Axis Camera Companion (ACC) Released 2012By Ethan Ace, Published on Mar 20, 2012
No more VMS? That's the plan for Axis's new Camera Companion (ACC). The 800-pound IP camera gorilla has taken aim at the low end of surveillance, looking to displace analog cameras in the sub-16 camera market segment. Not only free, it eliminates having a PC or server: No more DVR, NVR, or VMS.
The key development is having the camera manage its own storage. In a traditional architecture, IP cameras send and forget. The camera streams live video but has no knowledge if or where video is being recorded. Because of this, Video Management Software is required to retrieve, search and export recorded video.
With a decentralized approach, pioneered by Mobotix and now being adopted by Axis, the camera gains intelligence to manage its own recorded video, tracking its location and time. Instead of connecting to a VMS server, a simple client can connect directly to the cameras who serve up their own recorded video. In that manner, smarter cameras can replace traditional recorders.
What Do You Think?
The Big Questions
Axis's powerful position in the market undoubtedly means this is a force to be reckoned with, but many operational and logistical issues will determine its ultimate competitiveness. Inside, we examine the following key questions:
- Limitations: What limitations in functionality, camera support, configuration, etc. does the new offering face?
- Pricing: Eliminating the recorder reduces cost. However, how much does it reduce the cost and how competitive does it really make the offering? Is it enough?
- Compared to Mobotix: Mobotix has been offering the same architecture for years (see our Mobotix test results). Is this truly significantly better than Mobotix or simply marketing bluster?
- Compared to Milestone and Exacq: A number of VMS software providers have focused on smaller camera deployments. Does this new Axis offering change the balance of power in this segment?
- Compared to VSaaS: Axis has been hyping VSaaS non stop for the last few years. Is this better, different or a replacement?
- Compared to Analog DVRs: The king in this market segment is the analog DVR. Are Axis's pricing and features sufficient to change the game?
- Though the gap shrinks, for small deployments, analog cameras and DVRs still provide substantial pricing advantages over Axis's offering.
- The core challenge is that Axis's low cost cameras are still significantly more expensive than low cost analog or IP ones commonly used in small camera deployments - offsetting the savings in NVR elimination.
- Low-cost VMS platforms, such as Milestone Essential and ExacqVision Start are on par with, or less expensive than Axis Camera Companion options, due to the ability to use less expensive IP cameras.
- However, for users that want Axis cameras in the first place, eliminating the NVR is a big bonus and a prime motivator to abandon low cost VMSes like Essential or Start.
- Axis Camera Companion will have a number of advantages over Mobotix, with a simpler approach, broader line, and multiple price levels.
- ACC really hurts the value proposition of AVHS (Axis's VSaaS) as it provides similar core benefits at much lower total costs.
- First, an Axis Camera Platform application, installed on compatible cameras and encoders, which archives video to edge storage. Storage may be either local, SD-based, or NAS, a feature which was added in their 2011 improvements to edge storage.
- This can run on any Axis device with firmware version 5.40. Only a handful of Axis cameras support this today but Axis reports that most Axis devices will support it by the end of April 2012.
- Second, a client application, which allows viewing of live and archived video, as well as configuration.
- Additionally, third-party mobile applications, such as EyeSpyFX's Viewer [link no longer available] allow access to live and archived video from mobile devices.
- Camera Companion is NOT designed to be an enterprise offering. Axis recommends 3rd party VMS software for projects requiring larger camera counts and more features.
- Edge storage capability: SD card slots are found only in more expensive Axis P and Q series cameras. Current M series cameras, which are more likely to be used in small applications, must stream video to NAS, which increases cost over SD cards in smaller camera counts. The P series, on the other hand, which is SD-capable, is significantly more expensive than M series. As an alternative, NAS devices will need to be used (though they are still significantly cheaper than PCs or servers).
- SD Retention period limitations: When using internal flash storage, users today will typically max out at 32 GB SDHC cards. According to Axis's design tool, a 720p camera, recording continuously at 8 FPS in an average scene, will consume ~100 GB per month. With motion recording configured, this may be substantially reduced, but users requiring longer-term storage will need to use a NAS. This will be especially important for Axis encoders, as four channels must split this 32 GB card, leaving only 8 GB per camera, providing only very short-term storage.
- Remote access complexity: Camera Companion requires VPN, port forwarding or UPnP for remote access. As we have discussed, UPnP is prone to issues, ultimately often requiring manual configuration of port forwarding and other settings.
- Small-scale systems only: The Camera Companion client is limited to accessing 16 cameras at a time, making this release not applicable for even mid size systems.
- Entry-level VMS functionality: Users should expect basic functionality only from Axis Camera Companion. Features such as third party integrations, enterprise management, or video walls are absent.
- Complexity: As we discussed in our Mobotix testing, MxControlCenter can be difficult to set up and operate for many users. Camera Companion is intended to be easier to set up and use, with camera auto-detection and simplified controls.
- Product selection: Axis has a much broader line than Mobotix, offering cameras in numerous form factors and resolutions, indoor and outdoor, PTZs, thermal cameras, as well as encoders. Axis users may more easily fit the requirements of projects while staying within the Axis line.
- Camera pricing: Axis offers multiple tiers of product, with pricing varying from low to high, while Mobotix does not. Mobotix camera pricing is along the lines of Axis P series cameras ($700-1000 online), the mid-range of the line. This allows Axis users to install systems for a lower overall cost than Mobotix.
Here are our key findings in these areas:
Axis Camera Companion consists of the following:
The video below is from Axis and overviews basic use of Axis Camera Companion:
Additionally, Axis has an installation tutorial video which covers similar topics except for the addition of setting up the system.
Overall, the UI has a DVR feel with a simple interface featuring only a small number of buttons. The search interface offers timeline and thumbnail navigation which is solid for an entry level offering.
We see several limitations to Axis Camera Companion:
Axis Camera Companion is free and available for download now.
Users should see our update on Axis' new low-cost HD cube cameras for pricing comparisons between ACC, low-cost VMS, and analog DVRs. This new series of cameras sets a new low price mark for Axis, while adding SD card support, making ACC much more competitive than when using previous camera models.
Comparison to Mobotix
Axis Camera Companion has a number of advantages over Mobotix cameras with MxControlCenter, for several reasons:
Comparison to VSaaS
Axis Camera Companion and AVHS offer similar core benefits, both eliminating recording servers and their associated costs. However, VSaaS requires ongoing fees in the range of $15-25 per month per camera, while Camera Companion has no fees, recurring or otherwise. On the other hand, AVHS is designed for users needing immediate access to video from remote locations, especially from multiple sites, while Camera Companion requires network setup to enable remote access. Additionally, AVHS is designed to manage multiple sites while Camera Companion is not.
Many users want Axis and, for them, Camera Companion is a major benefit. Overwhelmingly, Axis is the favorite IP camera manufacturer. Lots of people want to use them for their reliability, stability, breadth of features and increasingly image quality. For those already predisopsed, eliminating the NVR is a big benefit and, correspondingly, a real detriment to sales of Milestone Essential, Exacq Start, etc.
However, those who already want and can afford Axis are not likely to be the core analog holdout. They are most often motivated by low cost and limited security needs. While this move may not shift the low low end, in the middle where people already value Axis's camera qualities, Camera Companion is likely to have a significant impact.
The more interesting element may be what this portends for the future.
A civil war is coming. For years, big IP video manufacturers have known a direct battle between camera manufacturers and VMS software providers was inevitable. The VMS players have always been especially concerned about camera manufacturers encroaching. The camera players can subsidize software through their hardware sales plus as cameras get smarter, more and more software can be added to them. The only real question was how.
Axis Camera Companion is the most powerful strike yet. For years, Axis has offered Camera Station, a solid but unspectacular VMS software that did not pose a major threat. Recently, Axis has been promoting AVHS, their VSaaS platform, but its weak ROI and limited functions, scared few. Now, Axis Camera Companion establishes two major competitive advantages - giving away VMS software for free and eliminating the need for PC / server. For the first time, Axis has a recording option with multiple competitive advantages over their VMS partners.
Overall though, Axis will need to do more to truly make this incursion a success, even for the low end of the market. Most importantly, Axis needs more low cost cameras. Otherwise, it is too easy to overcome Axis's server side cost advantage with less expensive cameras from Axis rivals. The main thing Axis has done immediately is shown how weak the overall value proposition is for VSaaS, an ironic act of friendly fire.
Even in the long term, we do not see Axis truly threatening traditional VMS software for larger size projects. Doing so would require support for 3rd party cameras which we believe they have too strong of a financial interest to oppose. While high end VMS software requires lots of development, Axis clearly has the resources and talent to deliver this over time. However, to do all that and not support 3rd party cameras would severely undermine such a move. As such, we think the most likely approach is maximizing the offering for small- to mid-size systems where they can compete with only Axis camera support.
VMS software has always been weak for small deployments and Axis's moves makes it all the more shaky. While Axis still needs to do more to be truly competitive, this is a major step forward in changing the market.
We have continued to cover ACC as Axis makes improvements, as well as issues surrounding its release. Users may see the following for further reading: