Hikvision H.264+ Tested

By Ethan Ace, Published Feb 10, 2016, 12:00am EST (Research)

Is 'regular' H.264 soon to be a thing of the past?

Last year, Axis started the 'smart' H.264 trend with their Zipstream release. Later last year, Hikvision announced their own offering, named H.264+.

IPVM finds 'smart codecs' to be one of the most intriguing new developments in the market today.

How well does Hikvision's H.264+ work? IPVM upgraded 3 Hikvision cameras (the DS-2CD4024FWD-A, DS-2CD4132FWD-IZ and the DS-2CD6026FHWD-A) to H.264+. We then tested them against 2 Axis Zipstream cameras (the M1125 and the Q1635).

We did tests:

  • Indoor day
  • Indoor dark
  • Outdoor treeline
  • Outdoor roadway 

We then compared bandwidth, image quality of those 5 cameras as well as the H.265 cameras we tested recently to determine what impact Hikvision's H.264+ would have.

Summary

In our tests, Hikvision H.264+ significantly reduced bandwidth in all scenes (70-90% reductions were common), from low motion indoor to high motion roadside fields of view, with minimal visible effect, in some scenes rivaling Axis Zipstream's low bitrates. 

Moreover, with H.264+ now available on the majority of the Hikvision line, including new low cost models, priced well below the least expensive Axis Zipstream models, Hikvision brings these advantages to even the low end of the market.

H.264+ is likely to have a very positive impact on Hikvision's competitive position, bounded by the time it takes for competitors to respond with their own smart codec offerings. With Axis and Hikvision both offering compelling bandwidth savings, we believe all manufacturers need to prioritize releasing their own smart codec cameras.

H.265 Impact

Both Hikvision's H.264+ and Axis Zipstream delivered far more bandwidth savings than H.265, as shown in our H.265 vs H.264 shootout. As such, we are increasingly skeptical about the short term future of H.265 given the bandwidth savings of 'smart' H.264 combined with its ability to work with existing VMSes.

Camera Compatibility

H.264+ is available on select Hikvision cameras starting in firmware 5.3.4, available from Hikvision Support [link no longer available]. Note that different regions officially support different firmware versions, with North America showing 5.3.1 as latest, while Europe and Asia offer 5.3.4 and 5.3.6 for download. When unsure, users should contact local support to find the latest version for their region.

All current 4 and 6 series Hikvision cameras support H.264+. It is supported in new 2 series low cost cameras, which includes the 2MP and 4MP WDR models released in Q3 2015. Older 2 series models do not support it.

This means that bandwidth savings found in H.264+ are included in even low cost, ~$150 USD 4MP models. Compared to Axis Zipstream, which is supported on mainly high end models, with the exception of the mid range priced M11 series (~$350-400), these models are significantly less expensive.

Limited Configuration

Hikvision's H.264+ includes few configuration settings, with essentially just a simple on/off control and automatic operation. No control of dynamic I-frame interval or compression are provided, unlike Axis Zipstream which includes multiple settings for each of these.

The only controllable parameter introduced when using H.264+ is "maximum average bitrate", which attempts to keep bitrate below a set level over an extended period of time. Hikvision's documentation claims at least three days are required for the camera to properly adjust to this setting. 

We review these limited configuration options in this video:

Stream Analysis

In the video below we review stream analysis of H.264+ and Axis Zipstream clips using Elecard StreamEye analyzer.

Notably, average quantization using H.264+ in Hikvision models was ~35 at 10 FPS. Axis averaged about 31Q. However, Hikvision varied Q levels much more widely, from ~18 to 40, while Axis varied from ~28-38.

Both Axis and Hikvision extended I-frame intervals to about 10 seconds max in the clips we analyzed.

Bitrate Comparisons

We compared bitrates of the cameras with smart CODECs on and off in multiple scenes:

Indoor Scenes

First, indoors, using typical 10 FPS framerate, turning H.264+ on reduces bitrates of the Hikvision cameras by an average of about 75%. However, even at their lowest, bitrate is still roughly similar to the Axis Q1635 with Zipstream off. Turning Zipstream on (High, GOP 1200), the Q1635's bitrate is about 30% lower than the Hikvision cameras.

At night in the same scene, H.264+ bitrates are again significantly lower (>80%), but once again the Hikvision 6026 and 4024 are significantly higher than the Axis Q1635. However, due to its built-in IR, the 4132 had the lowest bitrates in this scene, about 66% lower than the Q1635. 

Increasing framerate to 30 FPS, H.264+ (and Zipstream) benefits increased. Hikvision bitrates dropped by an average of ~91%, as did Zipstream in the Q1635. The 4132 was the lowest of the Hikvision models, slightly below even the Axis camera.

Outdoor Scenes

Next, we tested outdoors, along a treeline with moving foliage and shadows in the FOV. In this scene, H.264+ savings increased, averaging ~90%, while Zipstream decreased bitrates by ~69%.

In this scene, Hikvision's 6026 and 4132 were both slightly lower than the Axis Q1635, while the 4024 was moderately higher.

Finally, we tested in a busy road FOV with high amounts of motion. H.264+ impact was lessened, averaging just over 70%. And again, the Axis camera with Zipstream was notably lower, with only the 4132 approaching its bitrate with H.264+ on.

Image Quality Effects

H.264+ impact on image quality was very slight, only visible in very fine details in the backgrounds of tested scenes, such as the foliage in the animation below. With H.264+ off the foliage is more defined, with individual branches and leaves visible. Turning H.264+ on, the center of the image becomes moderately smeared and hazy, with details lost against the brighter background, as well.

However, note that these differences are minor, and we saw no practical issues in our tests on moving objects such as people or vehicles.

Test Parameters

All cameras were tested using default settings except CODEC settings, configured as shown above.

Firmware versions used for this test:

  • Axis M1125: 5.75.3.3
  • Axis Q1635: 5.80.1.3
  • Hikvision DS-2CD4024FWD-A: 5.3.4
  • Hikvision DS-2CD4132FWD-IZ:  5.3.4
  • Hikvision DS-2CD6026FHWD-A: 5.3.4

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