Is H.264 Lower Quality?

Author: Sarit Williams, Published on Nov 14, 2013

Is H.264 lower quality? Even Avigilon now says no, but many still argue yes. 

One of These Images is H.264, the Other MJPEG

Take a look at these two images, one of them uses H.264, the other uses MJPEG:

 So, which one is which?

How The Images Were Generated

Both images are from the same camera set to the same bitrate / bandwidth (1 Mb/s). Image A was captured with the CODEC set to MJPEG, while Image B was captured when set to H.264. They are both cropped from a 720p shot of a conference room wall.

Why Do They Look So Different?

The key issue is that we fixed the bandwidth. When bandwidth is locked, the compression level of any CODEC needs to adjust (this is the basis of CBR). When bandwidth is low like we did here, the compression levels must go higher (i.e., quality goes down).

Why is H.264 Better Quality Here?

Many assume that H.264 compression is higher and that MJPEG delivers either uncompressed or low compressed video. This is not the case. All CODECS compress video.

The key difference is how 'smart' the CODECs are in compressing. MJPEG only compresses individual frames (intra-frame compression) while H.264 compresses across frames (inter-frame compression) as well. Becuase H.264 can compress across multiple frames and find what stays the same over time, it can more intelligently reduce bitrate without impacting quality. This is why MJPEG's quality is so much worse in this example.

Background References

IPVM has a wealth of training and tests of video quality and CODECs, including:

1 report cite this report:

Major Manufacturers Dropping MJPEG on Nov 04, 2016
MJPEG has hung on for years, still in use in some systems despite H.264's dominance for the better part of the past decade. However, now some...
Comments (33) : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports on Bandwidth

Video Quality / Compression Tutorial on Oct 17, 2018
While CODECs, like H.264, H.265, and MJPEG, get a lot of attention, a camera's 'quality' or compression setting has a big impact on overall...
Last Chance - October 2018 Camera Course on Oct 04, 2018
Today is the last day to register for the October 2018 Camera Course, register now. This is the only independent surveillance camera course,...
Axis 4K vs. 5MP Camera Shootout (Q3518-LVE + Q3517-LVE) on Oct 04, 2018
Axis has released the 4K counterpart to their 5MP Q3517-LVE (see our test). Axis claims of both these cameras: Simply put, AXIS Q3518(17)-LVE...
SNMP / Network Monitoring For Surveillance 2018 on Aug 21, 2018
Surveillance systems typically rely on the the VMS to report issues, but this most often just means knowing a camera is "down" with no warning or...
Eagle Eye Networks Cloud VMS Tested on Jul 26, 2018
Eagle Eye has become one of the most significant players in the industry in the past few years: Eagle Eye's Owner Acquired Brivo Eagle Eye...
July 2018 IP Networking Course on Jul 12, 2018
Registration is closed. This is the only networking course designed specifically for video surveillance professionals.  Lots of network training...
Powerline Networking For Video Surveillance Advocated By Comtrend on Jun 08, 2018
Powerline networking, using existing electrical wiring, has been around for many years. Indeed, over the years, some video surveillance providers...
H.265 / HEVC Codec Tutorial on Jun 07, 2018
H.265 support has improved significantly in 2018, with H.265 camera/VMS compatibility increased compared to only a year ago, and more manufacturers...
VMS Server Sizing on May 25, 2018
Specifying the right sized PC/server for VMS software is one of the most important yet difficult decisions in IP video surveillance. In the past...
Axis 12MP Stereographic Camera Tested (M3058-LVE) on May 10, 2018
Axis has released the M3058-PLVE, a 12MP sensor, stereographic panoramic camera and Axis' first with integrated IR claiming images "sharp to the...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Startup SafePass Profile on Oct 19, 2018
A major problem with visitor management is that the systems mostly require adhesive printed paper labels and paper logs, creating waste and an...
China Is Not A Security Megatrend, Says SIA on Oct 19, 2018
The US Security Industry Association has released its 10 "Security Megatrends" for 2019. SIA declares that these megatrends, such as "Advanced...
Hanwha Dual Imager Dome Camera Tested (PNM-7000VD) on Oct 18, 2018
Hanwha has introduced their first dual-imager model, the PNM-7000VD, a twin 1080p model featuring independently positionable sensors and a snap-in...
Camera Height / Blind Spot Added to IPVM Camera Calculator on Oct 18, 2018
IPVM has added camera height and blind spot estimation to the Camera Calculator. This is especially helpful for those who need to mount cameras up...
Axis Strong US Growth, Flat EMEA - Q3 2018 Financials on Oct 18, 2018
This spring, Axis had its best financials in many years (see Axis Strong Q2 2018 Results). However, over the summer, Axis had many products sold...
Best Alternatives to Banned Dahua and Hikvision on Oct 17, 2018
With the US government ban and a growing number of users banning Dahua and Hikvision, one key question is what to use for low cost? While Dahua and...
Video Quality / Compression Tutorial on Oct 17, 2018
While CODECs, like H.264, H.265, and MJPEG, get a lot of attention, a camera's 'quality' or compression setting has a big impact on overall...
Knightscope Winning Investors, Struggling With Growth on Oct 16, 2018
While Knightscope's new financials show the company only winning 11 new customers in the past 12 months, the company continues to win new...
Integrator Laptop Guide on Oct 16, 2018
This 18-page guide provides guidance and statistics about integrator laptop use. 150 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their laptops,...
Huawei Admits AI "Bubble" on Oct 16, 2018
A fascinating article from the Chinese government's Global Times: Huawei’s AI ambition to reshape industries. While the Global Times talks about...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact