Using A Polaroid CUBE As A Webcam

Step-by-step guide to unlocking the hidden webcam function on your Polaroid CUBE action camera. Caveats included.

polaroid cube gen 1 action camera
A polaroid CUBE

Not for Polaroid CUBE Act II or Wifi (CUBE+) action cams.

This tutorial only applies to the first gen Polaroid CUBE, as the Act II has removed this functionality.

Polaroid CUBE+ has webcam functionality not covered in this tutorial

Polaroid CUBE

The Polaroid CUBE is a budget action cam first released in 2014. The CUBE has a 6MP sensor and supports 720p and 1080p recording modes. Today the CUBE can still be found online for as low as $20 on retailers such as amazon. Its small size and good video recording quality places it at a level above others in this price category.

First generation Polaroid CUBEs have a hidden feature. With the right settings on the CUBE and in Windows, the CUBE can be used a webcam.

This article will guide you through the process of getting the CUBE into webcam mode. This article assumes a PC running Windows 10.

Enable Legacy Webcam Support In Windows 10

This will break some applications.

This change will allow certain older webcams to work in Windows 10, but will prevent applications that use the newer Windows 10 camera API from accessing the camera.

This includes the Windows Camera App, skype and others. Scroll below for a list of tested applications.

If you have other webcams that currently work in Windows 10, it is recommended you use those instead.

As the Polaroid CUBE is an older webcam, we need to modify Windows 10

Open the start menu and search for "Registry Editor" and run it.

In the address bar, type

Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Microsoft\Windows Media Foundation\Platform

Next, on the right side, right click the blank area and select "New > DWORD". A new entry will pop up. Name the entry "EnableFrameServerMode", then double click it. Set the value to 0.


Creating a DWORD entry in Registry Editor.

Next, in the address bar, navigate to

Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Microsoft\Windows Media Foundation\Platform

Repeat the previous steps to create a new DWORD entry with the same name and value.

If you wish to revert these changes, set the value of the created DWORD entries to 1.

With this, Windows is now ready to accept the CUBE as a webcam.

Tested Applications

As stated previously, this registry change will break some applications. Below are a list of applications that I tested.

Chrome: Works
Discord: Works
Firefox: Works
Skype: Broken
Teamviewer: Broken
Windows Camera App: Broken
Yawcam: Works
Zoom: Desktop app broken, but should work in browser

This camera will generally work if you're planning to use it on a website (facebook, google hangouts, zoom) in your browser.

Configuring CUBE Webcam Mode

It is recommended you connect the CUBE, remove and delete everything from the microsd card, then power off and on the cube.

Begin by connecting the Polaroid CUBE to your computer.

Open the CUBE's drive folder and create a new file called "web_cam.txt"

polaroid cube's filesystem
Polaroid CUBE's filesystem. It is here that we create a web_cam.txt file.

Close the folder, then unplug and replug the cube into the computer.

When webcam mode is enabled, you will not be able to access camera storage.

The microsd card must be removed, and an external card reader used to read its contents.

Deleting "web_cam.txt" will revert this change.

Turning On CUBE Webcam Mode

Now that webcam mode is enabled, we can turn on the CUBE in webcam mode.

Use the following steps to place the CUBE in webcam mode.

  1. With the CUBE off, plug the CUBE into your computer.
  2. Press and hold the power button on the CUBE. The CUBE should beep 3 times.
  3. With the CUBE still plugged into your computer, eject the microsd card. The CUBE will beep once.
  4. Unplug the CUBE and replug. The CUBE is now in webcam mode.
  5. If the CUBE turned off, reinsert the microsd card and steps 1-4 must be repeated to place the CUBE in webcam mode once again.

Limitations

When running at high resolutions, the camera may overheat and display glitching or artifacts in the video stream. Reduce the resolution or apply cooling to the camera to stop this.

Polaroid CUBE exhibiting artifacts due to overheating.
Running the webcam at 1080p causes overheating, resulting in glitching artifacts like these.

Webcam Samples

Here are some samples of the CUBE at various resolutions, formats and day/night conditions.

H264 Codec
720p:
polaroid cube daytime sample photo with h264 codec and 720p resolution
polaroid cube nighttime sample photo with h264 codec and 720p resolution

540p:
polaroid cube daytime sample photo with h264 codec and 540p resolution
polaroid cube nighttime sample photo with h264 codec and 540p resolution

 

YUY Codec
720p:
polaroid cube nighttime sample photo with yuy2 codec and 720p resolution

540p:
polaroid cube nighttime sample photo with yuy2 codec and 540p resolution

YUY2 format video is noticibly more noisier than those taken with the H264 codec. Additionally, the YUY2 format videos are half that of the H264 video (720p30 vs 720p60).

Conclusion

From the effort required to get the CUBE into webcam mode and recording, it is clear that this functionality was never meant to be used by consumers. Its likely CUBE engineers ran into the overheating issues and left the webcam function hidden and unfinished in the software. The CUBE Act II completely gets rid of this functionality and the web_cam.txt trick no longer works.

For a bit of work, you get a cheap webcam with a super wide angle view, which has great potential for uses like security monitoring.

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