H.264 Baseline vs Main Shootout (2012)

By John Honovich, Published on Feb 21, 2012

While H.264 is often considered a single 'thing', many different 'types' of H.264 exist. These types have performance tradeoffs. For the past few years, most IP camera manufacturers only supported the most basic type - baseline profile. Now, increasingly, manufacturers are adding support for more 'advanced' types include main and high profile. In this report, we share our test findings of baseline vs main profile measuring differences in bandwidth consumption and CPU utilitzation.

Background on H.264

IP camera manufacturers has largely standardized on H.264 as the codec of choice for surveillance streaming. Since basically all surveillance video is compressed, codecs are required. In the past, MJPEG and MPEG-4 were most commonly used. Now it is predominantly H.264. In 2009-2010, a heated debate existed about using MJPEG or H.264. As our extensive test results of MJPEG vs H.264 showed, H.264 offered clear and compelling bandwidth savings.

H.264 Baseline vs Main Profile

Of the numerous H.264 profiles, the two most common considered for surveillance are baseline and main. Baseline is typically considered the least efficient of the H.264 profiles but also the least demanding of computing resources. By contrast, main profile is considered to be more bandwidth efficient but also more demanding.

Increasingly, new IP cameras are using main profile by default while the previous generation from 2-3 years ago were more likely to use baseline.

Questions for Our Test

We performed a test in 3 different scenes - daytime simple, nighttime and complex / high motion - to measure differences in bandwidth consumption and CPU utilization for H.264 baseline and main profiles.

The questions we addressed were:

  • How much of a bandwidth savings, if any, does main profile deliver over baseline?
  • How much does bandwidth savings vary by type of scene?
  • How much does CPU utilization increase, if any, when using main rather than baseline?
  • Should you prefer main profile cameras over baseline ones?

Key Findings / Answers

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Here they are:

  • Bandwidth reduction was modest. Main profile reduced bandwidth consumption by 10-30% in the 3 tests.
  • In our tests, we saw no discernable difference in CPU usage between baseline and main profile usage.
  • We also tested MJPEG. Bandwidth consumption was 10-100x than main profile. Equally interesting, CPU usage was generally significantly higher than either of the H.264 streams.

Recommendations

Given the modest bandwidth savings and minimal CPU penalties, using cameras with main profile are a nice to have but not a reason to switch cameras. However, cameras supporting main profile may indicate a newer, more advanced camera. This is simply a correlation, not causality.

Comparing Bandwidth Consumption

Comparing different cameras using main vs baseline profile is likely to deliver skewed results. Profile choice is simply one of a number of factors impacting bandwidth consumption. Other factors that can heavily impact performance: choice of CBR vs VBR, differences in gain control used, variances in image processing, etc. For instance, we are testing the new Axis Q1604 vs the existing Axis P1344. Both are 720p/30 cameras but the bandwidth consumption varies dramatically both during the day and night (in opposite directions) even with using the same profile.

Measuring differences clearly is limited to VBR streaming with cameras supporting configurable selection of multiple codecs. VBR is important because you want the bit rate to vary. By contrast, if you use CBR at the same bandwidth level, even if main has benefits over baseline, it will only show in a reduced quantization level (which can be hard to visually see in the image). In the video below, we show this with the Pelco Sarix camera. This is why we based the test on Axis Q series cameras that allow simple toggle on and off of main vs baseline.

The Test

The video below shows us doing the various tests live so you can see how bandwidth and CPU use varies. Note: while we used the 'extended' SD Q1602, we found the same pattern on the HD Q1604:

1 report cite this report:

H.264 High vs Main vs Baseline Tested on Jun 27, 2014
In surveillance, H.264 is often considered a single 'thing' but there are...
Comments : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

The Future of H.266 For Video Surveillance Examined on Aug 17, 2020
First H.264, now H.265, is H.266 next? H.266 was recently announced amid...
Video Surveillance Cameras 101 on Feb 25, 2020
Cameras come in many shapes, sizes and specifications. This 101 examines the...
Avigilon H4 Intercom Tested on Nov 20, 2019
Avigilon is well-known for video surveillance and access, but how well does...
VSaaS 101 on Mar 25, 2020
Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS) is the common industry term for cloud...
Access Control and Video Integration Statistics 2020 on Oct 08, 2020
Video Surveillance and Access Control are two of the most common security...
TVT / InVid White Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Mar 18, 2020
With mega China manufacturers Dahua and Hikvision facing both bans and human...
Hikvision DS 2nd Gen Intercom Tested on Dec 12, 2019
With its newest IP intercom, Hikvision proclaims users can 'get full control...
Bandwidth Fundamentals For Video Surveillance on Jan 13, 2020
Bandwidth is the most fundamental element of computer networking for video...
Uniview Color Low Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Jan 07, 2020
Hikvision has been marketing ColorVu aggressively. Now, Hikvision domestic...
Leica Launches LIDAR / Thermal / IP Camera on Mar 04, 2020
Swiss manufacturer Leica is launching what it calls a "real-time reality...
Longse Promoting Hikvision Partner Fullhan Chip Based Cameras on Oct 14, 2020
With Huawei HiSilicon production being shut down at TSMC, camera...
Mobotix 7 Line Camera Tested on Mar 12, 2020
Mobotix is attempting a turn-around, struggling for years, then releasing the...
2020 Video Surveillance Cameras State Of The Market on Jan 03, 2020
Each year, IPVM explains the main advances and changes for video surveillance...
Avigilon Announces 10K / 61MP H5 Pro Camera on Oct 05, 2020
Avigilon announced its 10K / 61MP H5 Pro camera at the 2020 IPVM Fall New...
Budget Covert Cameras Tested on Nov 26, 2019
Covert cameras under $100 are widely available online but are they any...

Recent Reports

VICE Investigates Verkada's Harassing "RawVerkadawgz" on Oct 26, 2020
This month, IPVM investigated Verkada's sexism, discrimination, and cultural...
Six Flags' FDA Violating Outdoor Dahua Fever Cameras on Oct 26, 2020
As Six Flags scrambled to reopen parks amid plummeting revenues caused by the...
ISC Brasil Digital Experience 2020 Report on Oct 23, 2020
ISC Brasil 2020 rebranded itself to ISC Digital Experience and, like its...
Top Video Surveillance Service Call Problems 2020 on Oct 23, 2020
3 primary and 4 secondary issues stood out as causing the most problems when...
GDPR Impact On Temperature / Fever Screening Explained on Oct 22, 2020
What impact does GDPR have on temperature screening? Do you risk a GDPR fine...
Security And Safety Things (S&ST) Tested on Oct 22, 2020
S&ST, a Bosch spinout, is spending tens of millions of dollars aiming to...
Nokia Fever Screening Claims To "Advance Fight Against COVID-19" on Oct 22, 2020
First IBM, then briefly Clorox, and now Nokia becomes the latest Fortune 500...
Deceptive Meridian Temperature Tablets Endanger Public Safety on Oct 21, 2020
IPVM's testing of and investigation into Meridian Kiosk's temperature...
Honeywell 30 Series and Vivotek NVRs Tested on Oct 21, 2020
The NDAA ban has driven many users to look for low-cost NVRs not made by...
Ubiquiti Access Control Tested on Oct 21, 2020
Ubiquiti has become one of the most widely used wireless and switch providers...
Avigilon Aggressive Trade-In Program Takes Aim At Competitors on Oct 20, 2020
Avigilon has launched one of the most aggressive trade-in programs the video...
Mexico Video Surveillance Market Overview 2020 on Oct 20, 2020
Despite being neighbors, there are key differences between the U.S. and...
Dahua Revenue Grows But Profits Down, Cause Unclear on Oct 20, 2020
While Dahua's overall revenue was up more than 12% in Q3 2020, a significant...
Illegal Hikvision Fever Screening Touted In Australia, Government Investigating, Temperature References Deleted on Oct 20, 2020
The Australian government told IPVM that they are investigating a Hikvision...
Panasonic Presents i-PRO Cameras and Video Analytics on Oct 19, 2020
Panasonic i-PRO presented its X-Series cameras and AI video analytics at the...