View Full Version : Step by Step guide for the CVS Camcorder

Mad Joe
01-12-2007, 05:57 AM
Well, I got my Dew and my Crispy Chicken sandwiches, I'm ready to go are you? Most everyone has heard about the CVS Camcorder. It is sold for $29 at a local CVS, Rite-aid, and some other phamacies. The idea behind it is that you buy it for $29, use it for 20 minutes, then bring it back (they keep it) and pay another $12 for them to stick it on a disk. Thats $41 for 20 minutes of low resolution video on a DVD. Well, when you bring it back, CVS just ships it back to Pure Digital (PD), they erase it, repackage it, and ship it right back out. But it CVS can take your video off of it, shouldnt you be able to do it too? Enter camerahacking.com, some of the guys there were surfing the PD site when they stumbled into a mistake. This mistake was the decrypter for the cameras that was not supposed to be publicly released. Being that it was on the web, it was legal for the camerahacking.com programmers to take it and reverse program it to figure it out and adapt it as needed. That is why it is possible for us to turn our one-time-use camcorder into multi-use. This decrypter allows us to read the data off of the camcorder.

Ok I am going to take this time to give credit for whom it is due. I take credit for some of this, but not all. Written is mine, but if you are the owner of any of these links and do not wish your material to be linked, let me know or an admin, and it will be fixed. A lot of people worked hard to make all of this possible. Thanks to all of them.

There are three models of this camera still out. The M200, M220, and M230. The higher the model number, supposedly, the better. The way to tell this in the store is to look at the bottom of the camera, in some of the numbers you will see 200, 220, or 230. Mine is a 230. Now when you buy this camera, it will weigh about 5.0 oz. Thats light, but still not as light as can be. In this guide, we will strip the case off, install a battery case, solder in a USB cable or discuss using a Palm cable (no solder), and get all the programs needed to get this thing talking to your computer.

NOTE: As far as I know, all versions of these models are "hackable", but there might be some that are not. If yours is just not working, do some research on it.

Ok, so here is our little friend, the CVS camcorder.
DSCF0014.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21712&stc=1&d=1168570609)
DSCF0015.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21713&stc=1&d=1168570609)

There are some decisions to be made here. One is to leave the case or not, the other is to use a cable (no solder on the camera) or wire in a USB cable. When stripped, it weighs about 2.1 oz with AAA batteries (If memory is correct). That is over half the weight gone and even my little Hobbico SkyFly can take it up with ease. This is how I did it. Now if you leave the case you still have to decide on using a Palm cable or wire in a USB cable. If you are wiring in, follow me. If you are going to use a Palm cable, you can skip a lot of this (even though it is an invigorating read). :)

Now to the stripping...and get your mind out of the gutter. You will need a small phillps head screw driver. Remove the battery cover (it might be tight), remove inner cover and batteries, then carefully remove the sticker on the back next to the screen. This will expose four screws. Take the screws out then remove the sticker on the top of the camera...ohh, there is our little serial port. Now pull the two halves apart.

DSCF0022.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21716&stc=1&d=1168572075)
DSCF0024.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21717&stc=1&d=1168572075)

Now the curcuit board/camera should lift out of the other half.
NOTE: There are a few different ways that PD connects the batteries. One is four small stiff copper posts that just slide into the board. The other is that they hard wire it in. If it is hard wired, the small battery connection part should just come out with a little messing with. The four post style will just slide out.

DSCF0026.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21718&stc=1&d=1168572277)
DSCF0028.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21719&stc=1&d=1168572687)

Flip the board with the camera facing you and you will see two black screws (I think). Those hold the screen on. Take them out then carefully disconnect the ribbon cable hold the screen on. Now you have your camera stripped. Pat yourself on the back. Cause here comes the hard part.

Now if you are chosing to hard wire in a USB, keep reading. If you are using a serial Palm cable you can skip some of this again.


You will need a USB cable (I'm not sure its the male or female technically, but it is the same one that you plug into your computer, I am assuming that is male.) Leaving about 3-4 inches, possibly a little more if you suck at soldering like me, and cut it off. Strip the wire to just four sheathed wires.

DSCF0040.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21720&stc=1&d=1168573213)

Now strip those four and get your solder gun hot. I do not have a picture of this and I wish I did, but if you lay the camera down, lens up, and put it upside down. The serial port should be facing you with 10 of those little brass strips. Now counting from the left to the right, 6 is red, 8 is green, 9 is white, and 10 is black. Being very careful, solder these wires this way. Do not let different wires touch or their solder. Keep everything clean and start as small as possible. Too much solder WILL melt the last three into one big clump...then you have to pull all of it off and start over. This is the skill part of the whole chibang. Now if everything is cool and solid, you can put it all back together leaving the wire hanging out, or you can just about leave it as is.

NOTE: Depending on how good your solder is, or isnt, you might want to wrap things up with electrical tape to keep you from pulling all your hard work out.

This Link MIGHT help (http://camerahacks.10.forumer.com/viewtopic.php?t=946)

Here is what it will look like if you put it all back together.

IMAGE_112.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21721&stc=1&d=1168575187)
IMAGE_113.jpg (http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=21722&stc=1&d=1168575187)

Okey Dokey... if you decided to leave the case on, your done with the hardware part, skip to the software section. If you want yours stripped, keep on reading buddy. Its not too much more :).

Battery case

If yours is going to be stripped, obviously you will have to make arrangements for power. Some fancy smanschy people can get away with actually powering the camera from a reciever. This camera runs on 3V, but the 5V from a reciever works for other people. (I have not done this, do some googleing). I power mine independently so I can move it around. I visited RadioShack and bought a two AAA battery case. I know, I know, your like, "Wait just a min, it came with AA batteries!". Just to clarify, AA batteries and AAA batteries make the same 1.5V each, AAA is just smaller and wont last as long (But they are much lighter *Ding Ding*). I have taken over 10 full 7 min movies on the same set of AAA alkalines (NOT Heavy Duty). I will give up those extra 5 videos for the weight. Now back to the pack, mine is light as possible (batteries just pop in, no door, and real thin plastic). And it comes with about 5 inches of wires. I use this to put my camera under the wing on one side of the plane, then put the batteries on the other side to balance. So you got your pack, now how do you hook it up? This can be a small issue. I will fess up and say I did brick one camera by hooking the battery pack up wrong (thanks for a great refund policy CVS!). The one that I bricked, was a hard wired version. Now I dont want to leave you out in the cold and fending for yourself, but I still dont know what I did wrong. The wires on the hard wired version were white and red. Usually red is positive, guess not in this case, but dont hold me to it. The only sure-fire way to hook it up right is to leave the batter spring part wired in, and just solder the positive of your battery pack to the positive spring, and the negative to the negative. It is ugly and cumbersom, but it will work.
Now the kind with the four copper posts, I had it wired to the springs at first, but a rapid meeting with the ground broke the posts off. Now this is a little confusing, I am sorry. The way I solved it was to break off the little black part on the board and look at it closely. There are four little "posts" where the black "box" used to be. Two are positive, two are negative. There is a small "+" next to two of them, those two are positive, the other two are negative. I soldered my pack directly in that way. I soldered the two posts that were positive together with my red wire. Then the same to my negative posts with my negative wire. Do not let the solder touch, this could cause a short and brick it. :) After all this was done, I electrical taped everything for strength and cosmetics then crossed my fingers and put the two batteries in. (Put your screen back on if you took it off). Then find the "Power" button and push it, listen for the sound and the screen should come on. If it did, lay it down carefully and then jump up and down like a little girl. If it didnt, go over your soldering job again. Or make sure your batteries are put in right (small heart-attack solved).

Ok, for those wanting to use the Palm III cable, I'm going to send you to a link. I did not do this for my camera, and I am not an expert on it.

Hope this will pull you through (http://www.mrbill.net/cvscamera/)

So now everyone should at least have their camera turning one whether it be in the case or stripped. They should also have some way to get the serial port to USB. Now we are in the same boat from here on out. This is the part of the guide that I just hope I can explain well enough to guide everyone from the computer nerds, to the old guys who just wanted to show their buddies some videos from their hobby.

I should explain some things first before we try to work on the software. Ok, the way that the camera communicates with the computer is that it uses a driver. We will need to install this driver. Secondly, we will need some way to tell the camera what to do and how to do it. To do this we will use a program. We will use OPS v.20. Now how this program works is that it will send a challenge to the camera, the camera will then send a response. These are different for each camera, and they have to be the correct ones. OPS does not know the correct challenge to give, so we use another program (not sure how legal this is...) called CronusKey. I will not provide a direct link because of these legal issues, but I will leave the rest of the explaination to this guy. This seems to be a wonderful guide. You will need to click on "Other useful files" at the very top. Then download the top one...the camcorderkit. Hopefully this will explain enough for everyone to get it working. :)

NOTE: My comp didnt do it perfectly, so when it asked for a driver after hooking up the camera to the comp, I had to browse to the driver included in the pack.

Connecting the Camcorder to the Computer (http://freelowell.com/downloads/camcorderpage/Camerahacking.html)

NOTE: If the camera does not beep and turn on when hooked to the computer, your wiring may not connected well to the camera. If using the cable, make sure it is lined up, if using the USB, the only culprit is your soldering skills.

So now hopefully everyone has their camera connecting to the computer and OPS is recognizing it. Take a video with your camcorder while NOTconnected to the computer (this also bricked another of my M230s). Ok now turn it off. Connect it to the computer, the camera should turn on, Open OPS .20, then click on Open Camcorder, it should tell you something like connected, then click on Unlock Camcorder. It should say Camcorder Unlocked. If it does, set everything down carefully and again jump around like a little girl. If it does not, you need to read the HOWTO in that kit you downloaded and make sure you used CronusKey and moved the file to the OPS folder. (Easy huh? :) ). Ok so if everything worked right, you can now click on download all movies, and tell it where to do so. After that, to erase all your movies, just click format memory. Thats how you take them off and get it ready to make some more!

Optimizing Your Camcorder
Now the camcorder stock runs at 340x280 resolution at a certain bitrate. This is rather small. So to make the picture better there are a few things you can do. In OPS you see the button far right that says, "View/Change Cam Settings". After opening and unlocking, click that. You can change the settings of the camcorder, but be warned, do things in small steps. Too much messing around with too extreme values, and you can brick it. But things are mostly safe.
Here are my settings for great movies:
Resolution: 640x480
Bitrate: left alone
Max Time: 10 mins

Now you might ask, why change the time? It turns out that by turning the time down, you increase resolution. And who flies for 20 mins anyway?. The decrease in time is well worth the better quality. The bitrate can be changed, but be a little careful with it. The higher the bitrate, the faster you will fill up your memory. Fill it up, and it will stop recording until you format it again. A really high bitrate will only last for about 3 mins with these settings. It could also cause things to mess up. So keep the changes to a minimum.

You got your camera stripped, wired, powered, connected, hacked, and optimized... sounds like you are ready to roll! Now get out there and give it a shot, bring back some vids, and be that much more proud of yourself for getting it all done.

NOTE: If you have any issues check www.camerahacking.com (http://www.camerahacking.com) first then if you are still confused ask me and I will try to work it out with you.

03-03-2007, 05:55 PM
Great info...just what I was looking for. Coupla ?'s...will this work for a model # 230, FW 53.12? Also, I can't seem to get your pics to show up!

Thanks for a good write up!

05-26-2007, 04:17 AM

Is this info still good? CVS hasn't made it obsolete by changing hardware or firmware or anything? Next week I might get lucky and have some funds to buy one. I haven't yet looked to see what models they have in stock here, if any. Thanks! -Rod-

11-18-2008, 11:45 PM
Has any one done a model 230 with FW 53.14????