Axis Camera Companion VMS V3 Tested

By Ethan Ace, Published Jul 27, 2015, 12:00am EDT

Axis is focusing more on their own 'end to end solutions'.

Camera Companion is Axis' 'VMS killer', which is free and eliminates using traditional VMS software. It jumped off to a great start, then got hammered with SD card problems and constrained by limited cloud and VMS functionality.

Now, Axis has released the third version of the Camera Companion, which aims to fix these problems.

IPVM has tested the new version to determine how well it works and how it changes Axis competitive positioning.

Summary

With easy cloud access implemented, improved SD card support, and enhanced live and playback of video, Axis now has a low-end 'end to end offering' that is very good competitively. However, despite the free VMS software, given the relative high price of Axis IP cameras, compared to Asian IP and HD analog cameras, it is still notably more expensive.

Axis Camera Companion 3 delivers a premium low-end experience at a premium price, which should help Axis for more price insensitive buyers against their partners selling VMS software.

This is not good news for those left selling Axis AVHS hosted video, as Axis has now stripped AVHS of its biggest competitive advantage, easy cloud access which is now equally available for free with Axis Camera Companion.

Technical Key Findings

Camera Companion 3's new cloud access features worked well for both live viewing and playback (from onboard SD or network share), with no manual setup required. These features require firmware 5.50 and up, excluding some older (2+ years) cameras and discontinued models, though these may still be configured for remote access using port forwarding or UPnP.

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Video was accessible via Windows PC (required for setup) or iOS/Android mobile apps. No web client or native Mac OSX client is available.

Live viewing now uses automatic multi-streaming, which switched from low quality to high quality streams in under a second when the camera was opened in a larger window, eliminating load time found in previous versions.

The addition of 1, 5, 15, and 30 frame increments in Investigation Mode (thumbnail search) allowed for finer control of searches than previous Camera Companion versions, which used only 30 second back/forward increments.

Positioning Impact

With the addition of free cloud access, Axis has greatly improved Camera Companion's positioning:

  • Less complex setup: as less sophisticated small office or home users may now set up remote viewing without manual port forwarding or unreliable UPnP, which may have been confusing to many end users. Even skilled integrators easily capable of remote viewing setup may appreciate the installation savings gained by this method, as well.
  • No recurring charges: Additionally, this free cloud access to locally stored video avoids recurring charges common in many cloud platforms, including their own AVHS VSaaS service, making Camera Companion more attractive in applications typically served by hosted video.

However, it still has some limitations not found in typical VMS platforms or even low cost DVRs/NVRs which many advanced users may find lacking:

  • No enterprise management: Users may log into only one site at a time, with no option to view cameras across multiple sites on a single screen. Additionally, admin/operator/viewer rights are assignable only by site, not across the entire system.
  • No multi-camera playback: Users are limited to playing a single camera at once, with no option for simultaneous synchronized playback found in most VMS platforms. Multiple cameras may be exported simultaneously, but are viewed singly.
  • Limited search: Investigations are limited to thumbnail and timeline searches. There are no options for smart/ROI pixel searches, event search, etc., common in VMSes.

SD Card Performance

Many early adopters of Axis Camera Companion cited SD card issues resulting in lost video. To combat this, Axis released a "surveillance" SD card in conjunction with Sandisk. These cards are officially supported and warranted by Axis. 

They have also introduced firmware improvements aimed at detecting SD card read/write failures so issues may be reported to users before extended periods of video are lost.

We have begun testing these SD cards in two cameras (one motion recording, one continuous), with no issues so far. These quantities and test durations are too small to make definite determinations as to quality, but we will report any issues here.

Remote Access

All Axis cameras using firmware 5.50 or higher are available via the cloud by simply turning remote access on in Camera Companion configuration, a single checkbox. Checking this box installs and enables an Axis camera application, simply named "Axis Remote Access Solution", though users do not need to (nor should they in most cases) configure anything on the camera itself. 

Note that cameras are not automatically available by default, and users may disable individual cameras if they do not wish them to be remotely accessible. Cameras using firmware older than 5.50 may still be accessed remotely, but must use UPnP or manual port forwarding. Axis has detailed instructions on how to remotely access unsupported cameras in their ACC Internet Access guide. For more on the technology behind it, see Axis Secure Remote Access whitepaper [link no longer available].

We found no issues in remote access setup in our tests, with all compatible cameras simply connecting, with no setup required.

Account/Site Login 

Camera Companion users must now log into the application using a MyAxis account (free to create). All sites and cameras created in Companion are then saved to this account, and accessible from other clients remotely. Note that sites cannot be "shared", i.e., other users may not simply be invited via their email. Sites are tied to a single MyAxis account, though a single account may have many sites.

Each site may have three different roles (admin, operator, viewer) which are differentiated only by password. No username is required to login to the site, only password.

We review accounts and login in this video:

 

Live View Improvements

The main change in Camera Companion 3, aside from visual design changes, is that live viewing now uses multi-streaming. Cameras stream in low quality when in smaller "thumbnail" windows, and automatically switch to the full stream when enlarged. The load time required when switching between multiple cameras has been eliminated.

 

Search and Export

Two main changes have been made to search:

  • When using Investigation Mode, users may now move back/forward in 1, 5, 15, and 30 frame increments instead of the 30 second interval seen in past versions, making it easier to locate specific actions during investigation.
  • Multiple cameras may now be exported (.asf format) at once, instead of one at a time. However, the Axis file player executable does not allow for multi-camera playback, simply playing files one after another sequentially.

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