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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Open Standards For Network Video

02 June, 2010
Covering two-thirds of the equipment available in the network video market, ONVIF and PSIA are taking different approaches to reaching standards of interoperability
Why do we need open video standards?

This question isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. You may argue that standards are needed in any industry to prevent the anarchic growth of disparate systems but anarchy in the IP surveillance market isn't the goal of any of the suppliers. Proprietary systems were a money spinner for the manufacturers of the past who could sell their cameras, management systems and storage devices in the sure knowledge that any future upgrades would fall back into their hands. The "Closed" in Closed Circuit TV meant exactly what it said.

The use of IP as a transmission technology brings the instant advantage of integration capability but this advantage can only be realised with open architecture. In this environment, proprietary systems become cumbersome and irrelevant to the IP technology they've adopted.

Surveillance system architecture comes down to distributed components sat at different nodes of the network held together with a management system (either centralised or itself distributed). It was the Video Management System vendors who kicked off the development of open standards and it could be argued that companies such as Milestone and Mirasys have been doing it for years already. It is in the VMS vendors' interests to integrate the sensors and storage systems to their product to gain wider market penetration. Standards have therefore been popping up in the industry for several years.

So if it's already "open", why do we need standards bodies? Well, it isn't truly open. Take some examples:

†Every time a new camera is manufactured, an API has to be written for (or by) each VM S supplier.
†Combining two surveillance systems with different VMS software requires the migration to one system or a complex process of integration.
†The scope is very narrow â€" limited to vendor/vendor agreements and code writing

Who are the standards bodies?

There are two standards bodies covering the IP surveillance market, ONVIF and PSIA. Both groups began operating in 2008 and both are structured based on industry membership and the consensual development of standards.

ONVIF is the Open Network Video Interface Forum and is currently the largest of the two bodies in terms of membership and market penetration. The current standard is "ONVIF core specification 1.0" with version 2.0 due for release in summer 2010. Various interoperability demonstrations using different camera vendors have been performed at the major security exhibitions and the number of compliant cameras is continuing to grow. Read more about ONVIF on our news pages listed here

The ONVIF founding members were Axis Communications, Bosch and Sony and its authority reflects the market influence of these major manufacturers. The specification is heavily focussed on camera connectivity and the use of video analytics. Critics claim that the specification isn't broad enough and that the protocols used are too resource intensive to address such serious issues as PTZ control. On the other hand, the specification adequately addresses the needs of high-end users with lots of on-camera functionality and analytics capability.

PSIA is the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance and counts companies such as Dedicated Micros, Genetec and OnSSI among its membership as well as Video Analytics heavyweight, ObjectVideo. The current specifications from PSIA are The IP Media Device Specification 1.1 and the RACM Specification 1.1 which addresses storage. Read more about PSIA on our news pages listed here

The PSIA specification is considered to be the simpler in terms of implementation and uses leaner protocols to overcome some of the inherent issues of controlling video equipment over IP networks. PSIA is also extending the scope of the specification to incorporate other IP-based security technologies such as access control.

How does this affect the choices you make in specifying an IP surveillance network?

Both standards are a very long way from becoming a ratified international standard as they both lack the breadth of scope and depth of functionality to become authoritative. Many VMS and camera suppliers are backing both standards and are ensuring compliance with both camps. There's no disadvantage to doing this and there's no reason why both standards shouldn't exist side by side. The choice of which standard to follow as a user depends on the expected growth in terms of functionality and complexity and whether other non-surveillance systems are likely to be integrated in a Physical Security Information Management environment. It seems that ONVIF is driving vertical functionality with coverage of complex cameras with high levels of analytical capability whilst PSIA is going for networking simplicity and broader scope.

What other standards are relevant?

The other surveillance standard that is emerging is the HDcctv Alliance which could be the spanner in the mechanism which re-aligns the thinking of both ONVIF and the PSIA. HD video is currently creating a great deal of confusion in the surveillance market as many are not exactly sure what it is and whether it falls into the analogue or IP megapixel category. By definition, it is a subset of megapixel technology and hence megapixel suppliers like Axis Communications have HD cameras within their range. The HDcctv Alliance however, places HD firmly into the analogue arena because it is an organisation which is promoting the transmission of digital HD signals over co-axial cable rather than IP networks. The reasons for this are the maintenance of image quality due to uncompressed transmission and high quality camera control. As HD video becomes increasingly popular, this division in transmission protocols will become more significant and will result in an inherent failure in the drive for open systems unless it is addressed by the competing standards bodies.

Read more insight into this on John Honovich's IPVideomarket website

Read an Interview with key ONVIF and PSIA personnel

Read an Interview with Mirasys
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