar. I do not have to purchase TWO copies of every paper book we both read, at full cost. I’ve several suggestions as to how this might be resolved as I was an early adopter of the Rocket eBook and have and still do enjoy reading on the device.

  5. What kind of DRM are we to expect, and how easy will it be to hack? (I seriously want this asked)

    Please also tell the Sony dude that I won’t be buying one until someone DOES hack it.

    I also want to know how long until it will be sub $200 – because I won’t be buying one until that happens too. The $800 price point that I heard about is silly and prohibitive, and will make the reader fail.

  6. 1) Why does Sony persist with DRM, have they heard of ‘fair use’?

    2) Did they win the betamax case? (Rhetorical)

    3) Didn’t they learn anything from minidisk’s SonicStage audio/data firewall fiasco?

  7. Regarding PDFs, given the devices small size, how does it handle 8 1/2 x 11 PDFs. In particular, I read a lot of research papers for work and school. I’d love to be able to read them on a portable device–but most portable devices make this painful at best.

    -Rich-

  8. When changing pages, page flipping, will the screen just refresh?

    I saw a preview on DL-TV where the whole screen blanked, then refreshed the screen. It was very annoying.

  9. I now rely on a Sony Clie SJ-30, and I read all the time — on the bus and BART trains, on the elevator, on the stairs, in the bathroom, while I’m waiting for the computer, while I’m waiting for the scanner, while I’m waiting for the photocopier, while I’m standing in line anywhere. I read a book or two a day, roughly.

    Of the many things I hoped for from the future, as a child, this one really happened — the Clie does it.

    I can put pretty much anything I want into it one way or another and get a readable text, and carry it anywhere.

    I can save scraps, clips, extracts from web pages, anything I can copy and paste, or email to myself from anywhere — or anything my friends mail me.

    I can strip out the garbage and save the words, as ASCII — DOS text. I can get other files in too darned many other file formats, and it’s sometimes maddening trying to figure out what the heck I should be using as a reader.

    I can clean up the mistakes in most of the file formats — and that’s always important, there are always typos and scanning glitches, whether in the original or in the transcription.

    And I’d had no hope Sony would do the next thing right, til I read about this thread today on BoingBoing. I thought Sony was making an entertainment device — that’s what the “Clie” series was supposed to be, it’s just fortunate for my needs that it wasn’t too badly designed to be used flexibly. I thought Sony had given up on free use and multipurpose devices.

    Maybe not.

    The description so far is of something way too slow and gray and expensive — but it suggests that there’s hope of soemething better to come.

    I’d love to have one of these that I could load with my current backlog of unread books and articles, and continue to load every day with whatever I expect to want to read and mark up in the next few days — and be able to back up (“Missing Sync” will do it for you, Sony, as they’ve been doing it since you dropped the Mac years ago).

    I can say more, but this is enough for now.

    Put the OS on a memory stick, so we can switch operating systems, and you may have a winner of a display and editing device here.

  10. Personally, I’ll never buy another SONY product as
    long as I live.
    Fuck me once, shame on you –fuck me twice shame on me.

  11. I’ve got to say, the quality of comments here is REALLY sorry. I thought the MAKE community would be a little more mature than this.

    That said, I have something to say to robacarp about 4 “color” rendering and JPEGs.

    While it won’t be perfect, I’d imagine it could look quite good. People were able to do some pretty impressive things with the GameBoy (4 colors) and the TI Calculators (2 colors hardware, 4 using software hacks). If you take that, and combine it with the fact that this thing will be 160-170 DPI (which is fantastic, the “standard” computer is taken as 72 DPI, with recent displays trending around 100) then between 4 grays, high resolution, and smart dithering… I’d imagine you could get some very nice looking pictures out of it.

    I’d love to buy one, I think it would be very handy. I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay over $300 or so though.

    But if the specs are the same as robacarp later posted (1000/500ms) then it seems it will be just about unusable.

    Let’s say you want to change books and load a bookmark. Press a button to bring up the menu (500ms), choose “open bookmark” (20ms reaction time/button press), bookmark list displayed (500ms), find the right button for the bookmark and press it (100ms), have the page displayed (500ms) and you’re at about 1.7 seconds.

    God forbid you have to page through the bookmark list (at 500ms per 10 entries displayed, one for each button). Of course, this is just a guess at the interface.

    Now if the interface takes that long to refresh an entire page, but can refresh a tiny portion of it at a time (like that used to display a small menu) much faster (5% of the screen means it would take… 25ms) then that could be tolerable.

  12. Oh, hey, Sony — thanks for taking the time to clear up some myths surrounding the eBook reader. I heard that my cousin’s friend’s sister’s boyfriend met a PRS-500 eBook reader in a Tijuana bar, took it back to his hotel room, and long story short woke up in a bathtub full of ice with a note that said “your kidney has been removed. Seek medical attention immediately”. Does this kind of thing happen all the time?

  13. i think a lot of people, especially makers, feel let down by the sony brand (i do) – so while some comments might get a little harsh, they’ve all been pretty constructive – keep up the good questions folks.

  14. To other MAKE readers.

    I believe this is a video from 2006 CES showing the
    PRS-500 in action.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3894556998897318688

    Obvious questions: for Sony

    Is Sony interested in a thriving PC/Mod community around this device? There would be large interest in having a device and platform where the OS/hardware specs are published and the software can be modified, or applications written for it. See early home computer era in US for details. I am dead certain you can guarantee several thousand unit sales to this web community alone if that is the case.

    I have been looking for a cheap $100-$200(USD) device of this form factor for 5 years. Thinking that if marketed correctly this could compete with the $100 laptop idea.

    What character set is used? Is it unicode or is there a custom code page for each locale? (Please tell me its unicode.)

    Is this an iTunes like device where content is fenced in, or is this a simpler Palm Pilot model where anything the end user wants can be shipped back and forth from machine to host home computer?

    Are there plans for wireless networking card support so that the device can sync with a wireless network?

    Tell us about the nitty gritty details of the display. How does it work and why is it better/different than other screens of similar size?

  15. After further research it appear that the screen is based on the e-Ink 6-inch model.

    MAKE enthusiasts who would like to shell out the $3000(USD) can experiment with these at home.

    http://www.eink.com/kits/index.html

    Interested to find out the cost per unit to retail consumers on the Sony version of this product.

  16. Dear Sony,

    When and where can I get my hands on one to see for myself?

    How much?

    And, like others, I’m concerned about battery life, true readability, and of course, the freedom to read without fear of DRM’s.

    Thanks…

  17. Dear Sony

    I’m sorry but after the root kit debacle this good looking desirable piece of hardware can dance the samba for me and cost $10.00 and I still wouldn’t buy it. I parked my Sony digicam and bought a Canon. I advise many people on hardware purchases and find every irrelevant way to steer them away from Sony. I’m not a negative person and this may not be the place for this but I was rootkitted and all my trust and faith in Sony products has evaporated.

    Good night and good luck.

  18. I for one, will never purchase a SONY product as long
    as I live. Anyone here remember the r00tkit?

    Fxxx me once shame on you, Fxxx me twice shame on me.
    …won’t get fooled again yeah!

  19. Like others here, my questions are less about the actual device and more about Sony as a company and your attitude and relationship to your customers.

    To be perfectly honest(and polite) you have lost my trust as a consumer. Given your actions prior to and during the whole Rootkit debacle, I honestly feel I can’t trust that any Sony product I buy won’t have some sort of spyware or DRM or crippleware or some way of preventing me from using it fully for the purpose for which it was intended.

    This is as much a business decision as well as a personal decision. I occasionally do consulting and need to take a laptop into customer environments. At this point I cannot trust that any Sony computer I buy won’t A. contain spyware or crippleware and B. that said spyware/crippelware won’t compromise my system or the customer systems exposed to it.

    This needs to be understood perfectly clear at ALL levels of your company. You have destroyed my trust in you as a company and the trust of thousands of others, particularily those in this demographic which you are seeing the opinions of.

    You have made it quite clear through your actions that you have nothing but contempt for your customer base and see them as little more than thieves to be guarded against rather than customers to be engaged.

    This is not going to go away as an issue among this demographic so long as you ignore it. Just because your lawyers reach a legal settlement with the lawyers of the various states some of us live in doesn’t mean we your customers are going to just forget the matter.

    That said, my questions(based on experience with previous Sony products like the Z505 series laptops and Clie series PDAs) would be:
    Can I use this on something other than the absolute latest edition of Windows XP? Like, say OS X? or Linux? Or even a version of XP or Win2K that’s on an older machine?

    Can I put my own documents on there or must I use the limited set of pre-packaged, pre-approved Sony-chosen collection of DRM-protected e-books on it?

    If I can put my own documents on there, can I ever get them off it again?

    Is it possible for you to release a device like this without proprietary loader/translator software that encumbers the content with a layer of proprietary DRM and can only run on a Microsoft OS?

    I no longer have any VAIO systems and run a mixture of Linux and OS X based servers and laptops, so Windows-only, even if it were completely DRM-free, is of no use or interest to me.

  20. Can the font size displayed be changed? My mother needs to see large print.

    If so, can the font size be changed on DRM documents as well as ‘open’ documents?

    • Will it work with the Mac?
    • Will it work with Linix?
    • Is the communication protocol Reader–PC documented? In particular
      • Is the documentation freely and free of charge available and not covered by an NDA?
      • And are there no other obstacles blocking reimplementation of that protocol (encryption, DRM, patents, etc.)?
  21. Does the reader at least display one document format, without the need to convert it to some propritary format, which is
    • Openly and freely documented (non-propritary)
    • has non-propritary implementations
    • and utilizes all features of the Reader!?
  22. If yes, what document format would that be?
  23. And unfortunatley I have to join the comments of other people:

    • How will you convince people that you don’t once again install a fscking root kit?
    • Will your propritary software be reviewed by a third party which will testify that you didn’t add any rootkit, backdoor, spyware, mechanisms to restrict my rights, or any other “Sony Special”?
    • Will that happen for each and every update you provide?
  24. The biggest reason why I’m holding off buying an iRex for the moment is the lack of a “PDF annotation” capability. One can only annotate simple images.

    – Will the PRS-500 be able to annotate all supported document and image formats?
    – If yes, will those annotations be stored in an open XML/SVG format (or equivalent compressed format) for trivial cross-platform support, pre- and post-processing and sharing?

    Some others:
    – Networking – will it have any built-in?

    – Printing support directly from device (like many digital cameras)?

    – Will it have on-board document search? To use an e-reader with technical reference material (datasheets, API references, etc) this is a must.

    – USB Host (PRS able to read data directly from class-compliant USB storage) and Device (PRS appears as a class-compliant USB storage and/or network interface to host systems) support?

    – If it has USB Host support, could I hook up a multi-function printer and scan documents directly into the PRS and/or print material out of it?

    I’m interested in e-ink-based readers for replacing my need to print off datasheets to read “off-line” and to possibly replace my need for most paper copies of sheet music. My work laptop is a WinXP machine, my personal laptop is a MacBook Pro, my desktop and embedded machines are Linux and the servers I interact with daily are Linux, HPUX and Solaris (with a bit of legacy AIX).

    Thanks!

    Andrew.

  25. I have only one practical question: can I read a book in the bathtub without destroying the device or electrocuting myself?

  26. Good for Sony, for having the smarts at least to ask. I have only one complaint about the previous reader Libre. The dictionary function sucked. I want to highlight a word and “JUMP” to the definition from within the book or document. Truth be told, I would have purchased a Libre despite the overly high price IN A SNAP, -IF- it had this feature. I can still read stuff on my ipod or PDA. So why would I buy one of these? PDF files? Whatever… doesn’t interest me enough, however…
    What I REALLY want to do is put a Japanese/English dictionary on the reader and jump from the Japanese (Kanji) symbol/word to the english translation. It was technically possible with the old reader, but sadly painstaking and slow. Can I get this function with the new one PLEASE:
    Highlight the word – jump (go directly/quickly) to the translation?

  27. here’s another – from cory doctorow:

    “Can I quote from a DRMed ebook? Can I sell it? Can I loan it? When buying a DRM ebook, do I have to make an “agreement” or “contract”? If so, what are the terms?”

  28. Here are the important and genuine questions:
    1. Will the text in PDF files be able to run over dynamically?
    That is, will PDF files with pages of A4 size, resize to the ereader’s screen size while the text can run to extra pages?

    2. Will we be able to increase the font sizes? how much increase or decrease will the software allow?

    3. Will there be anti-aliasing for the fonts? Can we adjust the anti-aliasing to fit our surroundings’ lightings?

    4. Can we change fonts for plain text files? i.e. display fonts..

    5. Will it have its API opened up for third party developers?

    Thank you!!

  29. PS to Sony — here’s what I really want.

    Something that can do fast refresh in color, so I can use it to view my homemade stereo movies. Small 1=meg samples linked below, viewable on any PC or Mac by anyone who can do “parallel view” of two side by side images — going a bit walleyed — or who has the little “lorgnette” wedge prism 3-D glasses (or a pair of simple magnifying lenses to hold up to make it easier to fuse the images).

    Sony — make a viewer like this, and a stereo digital camera (make one tool back to back, imager and viewer).

    http://www.ankh.members.sonic.net/clouds-stereo.mpg
    http://www.ankh.members.sonic.net/CatLooking-1064k.mpg

    (Done with EvoCam, an older version, new ones may not work; and two firewire cameras)

  30. Does anyone still take Sony seriously? After the CD rootkit, MD being killed by DRM, the garbage they tried to stick in blu-ray, what they’re still trying to do with PS3, why would anyone in the right mind even consider buying a Sony product?

    It’s clear they’re doing the same with this product since the standard book format is a proprietary Sony format.

    I used to buy most of my electronics from Sony. Now I wouldn’t take their products for free and I will never purchase another Sony product. I won’t even see a movie or buy a CD if it’s produced by Sony.

  31. Will there be any compatibility with Zinio format magazines? (So I can stop wasting paper with eweek, infoworld, computerworld, etc)

  32. Here’s a video of it in operation, shows the refresh rate – about 1 second. Very noticeable, but for a book it’s not a big deal:

    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,1983663,00.asp

    Please confirm:
    1. can read pdf
    2. screen rotation?
    3. navigate only by buttons or screen touch also?
    4. what type of batteries, AA or proprietary
    5. possible to loan a purchased book to another user? (after taking it off my own libre of course)…
    6. auto paging feature? (handsfree reading)

  33. I know it has been stated several times above but, Sony has betrayed the public trust with it’s onerous DRM policies. If some 18 year old kid had secretly installed spyware on people’s computers as Sony did, the kid would be in jail for the rest of his life. I don’t believe Sony can ever be trusted to honestly deal with their customers.

    As an honest customer, I want a return to the time where it was said, “the customer is always right.” Instead, we have a time were customers are fair game and should be abused by manufacturers and service companies.

    BB

  34. My PRS 500 recently arrived. I recommend that anyone thinking about buying one, rethink carefully. It does display PDFs. However it will only display the entire page. 81/2 by 11 reduced to fit the screen is too small to read. Turned to landscape its still really too small to be useful. I attempted to move a word document over. Once I eliminated the grahics, reducing the size, it moved over. Looks nice on the PC but crashes the PRS 500. If I have to hack this POS to make it work, its not worth the cost. ARGH! This will be my very last Sony purchase.

  35. Sony has taken a step backwards with this reader. The pdf support is very bad- the reader displays commercially-produced pdf’s too small to read. The Connect software crashes on many rtf/doc imports. The buttons are not conveniently placed. The REB is a better reader overall- and its software imports html.

    The Sony does have good battery life, and you can read it in daylight. But you can’t read commercial pdf’s with it, or journals distributed on pdf’s. I have to jump through hoops to get anything I want to read in .LRF format so it displays on the reader. I thought, at last, someone has a product that will make reading e-books hassle-free. But it’s still the same old nonsense- convert this, edit that, take up lots of my time getting content on the reader when I would rather spend the time reading.

    I find that I use my Palm Tungsten more than the reader, and more content is available at ereader.com than at the Connect store. Sony is guilty of false advertising.

  36. Has anyone tried using the sildeshow feature with pictures? If yes how do u do that?
    The Sony FAQ explains how to set the slideshow on, but deons’t say how to get teh pictures to display as slideshow.

    Thanks

  37. Although this looks like a great product, I will wait for comperable products to surface. Sony’s quality seems to be suffering as of late. I bought a $2,500 Sony TV set, paying a premuim for a reputation that I thought was in tact and honorable. But thousands of us have had these sets go dead because of a design flaw. Sony won’t take care of us. I’ll look elsewhere for future products.

  38. I received a Sony DAVFX900W as a Christmas gift in 2007.This system supports the HD DVD format which is now being abandoned in favor of Blu-Ray also, manufactured by Sony.MY SONY HD DVD PLAYER IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH SONY BLU-RAY !!I believe a manufacturing company should be responsible enough to supply products (in this case hd dvd’s)that their machine was designed to use !!What am I suppoed to do,now?Throw this system to the curb and buy another expensive Sony product ??I DON’T THINK SO !!It seems as though there should be a recourse when someone is ripped off by a big corporation.

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