I no longer own a CVS camera and cannot answer questions about hardware, software, or interface cables.

CVS Video Camera Hacking

Ever since CVS announced their one-time-use video camera, I'd been waiting to see if it was successfully "hacked" like their PV2 single-use digital still camera.

Shortly after the cameras became available at my local store, I picked one up for "safekeeping", not knowing how long they'd be available. I'm glad I did, because progress was being made in finding out exactly what made the new cameras tick, and the Camera Hacking message boards were abuzz with discussions about the software.

A week ago, I saw on the MAKE: Blog that someone had finally figured out the final step to getting video off the camera. Time to dig the camera out of the closet:

From reading Raymond Kawakami's PV2 cable instructions (mirrored as a PDF; his web site is down), I knew that I needed a Palm III serial sync cable in order to connect to the camera via USB without opening it up. Luckily, an eBay search found a local vendor, and I had a cable in my hands the next day.

Before I wreak havoc on the cable (all we need is the connector at the end), let's see what it looks like now..

Not too complicated. Because I hadn't touched a soldering iron in about fifteen years, I'd bought a basic electronics kit with soldering iron and got some practice in the night before, building a LED blinker.

The first thing I did was cut all of the old serial cables off the connector, and bend the unused pins out of the way.

Then, I cut the "square" end off of an old A-to-B USB cable that I had sitting around, and stripped the wires.

According to Raymond, the pinout from the USB cable to the Palm serial connector looks like this (pins numbered 1-10, starting at the top):

Palm ConnectorUSB FunctionUSB Color
8Data +Green
9Data -White

Ten minutes later, my horrible soldering job was done (remember, I'm new at this) and everything was reassembled. I used packing tape as a pseudo- stress relief to keep wear and tear off my solder joints.

There was only one problem - the connector, as is, won't fit into the port on top of the camera - its too thick! So, out came the Dremel tool, and I proceeded to get black plastic shavings all over my desk. The end result...

Let's give it a try... It fits!

Just to be safe, I plugged the cable into my USB hub, instead of directly into the iMac G5. I'm not *that* sure of my soldering abilities just yet.

For the moment of truth.. I fired up System Profiler, clicked the "USB" entry on the left, and there it was!

I ran around the house and took a video of my cats, then proceeded to download them off the camera. First, I tried the process on my Windows machine. I downloaded libusb-win32, and used its wizard to create an .INF file for the camera. Once that file was created, I told XP to use that file as the camera driver when it was plugged in, and pointed it to libusb0.sys (from the libusb distribution) when prompted.

The other piece of software you'll need is the latest version of the Ops utility.

Once the camera is installed and recognized by Windows, download and extract the Ops software. Run the executable that pertains to the version of libusb that you downloaded. Once the window pops up, you should be able to click "Open Camera", "Unlock Camera", and then download the videos off the camera to a location of your choice. You can also reformat/erase the camera after downloading, but it will not reflect "zero space used" until it is power-cycled.

Camera downloading is possible on a Mac as well, but you'll need to be familiar with building programs from source code and using the command line. First, grab the libusb source code and compile it by extracting the .tar.gz file, changing to the source code directory, and then doing "./configure; make; make install" as root. Then, you'll want to grab cmstar's port of SaturnDownload to OS X. Running the application, you'll get a simple window with a "Download" button.

Videos from the camera are in XviD format. I've posted some sample videos here . Filenames ending in ".divx.avi" are DivX format, where I used ffmpegX on OS X to convert the XviD movies to DivX. Files ending in ".avi" are "raw" XviD from the camera.

High-resolution versions of all the photos on this page

Bill Bradford
Last Updated: August 6, 2005

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I no longer own a CVS camera and cannot answer questions about hardware, software, or interface cables.