Axis Camera Companion - Integrator Review
After having spent some time with Axis Camera Companion I thought I would give some feedback on some of the issues I discovered while deploying it. While these are all going to be negatives, I do not mean to suggest it is an unusable system (quite the contrary - It's amazingly good for being free).
- Poor Handling of Saturated Bandwidth - As bitrate of the cameras exceeds that of the link between site and client, camera connections are dropped. This led a client to incorrectly assume that a camera was not operational.
- Poor Use of NAS Storage - When using a central NAS for video storage, the default option is to set video to be deleted after X number of days. This leads to much poorer utilization of available storage than a conventional VMS which has knowledge of the overall state of disk utilization and gives you the option to keep video as far back as possible deleting only as more storage is needed. There is a checkbox option to fill network storage to the "Max", though I'm skeptical as to how the individual cameras coordinate deletion of their respective videos in an orderly fashion (i.e. once the drive is full, which of the eight cameras using that drive should delete their video? Are they talking to eachother to figure this out? I doubt it.). I would assume the use of SD cards avoids this dilemma.
- Highly complicated and undocumented remote viewing setup - If your router supports UPnP, remote viewing can be fairly easy to setup. You click a button, it automatically creates some router rules for you, and it spits out a config file you can import on other clients. If your router does NOT support UPnP port forwarding (or you value the security of your network and have disabled it), life gets really painful. You must create a rule for every camera forwarding some external port to the cameras local port 80. You must then create the setup file by hand. Axis support recommends you start by exporting the local "behind the firewall" config file and editing it in Notepad. The format of that file is not documented, but also not terribly difficult to figure out. Obviously, this is far from user friendly.
- No control of Preview Streams - When in live/review mode, ACC will stream one camera in an enlarged view. Smaller previews of eight or so other cameras are streamed at the bottom of the interface. The main view plus previews saturated my internet connection causing dropped connections as discussed above. There is an option to disable the preview feeds, but it is burried on the "site" settings page and applies to all cameras universally (i.e. it tries to stream previews for either eight or zero cameras - nothing inbetween - and certainly not adjustable on the fly). I assume these smaller previews are reduced bandwidth, but I didn't test that theory (If they are full bandwidth streams that only goes to further my complaint in this regard).
- Slow as molasses - Everything is much slower than I am used to with other systems. Connecting to the remote site, bringing up live feeds, reviewing & scrubbing video, downloading clips. All of it is slower. I have played with Exacq's edge solution, and it seemed much faster. To be fair, my test of the Exacq solution was long enough ago that I may be misremembering things. Also, that solution used a local SD card instead of a NAS, which may speed things up. I installed a demo copy of Exacq on the NAS server and verified everything got A LOT faster (note: I installed Exacq's normal VMS - not the Edge solution).
- Loss of Camera Restricts Access to Recorded Video. Obviously, if the camera is stolen and the video was stored on a local SD card, it's gone. However video retrieval from a central NAS is also complicated by a stolen or malfunctioning camera. Since all communication flows through the individual cameras, access to stored video via the GUI is lost with the camera. The file structure of stored video on the NAS is relatively easy to navigate, and centrally stored video should be retrievable, just not conveniently so (I have not tested manual retrieval). This also raises the question of what happens to all that stored video from the stolen camera over time. My guess is that it would need to be manually deleted, otherwise it will sit there wasting drive space.
- Camera names not stored on camera. (AKA: Now I'm getting VERY nitpicky). Camera names are oddly stored in the client and the setup file used for import/export of settings. Once you pass this file around a few times, make some of the aformentioned Notepad edits - you can easily end up with clients that show different names for the same camera. Annoyingly, when a client wanted the name of a given camera changed I had to walk him through the procedure and tell him to repeat the process on all six employee laptops instead of simply logging into the camera myself and changing the name once. There has GOT to be enough non-volatile memory on the camera to store the name centrally - COME ON AXIS!
This is a very insightful review, thanks for doing it.
One immediate question: What was the NAS make/model? I used the most entry level iomega NAS and it sucked. Later on, Axis confirmed that they recommend only SMB and up models. See this discussion on the right NAS for Axis Camera Companion.
One major comment: I totally agree about the remote viewing setup and this really pisses me off because it's obvious Axis is doing this to protect their AVHS business, even though ACC has so much more game changing potential. They could and should easily hook this into One Click / web front end to make remote viewing drop dead simple.
Background: For readers new to this product, see our original Axis Camera Companion review and our update on V1.2 improvements.
The NAS was a linux box considerably more powerfull than the recommended ReadyNas Ultra 2. (The Ultra 2 Plus has closer specs to my box, but still slower). I was only using one video drive (separate from OS drive). The recommended models use 2 drives, but I was also only using 8 cameras, half the 16 camera maximum that those NAs units are purported to support. I installed Exacq on this same server, got a 4-camera demo license, and moved 4 cameras from ACC to Exacq. The machine was hosting 4-cameras of Exacq while still providing a share drive for the 4 remaining cameras. There was no contest when it came to speed of connection, speed of search, speed of clip download. Exacq blew ACC out of the water on all counts.
As I previously mentioned, my recollection is that Exacq Edge is faster. I considered putting a demo version of that on another camera for further testing, but this is a live site, and I didn't want to mess with things further. Also, Exacq Edge is significantly more expensive than Exacq Start - making it an even less fair comparison to ACC. I am very interested in the outcome of such a test (even though I won't be performing it here). If both Exacq Edge and ACC prove to be slow, then you start to suspect that the infrastructure is the problem. Can numerous, distributed, relatively slow processors compete with one/two fast processors on a central box? Can it be done even if you desire to keep storage central? More testing is needed.
As this was my first experience with ACC, I used a self-built linux box instead of a off the shelf NAS solution so that I could switch to Exacq at will. It cost an extra $85 and an hour of my time going this route, but I am happy I did. I am fairly certain the customer will pay the cost for the Exacq Start licenses once he sees the difference in performance.
Axis volunteered some useful feedback. Here it is:
"There are a few configuration options available in AXIS Camera Companion, which should be used for low bandwidth scenarios:
Disable thumbnail views: Click on Configuration > Customize > Disable video thumbnails for live view and recordings. This will increase the bandwidth available for the selected video stream.
Lower the maximum resolution/frame rate for live view streaming: Click on Configuration > Customize > Live view streaming. Video quality will be slightly decreased but the quality for the recorded video will remain the same."
NAS Storage Limitations
"By using the AXIS Camera Companion default values you will have a system that works well in combination with more or less any NAS without further configuration.
Storage time can be extended, but doing so may require configuration of quotas for the respective cameras recording to the NAS.
An AXIS Camera Companion “NAS best practice” document with detailed step-by-step instructions is now published."
Remote Connectivity Issues
"It is correct that the UPnP NAT traversal functionality is not 100% reliable as it is depending on the Router and the Network configuration to work properly.
An AXIS Camera Companion “Remote access” document with detailed step-by-step instructions how to setup the cameras for remote access when UPnP fails is now published.
We can also promise further improvements in this area moving forward."
IPVM Note: We're looking forward to what those further improvements will be.
Controlling Preview Streams
"The configuration option to enable/disable the thumbnail view will be more visible and easier to access in the next version of AXIS Camera Companion."
Slow Response Time
"An idea again could be to disable the thumbnail views and tune the live view settings as it will have major impact on the performance on low bandwidth remote sites.
For live view AXIS Camera Companion accesses the live video in the same way as any other VMS, so if the live view settings are the same, there is no reason why it should perform slower.
For recorded video you may experience a slight increase in load time as the data is streamed from the cameras to client, while in a normal VMS where you may run the client and server on the same machine the data could be buffered locally.
In general however we are talking about a few 100 ms, so it is not any significant number."
Accessing Video from Lost Cameras
"The AXIS File Player which is used for reviewing exported video in AXIS Camera Companion can also be used to playback the video stored on the local SD card or NAS, so you are not relying on the camera to access the video although it certainly simplifies the forensic work."
Camera Names Not Stored on Cameras
"We can promise some major improvements in this area moving forward."
IPVM: That's everything from Axis.
I do not understand the reference to Exacq Edge. You indicated that you installed on the NAS device, which is not Edge but Start/Pro (I assume Linux based running Ubuntu). The benefit to Edge is the reductions of unneeded services (think Windows OS) and based on that specific camera (IQ, ISD, Axis). Recording directly to card via hard connection via Ethernet also much more efficient.
Could you elaborate on this (am currently in testing mode for this product).
Jeff, you can install Edge on the camera and then point the Exacq instance running on the camera to a NAS as the storage source. I am assuming that's what he means here.
What I actually tested in this review was ACC (recording to Ubuntu NAS) vs Exacq Start installed on that same Ubuntu box. Exacq performed far better, but the two are very different topologies. I was referencing an instance of Exacq Edge I saw on the same Axis camera months ago. That topology better mirrors ACC and my recollection is that it performed better, but I could be misremembering.
In the end, I think ACC is a good choice if you are going to be connected locally and review video fairly infrequently. For systems that are primarily remote access or for frequent incident retrieval I would recommend Exacq Start. I would be interested to demo Exacq Edge again, but I think licensing costs for that are at the higher Pro levels.
Also - thanks to Axis for responding, it's cool that you are listening.
I do need to take issue with your "slow response time" response. Server and client were separate in all instances. Exacq is definitely speedier.
We use ACC for systems with 8 cameras or fewer. We've run into all the issues described, including needing a "separate" ACCS file for remote vs local users, if the router blocked loopback. There's no reason (other than selfish ones described above) for it to be this complicated in this day & age.
That being said, it's a very cost-effective system for very small deployments that still need to be able to combine analog with megapixel (such as our property entrance systems with analog LP cameras).
Greg, All, Axis just announced a new ACC Version that eliminates the need for 'separate' ACC files. See details.
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