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CVS Disposable Camcorder Hacked 182

Posted by timothy
from the intentionally-left-blank dept.
ptorrone writes "We've been watching this on MAKE closely- and the king of the one-time digital camera hacks/analysis finally got his hands on a CVS Camcorder on Friday, the 24th via someone shipping him one FedEx. Within 18 hours, he had slurped the flash memory and has the unencrypted, XVID codec, 320x240, 30fps movies stored in the camera on his computer."
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CVS Disposable Camcorder Hacked

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  • by gbulmash (688770) * <semi_famous@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:03PM (#12910011) Homepage Journal
    If you don't hack the camcorder, you're paying $2 and change a minute to buy it, record 20 minutes, and have those 20 minutes put on DVD. Considering how many obvious artifacts were in the demo scene from the DVD, I am ready to boycott CVS just on principle. Charging that much money for such crap!

    Now the obvious answer is "hack the camcorder. Then it doesn't cost so much and you get more value for your money." Hmmmm... I can get a 16 ounce sh*t-flavored milkshake for $3, but with a little trick, I can turn that into a gallon. What a bargain, so long as I don't mind that it's still sh*t-flavored. If I want more sh*t-flavored goodness, then darn, I better learn the trick. If I want a milkshake that doesn't taste like sh*t, I think I'd better save my pennies.

    The ONLY reason I can think of getting this is to get a camcorder for your kid. If they break it, big deal.

    It also sort of reminds me of that old Mattell video camera that recorded grainy B&W on audio cassettes. Though crappy, it has its own kind of retro cool if you can find one now. Perhaps these cameras have value as collectors items.

    - Greg

    • It was a Fisher-Price camera and they were kinda neato :-)
      • Fisher-Price being part of Mattel, of course.

        Anyway, the camera was called "PXL-2000" and the format was called "Pixelvision". Read More... [michaeloreilly.com]

        • Fisher-Price was not part of Mattel when the PXL was sold - it was a division of Quaker Oats. Later was spun off, then bought by Mattel, but not for years after the PXL was discontinued.

          I worked for FP for years, I could tell you some wild stories about the PXL.
          • by QuietRiot (16908)
            Please. Do tell.

            I used to have a few friends down the street with one. I don't think they ever really fully appreciated it. My first impression was : "Wow. On audio tape. Audio tape."
            • Well, the wild stories I will keep to myself at least for a while, I don't know who might be adversely affected by my telling them. I will tell you, though, that there were pre-recorded PXL videos set to be released, and also a color version... other stuff too, but sales were disappointing (after the initial press) so these products never made it to market. I still have several PXLs and a PXL TV kicking around that I got from the product service dept. (I loaded up the basement, attic and garage with FP go
          • I worked for FP for years, I could tell you some wild stories about the PXL.

            Woohoo! Amateur Pixelvision-pr0n!
          • The PXL-2000 was an excellent toy for a kid interested in video production in the late 80s. With MiniDV being as cheap is it is now I don't think there's all that much market for something like it anymore, but I'd still love to see the PXL resurrected.
    • It may not be as good as an XL-2, but it is like 30$ and it weighs a couple of ounces v $4000 and 20 lbs...
      • Re:Size does matter (Score:3, Interesting)

        by connorbd (151811)
        You know what I'm thinking... the PureDigital 20-minute film festival. It'd be interesting to see what a good videographer can do with one of those things, and they're a great choice for kids.
    • I think we should boycott CVS too!

      Subversion is the way forward!
    • Considering how many obvious artifacts were in the demo scene from the DVD, I am ready to boycott CVS just on principle

      Huh. I just watched PICT0004.AVI (didn't want to download more so other people might get a change to access his site). I didn't think it was all _that_ bad. In fact, I don't believe it's much (if any) worse than my Sony DCR-PC9. Sure that's an oldy, but fuck, I paid like $900 for it or something.

      I think there's use for video of this quality. To bad there's no CVS around here...
      • The ONLY reason I can think of getting this is to get a camcorder for your kid. If they break it, big deal.
      • Film events which are too dangerous to risk your real camera.
      • Film from many vantage points at once, without massive cost.
      • Film from vantage points which might be at risk of vandalism or theft.
    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Saturday June 25, 2005 @04:19PM (#12910340) Homepage Journal
      Considering how many obvious artifacts were in the demo scene from the DVD, I am ready to boycott CVS just on principle. Charging that much money for such crap!

      Wow, if you don't like a deal someone is offering, just don't take it. Show me a store that isn't charging too much for something or that offers something that doesn't present a value proposition that you accept. You're going to have to be self-sufficient if you start boycotting all of 'em.

      I'm thinking of getting a weather balloon and tying one of these on to see what happens. $30 sounds good.
    • The video really isn't quite as bad as you're describing. Pict0004.avi is actually fairly decent (shot at the highest datarate) and is about the same quality as a VHS tape recorded at extended play.

      Maybe that kind of quality isn't usefull to you, but for many people that kind of quality is decent enough to be usefull. For someone on a small budget, $30 ($20 with coupon) is actually affordable, where $200-$300 for a real digital camcorder isn't at all.
      • For someone on a small budget, $30 ($20 with coupon) is actually affordable, where $200-$300 for a real digital camcorder isn't at all.

        Yeah but you can only use it for 20 minutes unless you steal it from CVS. If you're going to do that, just go to rent-a-center and get a nice camcorder for free.

        • By my calculations 417 kilobits/sec in 128 megabytes of flash would leave enough room for 42 minutes of video. That's pretty decent.

          I guess I'm not sure what you mean by "steal it from CVS". Is CVS only renting the camera, and you're expected to return it? I don't see any references to that anywhere. Unless you have to sign something when you buy it saying you'll return it, that camera is yours to do with whatever you please. Don't blame hardware hackers if CVS chose a bad business model.
          • Is CVS only renting the camera, and you're expected to return it? I don't see any references to that anywhere.

            According to this article [pcmag.com] you are only renting the camera, and are supposed to give it back when you're done.

            Unless you have to sign something when you buy it saying you'll return it, that camera is yours to do with whatever you please.

            So if I ask to borrow your car to drive 20 miles, and I don't sign anything, I can take your car on a 2000 mile trip, turn back your odometer, and get away wit

            • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @07:38PM (#12911218)

              According to this article you are only renting the camera, and are supposed to give it back when you're done.

              And an article in todays Star Tribune http://www.startribune.com/stories/535/5475334.htm l [startribune.com] says that there's no security deposit, and you don't have to return it if it's broken. That doesn't sound like a rental agreement to me. Coupled with the fact that there's no rental contract, I'd say "rental" is just a convienent word to use for people to describe the arrangement.

              So if I ask to borrow your car to drive 20 miles, and I don't sign anything, I can take your car on a 2000 mile trip, turn back your odometer, and get away with it?

              This isn't an informal "borrow a car from a friend" relationship. This is a storefront where people buy things and if a contract is involved, it's spelled out quite clearly. In this case, they sell you the camera, and then hope you'll bring it back.

              A contract doesn't have to be signed in order to be binding.

              No it doesn't but you do have to have at least a verbal agreement to have a binding contract. Unless they say whenever you buy one of these things "buy buying this product you agree to return it" then you have no obligation whatsoever to return it.

              Sure, you might get away with breaking it, but that doesn't mean you're not stealing.

              Gee.. I thought stealing meant someone took something from you without you giving it to them, or selling it to them. Since CVS is actually selling these things to consumers, there's no "theft" involved. If you want to co-opt the word theft to your own personal definition, fine. But don't go around using it that way and expect people to agree with you.
    • I can get a 16 ounce sh*t-flavored milkshake for $3, but with a little trick, I can turn that into a gallon. What a bargain, so long as I don't mind that it's still sh*t-flavored. If I want more sh*t-flavored goodness, then darn, I better learn the trick. If I want a milkshake that doesn't taste like sh*t, I think I'd better save my pennies.

      <verifies that this isn't a children's message board>

      Man, the marketing company that came up with a flavor called "sh*t" realls sucks. Honest, but I mean, wow.
    • Those Fisher Price kids cameras got a lot of us modern indy filmmakers started.
  • oh yeah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by bigwavejas (678602) * on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:03PM (#12910012) Journal
    Getting a used Pure Digital / CVS Disposable Camcorder shipped to you... $15 dollars
    Taking the day off work to be at home for the Fed-ex delivery... $140 dollars
    Spending 18 hours hacking the camera for 30secs of video... Priceless!!!
    • Re:oh yeah! (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jozer99 (693146)
      Not to mention that they haven't been able to communicate with the CAMERA yet. They took the flash chip off the board and communicated with that. I hope you all like desoldering microscopic pins.
      • I hope you all like desoldering microscopic pins.

        Huh? Where do you think you are?
        • Well, there is a difference between a geek hacking a disposable camera to be reuseable, which is smart and practical, and a geek spending hours of careful labor destroying a disposable camera to get the pictures off of it, which is stupid. BTW: I agree with your sig.
          • Re:oh yeah! (Score:3, Informative)

            by morcheeba (260908) *
            I spent about 2 hours getting the pictures out, which was helped out by the fact that I had the right hardware and software laying around. But, the goal of that wasn't really to get my pictures. It was to get the firmware to analyze (mission accomplished) and to determine the format of the pictures (also accomplished). Yea, if I advocated this just to get pictures, then I'd agree that was a little excessive.

            Also, yesterday I got the flash re-installed into the camera and it still works.

            BTW: agree with gra
    • I get FedEx packages left at my door by (gasp!) making a five-minute phone call to the FedEx company and asking the package to be left behind the screen door at my house.

      You did know you could do that, right? Right?

      --grendel drago
  • by creimer (824291) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:04PM (#12910018) Homepage
    ... isn't nothing sacred anymore? The next thing someone will hack will be the Hubble Space Telescope.
    • by ari_j (90255) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:55PM (#12910213)
      ... isn't nothing sacred anymore?

      Evidently, nothing is sacred anymore. Not even grammatical rules against double negatives in the English language.
  • The question is... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:05PM (#12910025)
    ...do they completely reformat the flash every time one of these is returning for processing. This could become a strange form of voyeurism.
    • An excellent question. Even if they do format it, there's still the question if the data is still there. I don't know enough about flash technology, but on magnetic disks a format just overwrites the tracking information, not the data itself.

      Regardless of whether they're formatting, I have a feeling they're not doing a security wipe.
    • by morcheeba (260908) * on Saturday June 25, 2005 @09:42PM (#12911655) Journal
      That was my thought with the first disposable digital camera. IIRC, I didn't find an obvious erase in the firmware, but that's a moot point because I never found a recycled camera. The camera wasn't really designed to be recycled -- it had a surface that could easily be scratched, even with very light use.

      The second still camera (the PV2) has a USB function that sucks out all the important system files out of Flash memory and saves them in SDRAM. It then reformats the memory and copies the files back in. It's a pretty good erase (maybe not NSA secure, but recovery would involve probing the IC wafer), and I don't see why it wouldn't be used.

      But, the biggest security risk seems to be the time after development and before sending the cameras back to Pure Digital for recycling. According the people who operate the machines, the development machines don't erase the pictures. They stay on the camera in case something messes up -- they didn't want to have angry customers saying "what do you mean you accidently deleted my prints". It seems that the used cameras stay a while at the stores, so any operator could make prints of your pictures for up to a couple of weeks after you have them developed. But, bad employees is probably about the same risk as with traditional development.

      Since the camcorder uses a separate partition with only picture data, I suspect it would be pretty easy to reformat only this section completely. (the PV2 had system and user data in the same filesystem, which is why it had to save the data in ram)
  • I wonder, if these people based their camcorder MPEG-4 encoding using the actual XviD codebase, where's the code? (not sure, but is XviD LGPL or GPL?)
    I also wonder if they paid the MPEG-4 licensing fee too. (probably on that one)
    • I do believe that it uses a Hitachi microcontroller with an MPEG-4 encoder built in, and I'm sure that Hitachi paid the MPEG-4 licensing fee.
  • by CyricZ (887944) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:08PM (#12910037)
    Such cameras will bring a new dimension to bloggery. The extreme portability of these cameras, often smaller than the smallest commercially available MP3 players, will allow people to document their everyday lives in a very visual way. It will take videobloggery to a new dimension: a teatherless webcam, of sorts.
    • Any camera that small has its uses.. I have a feeling a new wave of sextapes is going to flood the internet
      • Indeed, like I said, this will take videobloggery to the next level. Yes, people will start posting on their blogs videos of themselves performing the sexual rites. That's just part of the liberalization of the youth of America and Europe. This is the technology that'll allow the social changes to bloom.
    • What we will need if this is going to occur is a peer review system , so those few brave pioneers with too much time on their hands can wade through the crap and find the pure quality so the rest of us can enjoy the good stuff.
      lets call it voging (video web log) or vogoning (in tribute to hitchikers)
    • it's called happy slap

      "a new craze amongst London youths: slapping random commuters in the face and filming the result on mobile phones with video cameras. The resulting 'Happy Slap TV' clips are then shared amongst friends (via MMS?), causing much hilarity."

      ahh, the children of the children of thatcher.
      • ;) thatcher ruled from 1979-1990 , so there is a fair chance these are the children of thatcher still.
        I myself shall never forgive the women for stealing my school milk , not to mention the poll-tax , the coal miners thing or most of her carrier .
        but these are still most likely the children of thatcher , but could also be the children of the children of thatcher and the children of thatcher.

    • My cell phone takes 30s grainy videos that I can upload to the web or email, as long as I have service. Seems a little more tetherless than having to find an internet capable box to post from.
    • Because blogs aren't gay enough already.

      Really, I don't care that the bitch at McDonalds gave you attitude, or how your day at work went, or your opinion on anything. And I definitely don't want to see the video.

      The few blogs I can think of that are marginally useful (like http://www.artima.com/weblogs/index.jsp [artima.com]>Artima.com ) wouldn't benefit from video anyway.

      Blogs are like personal webpages 10 years ago. For a little while, everyone had one. Then they realized other than 2 or 3 of their frien

  • Article Text (Score:5, Informative)

    by MooseGuy529 (578473) <`i58ht6b02' `at' `sneakemail.com'> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:12PM (#12910054) Homepage Journal
    Disposable Digital Camcorder Interfacing

    Pure Digital's Single Use Camcorder for CVS

    [PureDigital CVS camcorder]

    Introduction
    This web page is a little raw because I just got the camera and I'm leaving on a trip soon. So, I'll be brief and hopefully informative.

    If you're not familiar with the camera, here is a good review.

    Disassembly
    Here's a photo gallery of the disassembly of my unit.

    Similar in constructioon to the PV2, this unit is rugged and can be easily recycled.

    Preliminary Analysis
    Others found that pressing the Record and Delete buttons while turning on the camera yields a special diagnostic page. Mine said:

    FW-VERSION: 03.40
    CAMERA ID:
    6B7051xxxxxx
    PCB VER: B2

    FLASH Memory Analysis NEW
    I was able to get my videos out of the camera and onto my home computer by removing the 128MB flash memory chip and putting it into my home-built flash reader. I originally built the system for the PV2 camera -- here's some more info on it. The only modification I had to make was for the increased memory size of the new part. The reader is nothing special -- just a cheaper (and slower) version of comercially available units.

    I've placed my analysis of the camcorder's flash memory on its own page. That page also has sample videos I have recovered from my camera.

    Resources
    The most current discussion that I follow is on the Camera Hacking message board. There is also discussion on Dakota PV2 discussion board.

    contact me: my email address is my first name (john) at my last name (maushammer) dot com.

    Is this legal? Yes.
    Info on the original most recent still disposable digital camera
    other systems I've played with
    visit my homepage
    • This web page is a little raw because I just got the camera and I'm leaving on a trip soon. So, I'll be brief and hopefully informative.

      Yes it was brief.

      Server's down.
  • Oh, the humanity. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is it really too much to ask that people know when to use JPEG and when to use PNG? The person behind this article ought to know, but... I mean, just look at it [maushammer.com], it's the Screenshot From Hell.

    • Re:Oh, the humanity. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by morcheeba (260908) * on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:36PM (#12910156) Journal
      I figured someone would criticize me. You're seeing low-res version for slashdot - sorry, bandwidth trumps aesthetics today. Tomorrow the pretty pictures will go back up.

      Check the file sizes:
      -rw-r--r-- 38000 Jun 24 21:09 PICT0001-info.png
      -rw-r--r-- 13343 Jun 25 12:36 PICT0001-info.jpg
      -rw-r--r-- 10958 Jun 25 12:38 camcorder-icon-full.jpg
      -rw-r--r-- 2334 Jun 25 12:38 camcorder-icon.jpg
      -rw-r----- 4547 Jun 25 13:02 index.html
      -rw-r----- 23960 Jun 25 13:25 flash.html

      My low-res pictures are 13k vs 38k, and 2.3k vs 11k. Overall, loading flash.html is 40k instead of 73k. That means (roughly) 80% more visitors for the same bandwidth!

      I also tried GIF and TIFF - they were pretty close in size to the original PNG.
      • love the nickname, just heard them on the local NPR station (live session, recorded a few years ago I think.) Think they were doing a song called Sao Paulo.. awsome stuff, she's got one hell of a voice.
  • by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:24PM (#12910107)
    Zoran Corporation
    COACH
    COACHWare 1.0
    2002:01:13 12:06:00


    Better call in 007 for protection on this one!
  • by Thomas DM (895043) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:26PM (#12910123) Homepage
    This will finally enable you to create your own cheap sextapes, without the chance that some curious CVS employee(s) will see your work..
  • On Sale in two weeks (Score:4, Informative)

    by Cow4263 (312716) <mike@RABBITbox1.org minus herbivore> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:54PM (#12910210)
    As a current CVS employee, I can tell you that these camcorders and their digital camera like brethren are going on sale the week of July 4th. They are going to be 19.99 but you get $10 in "ExtraBucks" back. As the ad flyer says, "Its like paying $9.99".

    The ExtraBucks print from the register 2 days after the qualifiying purchase and although you do need your own ExtraCare card, the information you provide can be as false as possible. ExtraBucks are good on anything in the store excluding tobacco, alcohol and prescriptions.
    • ExtraBucks are good on anything in the store excluding tobacco, alcohol and prescriptions.

      But that doesn't leave anything! Hmmm .. wait, chocolate!

    • although you do need your own ExtraCare card

      Do I really, or can I use the cashier's? Yesterday at CVS I told the checkout guy that the dog ate my card, and he just scanned his.
    • Ironically, I just spent Friday and Saturday of this weekend on my side job upgrading a bunch of Pure Digital workstations at CVS locations in NJ with DVD-R drives.

      I was wondering how long this would take. :)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Maybe, ironically, you can spend Sunday in a bookstore, searching for the definition and good examples of irony.
        • Yeah, it's like that alanis moronissette song where everything she sings about has nothing to do with irony at all. Amazing what people listen to these days.
          • Amazing what people listen to these days

            I hate to break it to you but that song was released ten years ago. In the pop world that's an 'oldie' and not what people listen to today.
            • How true. Has it really been 10 years? Man. Time flies indeed!

              The sad thing is that Alanis was a whole lot better than the garbage people are listening to today. I tune into an alternative station and the rock that is coming out these days is so bad it makes me want to cry. Since most things on the rock side of music have been done to death by the late 70s and early 80s (even punk was dead by then) I can appreciate the lack of new frontiers to pursue, but this crap that is coming out now all just sounds li
  • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @03:57PM (#12910223) Journal
    He might have gotten charged with a felony.
  • by Council (514577) <rmunroe.gmail@com> on Saturday June 25, 2005 @04:03PM (#12910247) Homepage
    A use for hacking disposable cameras: They're disposable. That is, they're cheap enough that if you break them, you haven't lost much. That's useful for this kind of thing:

    http://www.xkcd.com/kite/ [xkcd.com]

    I was so confident of my engineering skill and my insistence on multiple safety measures that I sent my nice, $150 digital camera up the kite line. It worked for a few hours after the 70-foot fall, but hasn't since.
  • WTF is CVS? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mike.newton (67123) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @04:24PM (#12910371) Homepage
    Sure I could Google it, but my point is that I don't know what CVS cameras are, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. An explanatory link like this one [cnn.com] would be nice.

    For the rest of us, CVS is a chain of pharmacies, they're selling a small, locked, one-time use digital video camera for $30 and charging $13 to get the data off it and onto DVD.
  • by WoTG (610710) on Saturday June 25, 2005 @04:56PM (#12910534) Homepage Journal
    Link [nyud.net]
    Hmm... I'm really starting to like Coral.

Nothing is rich but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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