Hikvision IP Camera 2012 Test Results

By: John Honovich, Published on May 15, 2012

Hikvision is the most valuable video surveillance company in the world, going public in 2010 at $6 Billion USD and now trading at over $7 Billion USD, far higher than Axis Communications. Even in total revenue, Hikvision tops Axis. However, Hikvision is greatly dependent on Chinese government projects. Plus, while their DVRs perform well, their IP cameras have not.

New Camera

In Hikvision's newest generation of IP cameras, the company is claiming strong WDR and the world's lowest bandwidth consumption. In particular, they cite the DS-2CD864FWD-E [link no longer available], a 720p HD cameras as their top offering. As such, we wanted to see if Hikvision could come close to those claims or was simply marketing bluster.

In this test report, we share our findings of testing the Hikvision DS-2CD864FWD-E (called the '864' hereafter) against top performers from two of the world's most respected camera manufacturers - Axis and Sony - in particular the new Axis Q1604 and the Sony CH140 and Sony CH240.

Tests

We performed a series of simultaneous tests in 3 demanding scenes:

  • Wide FoVs: To see how many details each camera could deliver at increasingly wider Field of Views, from 20 feet wide to 40 feet and finally 80 feet.
  • WDR: To see how well cameras could handle harsh sunlight.
  • Low Light: To see how well cameras can see at night.

Inside, we dig into the details and provide answers on who performs the best in each condition.

Key Findings

Here are our key findings from the test:

  • WDR performance was strong and comparable to top-tier WDR offerings from Axis and Sony; Unlike most competitors, Hikvision 864 automatically turns off WDR in dark conditions by default and has a slider adjusting the WDR level
  • Night performance was OK compared to top-tier companies, better than Sony 720p HD but worse than Axis Q1604; note: slow shutter is not supported - max exposure 1/25s
  • Setup / configuration was fairly easy and far better than previous generation of Hikvision cameras
  • Bandwidth consumption was solid across the board though users can be confused/ misguided by VBR default at lowest quality level
  • Note: No Auto Back Focus / No Remote Focus
  • At pricing of ~$550 USD MSRP without lens, this Hikvision camera was notably less expensive than top-tier piers

Recommendations

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For those looking for strong image quality at reduced prices, this Hikvision 864 camera is a viable alternative to top offerings from leading network camera providers like Axis, Sony and Panasonic. While the camera can benefit from some usability refinements and does not have the depth of features and support as Axis, the Hikvision camera's video quality and bandwidth consumption is quite close to the 'best' high end cameras out there. Minimally, this Hikvision camera is equal to, and superior in many ways to low-cost offerings from Taiwanese vendors like ACTi, Vivotek as well as the US's Arecont.

Configuration / Usability Testing

The video below overviews key settings and functionality as performed in the new and far improved Hikvision web user interface. We review WDR settings and low light options in particular:

Compare this to the clunky, challenging interface in Hikvision's previous generation network cameras.

WDR Testing

The key element in Hikvision's WDR is setting the dynamic range level. Hikvision provides a slider between 1 and 100 with 1 being the least WDR and 100 being the most. As these comparison below show, while 100 delivers the strongest dynamic range enhancements, it moderately increase noise and can reduce low light performance.

The comparison below shows the 4 cameras in an indoor/outdoor scene. The Hikvision 864, at its default level 1 WDR does not perform well:

However, when the Hikvision's WDR level increases to 100, its performance increases significantly and is now equal or better than the Sony cameras:

The image below shows Hikvision with the two WDR extremes side by side; On the left, WDR is at its default lowest level while on the right it is slide to its highest level:

However, as the comparison below shows, setting WDR at 100 increases noise modestly. The second row where we zoom into the chart shows this more clearly:

In practical terms, the amount of noise is not a huge difference but it might reduce captured details in objects at a very wide FoV.

The next comparison shows the tradeoffs in Hikvision WDR settings at modestly low light levels - 20 lux. At this level, the 100 setting, significantly reduces light captured / image details:

However, in the scene above, Hikvision automatically turned off WDR at the 100 setting after about 5 seconds. As such, it should not be a significant practical concern. We believe Hikvision's approach of automatically turning off WDR is sensible and something that major manufacturers like Axis in their Q1604 lack.

Finally, here is an example of WDR tradeoffs in a scene, with a floodlamp aimed at the camera. This demonstrates the differences between the two extremes in WDR settings. Notice, that at level 1, the subject's face is better light but the floodlamp is overexposed. By contrast, at level 100, the subject's face is modestly darker but the the details of the floodlamp are clearly visible:

Wide Angle FoV Testing

In this series, we compare Hikvision's performance in progressively wide FoVs, starting with 20 feet. In the comparison below, Hikvision is equal to slightly better to Axis but worse than both Sony's:

The pattern continues at 40 feet:

At 80 feet wide, the big factor that becomes visible is the increased noise captured. Note: this is at Hikvision WDR setting 1. At 100, this would be higher:

Low Light Testing

In low light, Hikvision was notably worse than the Axis Q1604 but better than both Sony's. Here is a comparison with the full FoV:

The comparison below zooms into the eye chart, showing the same relative performance differences:

Note: the Axis Q1604's default shutter is shorter, at 1/44s, than all other cameras in the test. This is due to it being the max with WDR on and without complex configuration. Once, the Q1604 supports automatic simple shut off of WDR at night, its low light advantage will increase further.

Bandwidth Consumption

The Hikvision 864's bandwidth consumption is solid but confusing:

  • The camera defaults at CBR, 3Mb/s. Make sure to change setting if you want VBR.
  • The default VBR setting is lowest quality. This produces incredibly low bit rate streams, i.e., 720p/30 at 300Kb/s but with bad pixelation/ image degradation. Do not be tricked by this.
  • At VBR set to medium quality, the image is fairly similar to Axis's default VBR quality.
  • In low light, the Hikvision 864's bandwidth does not spike. It rises modestly but it does not suffer from the 5x surges of many Axis and Arecont cameras. However, the Axis camera provides much higher quality at night and can be rectified by setting a bandwidth cap.

While Hikivision supports baseline, main and high H.264 profiles, we only tested baseline. Exacq, the system tested with, only supports baseline for this camera. Using high profile, there is potential for modest bit rate reductions. Check if your VMS supports that profile.

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