Axis Chinese Competitor Companion Dome V Tested

By Ethan Ace, Published Jun 29, 2016, 08:08am EDT (Research)

A $169 1080p dome from Axis?

The Companion Dome V is, by far, Axis' lowest cost 1080p dome, a full $100 less than even their new M3045-V.

Every manufacturer has been hit by rapid Chinese expansion over the last few years. Axis is clearly trying to do something about it.

We bought and tested the Companion Dome V against Axis' revamped M30 cameras as well as Hikvision's low cost IR dome to see how it stacks up in image quality, VMS integration, bandwidth, and more.

Summary

The Axis Companion Dome V performed similarly to the $100 MSRP more expensive M3045-V in our tests, in low light and WDR scenes, with similar bitrates (including Zipstream) and physical construction. However, it has two key limitations compared to other Axis cameras:

  • Not supported with third party VMSes: The Companion Dome is officially compatible only with Axis Companion software. Other VMSes could not connect to it via Axis drivers or ONVIF.
  • No ACAP applications: The Companion Dome does not support ACAP applications possible with typical Axis cameras. This means that add on analytics, LPR, people counting, etc., may not be used.

We found a working RTSP stream, but it is neither documented nor supported, plus RTSP, by definition, supports no server side configuration nor camera side VMD.

Third Party Recorder Support

The Companion Dome V was discovered by multiple VMSes we tested (Avigilon, Exacq, Genetec, Milestone), but none could connect nor stream directly.

RTSP Streaming

However, we discovered an RTSP stream URL which functioned properly with third party VMSes:

rtsp://ADDRESS/axis-media/media.amp?Axis-Orig-Sw=true

This stream is shown here in Exacq:

However, note that this stream removes the ability to configure CODEC settings (FPS, resolution, etc.) from the VMS, and does not support the camera's VMD.

Additionally, Axis says this stream is unsupported and may be removed at any time.

Outward Construction The Same As The M3045-V

The construction of the Companion Dome and new M30 cameras is nearly identical, from the dome cover, to base, to port locations. The only distinguishing markings are found on the back of the dome, where the part number and certification marks are located.

Note: there certainly could be internal changes (e.g., different sensor or encoder / SOC), though the net performance result did not indicate major variances in whatever internal components were used.

What Has Axis Done?

From testing, it seems like Axis took the M3045-V, disabled some software, relabeled it and cut the MSRP by $100. We found it confusing and think many users will as well, especially since they left in the RTSP workaround that well tempt some to save money by getting a 'cheap' / software limited M3045-V.

Potential vs. Hikvision/Dahua

The Axis Companion Dome is likely to have limited impact on Axis positioning versus low cost leaders Hikvision and Dahua. While this is a new low price for Axis (and a relatively well performing camera), both Dahua and Hikvision offer similarly specified cameras at lower prices, many of which include integrated IR, and essentially all of which include ONVIF support.

On the positive side, those wanting Axis will get the image quality, bandwidth savings and physical construction of a camera that typically costs $100 MSRP more if they elect to buy this version.

Impact on M30 Line

The Companion Dome's performance compared to M30 cameras puts Axis' low end in an odd position.

  • Those who have historically used the M30 series may be frustrated that a $100 lower cost camera offers very similar performance (true WDR, Zipstream, etc.), making the M3045-V a tougher sell.
  • Those looking for the very lowest cost camera may find the Companion line appealing, but limitations on third party use and camera applications (such as the better performing VMD 3.0) may make the line unusable.

For $100/camera, some users may attempt to use the Companion line with third party recorders using RTSP, skirting these issues somewhat, but less technical users likely will not.

Pricing

The Companion Dome V has an MSRP of $169 USD, $100 less than the 1080p M3045-V. This pricing is modestly higher than low cost dome models such as the Hikvision DS-2CD2E20F (~$130), though notably closer to these prices than historic Axis models.

Online pricing for the Companion Dome V varies widely, from ~$160-$190, over its MSRP. This too is abnormal, as Axis cameras typically sell for less than their MSRP online. We do not know the cause but Axis has created a separate dealer program for Companion that even existing Axis dealers need to apply for explicitly.

New Axis Web Interface

The Companion Dome includes Axis' newly redesigned web interface, with three notable improvements:

  • No plugin H.264: The new web interface uses HTML 5 to display H.264 video, requiring no ActiveX or other browser plugins common in the past Axis web interface as well as others. This allows video to be properly shown in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and other browsers which do not support ActiveX.
  • Responsive design: The design of the web interface is responsive, allowing it to adjust to fit various resolutions, including tablets and smart phones. Note that H.264 video does not work in iOS due to OS limitations, but MJPEG video functions normally.
  • Live video during configuration: Where the past Axis interface (and many others) did not display live video while configuration changes were made, it is always prominently displayed in the new interface. This makes it easier/quicker to see changes in CODECs, image quality, overlays, etc., as they are made, without using a second window.

We review the new Axis web interface in this video:

Image Quality

The Companion Dome V produced image details similar to the M3045-V in all scenes except full light. The comparisons below show performance compared to Axis' new M30 models (M3045-V and M3044-V), their previous lowest cost options, as well as a low cost 1080p compact IR dome (in the same price range).

Light, ~340lx

In full light, the Companion Dome V produced moderately less detail of our subject than the M3045-V, with some overexposure of the test chart.

Low Light, ~1lx

In low light, performance between the Companion dome and M3045-V is very similar, with slight differences in digital noise levels, but similar details. The integrated IR dome provides the best details of all cameras in this scene.

Wide Dynamic Range

Below is an image of the field of view used in the WDR test.

In WDR, the Companion dome again performs similarly to the M3045-V, if not slightly better, with more even exposure in bright and dark areas.

Note that the Companion Dome is marketed as "WDR", but the web interface of the camera shows controls only for "Dynamic Capture", a term Axis has historically used for digital WDR.

Bandwidth Comparison

The Companion Dome V includes Zipstream, with bitrate performance (not surprisingly) very similar to the M3045-V:

Axis Companion VMS

Axis has not made major updates to their Axis Camera Companion VMS with the release of these new cameras, most notably shortening the name simply to "Companion" and adding support for this new camera line.

The video below shows a brief overview of the main interface of Companion, used for live monitoring:

Free cloud access is still included as well, with new Companion cameras as well as Axis models, one of the key features in their 3.0 release:

Readers looking for our full review should see our Axis Camera Companion VMS V3 Test.

Test Parameters

All cameras were tested using default settings unless otherwise specified, with the following applied to all cameras:

  • H.264, 10 FPS, ~28 quantization was used
  • 1/30s maximum shutter speed

The following firmware versions were used for this test:

  • Axis Companion Dome V: 6.15.1
  • Axis M3045-V: 6.15.1
  • Axis M3044-V: 6.15.1
  • Hikvision DS-2CD2522: 5.3.6

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