Claimed: All Surveillance Manufacturers Are Proprietary

By John Honovich, Published Nov 12, 2014, 12:00am EST

Are all surveillance manufacturers proprietary?

Is proprietary a good thing?

Mobotix's magazine, MxInstaller, makes that case.

In this note, we examine what makes surveillance manufacturers proprietary and what factors differentiate them as being open.

First, here is the video where the claim is made:

The essence of the argument is that, since no video surveillance manufacturer is open source, then they are all equally proprietary. And, since everything is proprietary, proprietary should not be viewed as a bad thing.

As a side note, there are a few open source VMS offerings but they are extremely minor (e.g., Zoneminder and iSpy). Even 'independent', 'open platform' companies (see list) still own / control their source code.


This black and white definition of open and proprietary is reductionistic.

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Worse, it is highly misleading. Imagine 2 VMSes - one is open source but has no ONVIF support and only supports MJPEG. The other is proprietary but supports H.264 and ONVIF Profile S. For all practical purposes, the proprietary one would be far more open to integrating cameras in the real world.

Open is a Scale, Not a Boolean

When judging products, one needs to look at openness as a scale. Much like people are neither simply 'good or bad', 'smart or stupid', 'gaunt or obese', products will vary in their level of openness.

What you should be looking for is the 'types' of openness VMSes do support, such as:

  • CODEC support: To support third party cameras, VMSes need to 'understand' / decode the CODECs they use. Today, the most important is H.264. In the next few years, it will become H.265.
  • 'Standards' support: To minimize the number of direct integrations, supporting ONVIF Profile S is critical. The counterpoint that ONVIF Profile S does not support every function of cameras is silly, since, without it, a VMS would likely not support anything. The secondary poor man's 'standard' would, at least be to support RTSP.
  • Third party direct integrations: A VMS's ability to deliver integrations with access control, POS, intrusion systems, etc. is a major differentiator and major component of being open. Even if the integration is 'proprietary', the result to the end user is a system that is practically open to working with other products.
  • Conflicts of interest: Manufacturers who sell both cameras and VMSes have far greater incentive to push customers to buy their end to end solution rather than allow / support you in buying the most appropriate cameras for your solution.

The Mobotix Problem

Mobotix is not a 'dirty word' because they are not open source. Their problem is simply that they refuse, despite all good sense to the contrary, to support basic 'open' components like H.264 and ONVIF.

It is a shame that the Mobotix community cannot recognize this fatal flaw. Even their steep decline in the marketplace evidently cannot shake them of this.

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