CVS One-Time-Use Camcorder Hacked

I performed my first ‘complex’ hardware hack! I recently read two nearly identical articles at Download Squad and Engadget which described how one could hack the new CVS One-Time-Use video camcorder on sale for $30 at CVS pharmacies. The hack turns the $30 “throw away” camcorder into a fully functioning camcorder with no limitations on number of uses.

The idea of the hack was, in my opinion, borne of the idea that CVS is charging a fine price for the camera, but overcharging for the ‘development’ process. $30 for a camcorder is great(!), but when you add a $20 to $30 processing fee for 20 minutes of digital video, it just seems like a rip-off. $60 for 20 minutes!! If a person used this CVS 10 times, he/she could have purchased a full-fledged digital MPEG4 camcorder like the ones sold at Sharper Image. That’s just silly.

I think that CVS would have done much better to charge $50 for the camera and $5 for processing each time, then return the processed camcorder back to the customer. Instead of customer cost going in $60, $120, $180, $240, $300 increments, the cost would have been $55, $60, $65, $70, $75 and so on. There’s less income up front for CVS, but they’d almost guarantee that customers would become habitualized and dependent on their $5 development fix. Once someone realizes they’re spending $180 per hour of recording, the champagne goes flat, the confetti hits the floor, and the CVS camcorder comes off the shopping list.

The hardware hack was created by a handful of geeks – serious folks who probably know way too much about the minute details of hardware-to-software configs, etc. I’m pretty good with electronics, having built many things like gliders, r/c cars, computers, etc., so I was eager to jump right in and see if I could pull this off.

So here’s how the hack went:
First, I looked for a CVS in my area. The closest one was 800 miles away. I looked on eBay and the camcorders are going for $40 or $50. So I called my mom in FL and she sent two of them to me. Thanks ma!

Second, I found a website that shows how to make the sync cable from an old Palm Pilot cable.

Items needed for the sync cable:

  • Palm m100 cable ($25 retail or $7 on eBay)
  • Spare USB cable (free)
  • Soldering kit ($15 at Home Depot)
  • Dremel kit ** I don’t have a dremel kit, so I used a saw and an Xacto knife! There’s hacking and then there’s “hacking”!!
  • Patience
  • Good aim

Here are a few pictures of my hacked sync cable:
CVS one time use video camera hack

CVS one time use video camera hack

CVS one time use video camera hack

CVS one time use video camera hack

CVS one time use video camera hack

CVS one time use video camera hack

CVS one time use video camera hack

By the way, be very careful when you solder the wires to the connector pins. I managed two solder burns on my hand because I was switching from soldering iron to keyboard and back too many times mid-operation. Ouch!

Once I got the cable built, I plugged it into one of the USB ports on my computer. My computer recognized the camera and said it needed a “Saturn” driver. I searched around a bit more and found this site that details both the cable creation and the software needed to hook up your CVS camcorder to your computer so video clips can be downloaded. I also found this site but I found that they made it seem MUCH more complex than it really is.

Again, if you look toward the bottom of this page you’ll see links to the single .exe file used to install the drivers and software needed to pull video from the CVS camcorder.

This is how the CVS camcorder looks in the Windows XP Device Manager:
CVS one time use video camera hack

This is the program (Ops) that allows you to connect the CVS camcorder and download videos to your computer:
CVS one time use video camera hack

And here’s a sample video. Of course, the video content is in AVI format, so you’ll need a video player that supports AVI and DivX.
Jason and Codi in Astoria, Oregon

P.S. The whole thing took an hour or so. It was surprisingly easy and fun.

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