Accessing the CVS Digital Camcorder in OS X

Even though I have access to Windows XP systems at home I wanted to figure out if I could use my modded CVS digital camcorder with my Mac, which is my primary machine. My first thought was to find a way to take videos from the camera and work with them in iMovie. Fortunately, someone else had already developed the software that I needed.

I followed a guide written by Phillip Torrone on MAKE that also includes instructions on how to use the camera in OS X. I already had a way to connect the device to my Mac via USB so I skipped most of the instructions in the post and jumped down to the last few paragraphs that include information about using the camera in OS X.

The following paragraph is taken directly from the MAKE blog post. I suggest that you read the entire post before following any instructions:

‘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.’

My method varied slightly from the above instructions. When I ran “make” and “make install” I noticed several warnings or errors but the commands were completed. I honestly don’t know for certain if libusb was properly installed from the source download or if it had actually failed but the system already had the appropriate drivers. However, after completing the steps for libusb I then connected the camera to my Mac USB keyboard port and the camera powered up automatically and I saw the device listed in the system information.

The next step was to download and run the SaturnDownload program in order to extract the video from the camera. I followed this step but experienced a critical problem with the software. It would not run. Every time I ran the executable the icon would appear on the dock and then immediately dissappear.

Finding alternatives for this kind of software (or any software) on a Mac is often a gamble, but by going back to the original post at the Camerahacking forum I did find one that worked. It was linked in the post by Macherb.

According to Macherb’s post the installation of libusb is not required with the above program.

I did notice that while downloading four videos from the camera the longest one, about five minutes in length took a while to complete and for a moment I thought the application might have hung at the end of the transfer. By periodically doing a “Get Info” on the video file I saw the file size increase and realized it was still copying the file even though the progress indicator appeared to show that it had finished.

Unfortunately (for Mac users) the videos are recorded in an AVI format. Fortunately, an OS X version of ffmpeg, named ffmpegX made the conversion to an MOV file a simple one. Note that the default resolution/ration for the MOV settings must be changed to 4:3/640×480.

The conversions I’ve completed so far have been relatively quick, though the longest video I’ve converted yet was only about five minutes in length. After converting the video I was then able to import the video into iMovie and perform some editing of the original file.

CVS Digital Camcorder USB Mod

I’ve read several posts about the CVS “Disposable” Digital Camcorders and felt that one would be a perfect project to try my soldering skills. The use of the word “skills” is a stretch since I had never soldered anything before. Sometime last semester I purchased a soldering iron along with some electronic components and solder and figured it was time I put it to use.

Last weekend I dropped into the local CVS and bought one of the camcorders. They cost $30 up front and record about 20 minutes of low-quality video (320×240 – by default). Once you’re done recording you’re supposed to return the camera, pay another $12, and walk away with a DVD sans the camcorder. As another poster pointed out that’s over $2/minute! After a five or six runs with these cameras one might as well as have bought a good, inexpensive digital camcorder.

The hacking on this camera was began a while back so I had the benefit of entering a well established project. The are several sites on the net that detail how to connect the camera to a computer in addition to a number of posts that discuss the camera itself. One site, camerhacking.com is an excellent resource for hacking info regarding this and other cameras.

One common method for connecting the camera via USB is to build an adapter using a Palm M100 sync cable. For this project, I decided to solder a USB connection directly into the camera. I didn’t have a similar Palm sync cable and also didn’t want to have to carry a special cable with me (though I did end up with a special cable because of the USB connector I chose to use).

YacMon

I use YAC to broadcast and display telephone caller ID information across my network. There’s a companion program to YAC, named YacMon that monitors the YAC call log and will send call notifications via e-mail.

I’ve used it before but quit because YAC or one of the associated programs seemed to be leaving the modem off-hook. However, I’m now using a different computer with the same modem so I figured it would be worth a shot to see if it would work. So far it’s been working properly.

To download the file from the forum you’ll need to register but it’s free. I had the same problem with the service parameters as was mentioned in one of the posts and had to enter them into the registry setting instead of including them in the Service properties. I also have not been able to use my SMTP server but instead must use the HTTP gateway that is specified by default.

YacMon – YAC e-mail notification utility
YAC – Yet Another Caller ID program

iTunes Suggestions (revisited)

I’ve revised my iTunes suggestions. My mother unintentionally showed me that playlist organization using folders is supported in iTunes.

  1. Add a function to save the Controls settings for playlists that are played from shared libraries. I’m tired of selecting “Repeat All” for a playlist each time I access that music from another computer.
  2. Add the ability to sort music in the Library using folders. It’s annoying to have to scroll through an enormous list of songs every time I burn a CD and need to build a playlist for that album.
  3. Add groups for playlists. I’m tired of scrolling through my playlists too.
  4. Add the ability to recharge an account using a credit card without storing the information. I don’t want to have to purchase a gift certificate for $15 or temporarily store my credit card info online when all I want to add is $10 to my account.
  5. Add more control over the audio output and the way it interacts with the sound card. Sure, I think my soundcard should be able to autodetect whether or not the audio requires PCM or Dolby 5.1 surround but regardless I don’t understand why the audio/video sync is off if the soundcard settings are configured to use Dolby 5.1.

Beyond Media (arrived)

My Beyond Media kit with the Firefly remote arrived today. After work set it up. The box includes one CD with the Beyond Media software and key, the Firefly software, and a .NET update.

I installed the software and then proceeded to configure and test it. It worked better than the trial version. The included audio and video codecs worked flawlessly for DVD playback with SPDIF. I’ve since installed a few plugins that I may go into further detail at a later time. Overall, I’m very pleased with this package.

Beyond Media – http://www.snapstream.com/