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.

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