March 2, 2006


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Techie: Cheap moviemaking
And we do mean cheap, in all senses of the word
By John “jaQ” Andrews

I’ve been remiss.

Last June, CVS — yes, the drug store — released a gizmo for recording 20 minutes of digital video. It cost $29.99, occasionally with a $10 rebate, and featured possibly the worst video quality this side of “Are Supermarket Butchers Washing Their Hands” hidden-camera special reports on local news shows.

The kicker? The camera was intended for one-time use only, and it cost $12.99 to have CVS process the thing and give you a DVD of your footage.
It didn’t take long, of course, for hackers to figure out a way around that little limitation. The details are easily found on the Web, but essentially, the proprietary port on the camcorder can be modified to plug into a standard USB port. Some guerilla software then makes downloading the video to your computer quite simple.

Supposedly, I mean.

CVS doesn’t advertise the video camera much anymore, but it’s still available for $19.99. A version without the virtually useless preview LCD screen is only $9.99. Plus, you know, processing fees.
If you’re not quite that cheap, but still want digital video, inexpensive solutions abound. You won’t win any Oscars for cinematography, but if you’re posting cute clips of your cat on MySpace, these buggers could just fit the bill.

The DXG 305VS sells for about $100 and records video at 640x480 resolution — that’s about the resolution of a standard television screen. That’s only 15 frames per second, though, so it won’t look totally smooth. For 30fps video, you can knock down the resolution to 320x240. The video is stored in MPEG-4 format, so it’s not DVD quality, but not bad.
The camera comes with 16MB of onboard memory and a slot for adding Secure Digital cards. A 1.5” LCD screen lets you compose shots and review your footage. It runs on four AAA batteries and has a 4X digital zoom, as well as 3-megapixel still shots. It even plays your MP3s, but I wouldn’t recommend taking a video camera to the gym.

For a little less money, around $80, check out the Mustek DV5200. Similar features as the DXG unit, but it runs on two AA batteries. It also comes with twice as much built-in memory, but still photos are a lower resolution: only 2 megapixels, though it claims software interpolation up to 5 megapixels.
Still too rich for your blood? Check out the bottom of the Aiptek line, the Pocket DV. At a whopping $24.99, you get a free case and baseball cap at What does that mean for the quality of the camera? 320x240 resolution at “up to” 10fps. 16MB memory, but it’s not flash memory like the other cameras, so if your two AA batteries die, your video is gone.

With most digital cameras and even some cell phones offering video recording, the biggest advantage these camcorders offer is recording time. Rather than being restricted to video clips of a minute or two, they can record as long as the batteries last and there’s still room on your memory card.

 Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at

02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006 Free software made simple
01/19/2006 The Worst of CES
01/12/2006 Radio you
01/05/2006 Making Movies
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