H.265 IP Camera Chip Announced (Ambarella S3)

By John Honovich, Published Oct 28, 2014, 12:00am EDT

Surveillance professionals have been talking about, and wanting H.265 for approaching 2 years. To date, though, only one manufacturer offers an H.265 IP camera and it is proprietary / closed.

Now, one of the biggest IP camera chip developers has announced a new chipset supporting H.265.

In this note, we examine the technical details and analyze how this will impact H.265 production releases.

Ambarella H.265

Ambarella has become one of the most popular core components of HD cameras, widely used by well known manufacturers from Avigilon to Dropcam to Hikvision, Honeywell, Cisco, etc.

In particular, Ambarella's S2 chip [link no longer available] (announced 2 years ago in fall 2012) is likely the most common chipset used by new 4K cameras coming to market.

Now, Ambarella is announcing their S3 chip [link no longer available], their first to support H.265 [link no longer available]. The main improvement over the S2 is the addition of H.265 support. Otherwise, it is similar in its support for 4kp30, HDR / WDR, 180 / 360 panoramics, etc.

Why H.265?

The main claim is 'up to' 50% bandwidth savings compared to H.264. For surveillance, this would not only reduce load on networks, it could generate meaningful savings on storage, which still are a significant part of overall surveillance system costs. 

For more, see IPVM's H.265 / HEVC Codec Tutorial.

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It will likely take 2 to 3 years for broad adoption, though early product pre-announcements will likely come next year.

The first step is Ambarella actually releasing / shipping these chips, then camera manufacturers integrating and optimizing the use of H.265 in new camera releases. Combined, like the timeline for 4K, this itself will take at least a year, if not two for products to start shipping.

The other big issue is VMSes adding support for decoding H.265. Not only is it a factor of dedicating the development resources to do so (adding it to thick clients, web clients, exporting, mobile, etc.), it depends on when they decide to start. Many VMSes will take a wait and see approach until big name camera manufacturers are shipping H.265 in production before committing resources to this. This could delay widespread support by another year or two.


We anticipate premium priced IP camera brands to drive H.265 releases, seeking to differentiate against budget offerings. It enables a rationale / pitch of "You should pay 30% more for our camera because we have H.265 and they don't, and that will save you hundreds of storage cost easily."

The bigger challenge will be the actual percentage savings of H.265 over H.264. Even within H.264, there are great variances among bandwidth consumption and more advanced profiles do not always save more than lesser ones (e.g., see: H.264 High vs Main vs Baseline Tested). Similarly, within H.265, there are many options / ways to implement it, so variations will most certainly exist there as well. Ambarella, though, claims it supports a full implementation of H.265.

The clear upside is that a commercially available H.265 chipset is a necessary pre-requisite to broad release of H.265 IP cameras. Moreover, since Ambarella is already a major supplier, this becomes a natural upgrade. That said, even best case scenario, it is going to take a few years for support to evolve and mature. Plus, it still remains to be seen how big an impact H.265 will make on bandwidth savings.


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